A.P. Chekhov - The Huntsman
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
"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
As she said all this Pelagea laughed like a silly girl and
looked up at Yegor's face. Her face was simply radiant with
"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
"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
"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
"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
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, Yegor Vlassitch."
Yegor put his cap on the 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
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.