A.P. Chekhov - A Lady's Story
NINE years ago Pyotr Sergeyitch, the deputy prosecutor, and I
were riding towards evening in hay-making time to fetch the
letters from the station.
The weather was magnificent, but on our way back we heard a peal
of thunder, and saw an angry black storm-cloud which was coming
straight towards us. The storm-cloud was approaching us and we
were approaching it.
Against the background of it our house and church looked white
and the tall poplars shone like silver. There was a scent of
rain and mown hay. My companion was in high spirits. He kept
laughing and talking all sorts of nonsense. He said it would be
nice if we could suddenly come upon a medieval castle with
turreted towers, with moss on it and owls, in which we could
take shelter from the rain and in the end be killed by a
thunderbolt. . . .
Then the first wave raced through the rye and a field of oats,
there was a gust of wind, and the dust flew round and round in
the air. Pyotr Sergeyitch laughed and spurred on his horse.
"It's fine!" he cried, "it's splendid!"
Infected by his gaiety, I too began laughing at the thought that
in a minute I should be drenched to the skin and might be struck
Riding swiftly in a hurricane when one is breathless with the
wind, and feels like a bird, thrills one and puts one's heart in
a flutter. By the time we rode into our courtyard the wind had
gone down, and big drops of rain were pattering on the grass and
on the roofs. There was not a soul near the stable.
Pyotr Sergeyitch himself took the bridles off, and led the
horses to their stalls. I stood in the doorway waiting for him
to finish, and watching the slanting streaks of rain; the
sweetish, exciting scent of hay was even stronger here than in
the fields; the storm-clouds and the rain made it almost
"What a crash!" said Pyotr Sergeyitch, coming up to me after a
very loud rolling peal of thunder when it seemed as though the
sky were split in two. "What do you say to that?"
He stood beside me in the doorway and, still breathless from his
rapid ride, looked at me. I could see that he was admiring me.
"Natalya Vladimirovna," he said, "I would give anything only to
stay here a little longer and look at you. You are lovely
His eyes looked at me with delight and supplication, his face
was pale. On his beard and mustache were glittering raindrops,
and they, too, seemed to be looking at me with love.
"I love you," he said. "I love you, and I am happy at seeing
you. I know you cannot be my wife, but I want nothing, I ask
nothing; only know that I love you. Be silent, do not answer me,
take no notice of it, but only know that you are dear to me and
let me look at you."
His rapture affected me too; I looked at his enthusiastic face,
listened to his voice which mingled with the patter of the rain,
and stood as though spellbound, unable to stir.
I longed to go on endlessly looking at his shining eyes and
"You say nothing, and that is splendid," said Pyotr Sergeyitch.
"Go on being silent."
I felt happy. I laughed with delight and ran through the
drenching rain to the house; he laughed too, and, leaping as he
went, ran after me.
Both drenched, panting, noisily clattering up the stairs like
children, we dashed into the room. My father and brother, who
were not used to seeing me laughing and light-hearted, looked at
me in surprise and began laughing too.
The storm-clouds had passed over and the thunder had ceased, but
the raindrops still glittered on Pyotr Sergeyitch's beard. The
whole evening till supper-time he was singing, whistling,
playing noisily with the dog and racing about the room after it,
so that he nearly upset the servant with the samovar. And at
supper he ate a great deal, talked nonsense, and maintained that
when one eats fresh cucumbers in winter there is the fragrance
of spring in one's mouth.
When I went to bed I lighted a candle and threw my window wide
open, and an undefined feeling took possession of my soul. I
remembered that I was free and healthy, that I had rank and
wealth, that I was beloved; above all, that I had rank and
wealth, rank and wealth, my God! how nice that was! . . . Then,
huddling up in bed at a touch of cold which reached me from the
garden with the dew, I tried to discover whether I loved Pyotr
Sergeyitch or not, . . . and fell asleep unable to reach any
And when in the morning I saw quivering patches of sunlight and
the shadows of the lime trees on my bed, what had happened
yesterday rose vividly in my memory. Life seemed to me rich,
varied, full of charm. Humming, I dressed quickly and went out
into the garden. . . .
And what happened afterwards? Why -- nothing. In the winter when
we lived in town Pyotr Sergeyitch came to see us from time to
time. Country acquaintances are charming only in the country and
in summer; in the town and in winter they lose their charm. When
you pour out tea for them in the town it seems as though they
are wearing other people's coats, and as though they stirred
their tea too long. In the town, too, Pyotr Sergeyitch spoke
sometimes of love, but the effect was not at all the same as in
the country. In the town we were more vividly conscious of the
wall that stood between us. I had rank and wealth, while he was
poor, and he was not even a nobleman, but only the son of a
deacon and a deputy public prosecutor; we both of us -- I
through my youth and he for some unknown reason -- thought of
that wall as very high and thick, and when he was with us in the
town he would criticize aristocratic society with a forced
smile, and maintain a sullen silence when there was anyone else
in the drawing-room. There is no wall that cannot be broken
through, but the heroes of the modern romance, so far as I know
them, are too timid, spiritless, lazy, and oversensitive, and
are too ready to resign themselves to the thought that they are
doomed to failure, that personal life has disappointed them;
instead of struggling they merely criticize, calling the world
vulgar and forgetting that their criticism passes little by
little into vulgarity.
I was loved, happiness was not far away, and seemed to be almost
touching me; I went on living in careless ease without trying to
understand myself, not knowing what I expected or what I wanted
from life, and time went on and on. . . . People passed by me
with their love, bright days and warm nights flashed by, the
nightingales sang, the hay smelt fragrant, and all this, sweet
and overwhelming in remembrance, passed with me as with everyone
rapidly, leaving no trace, was not prized, and vanished like
mist. . . . Where is it all?
My father is dead, I have grown older; everything that delighted
me, caressed me, gave me hope -- the patter of the rain, the
rolling of the thunder, thoughts of happiness, talk of love --
all that has become nothing but a memory, and I see before me a
flat desert distance; on the plain not one living soul, and out
there on the horizon it is dark and terrible. . . .
A ring at the bell. . . . It is Pyotr Sergeyitch. When in the
winter I see the trees and remember how green they were for me
in the summer I whisper:
"Oh, my darlings!"
And when I see people with whom I spent my spring-time, I feel
sorrowful and warm and whisper the same thing.
He has long ago by my father's good offices been transferred to
town. He looks a little older, a little fallen away. He has long
given up declaring his love, has left off talking nonsense,
dislikes his official work, is ill in some way and
disillusioned; he has given up trying to get anything out of
life, and takes no interest in living. Now he has sat down by
the hearth and looks in silence at the fire. . . .
Not knowing what to say I ask him:
"Well, what have you to tell me?"
"Nothing," he answers.
And silence again. The red glow of the fire plays about his
I thought of the past, and all at once my shoulders began
quivering, my head dropped, and I began weeping bitterly. I felt
unbearably sorry for myself and for this man, and passionately
longed for what had passed away and what life refused us now.
And now I did not think about rank and wealth.
I broke into loud sobs, pressing my temples, and muttered:
"My God! my God! my life is wasted!"
And he sat and was silent, and did not say to me: "Don't weep."
He understood that I must weep, and that the time for this had
I saw from his eyes that he was sorry for me; and I was sorry
for him, too, and vexed with this timid, unsuccessful man who
could not make a life for me, nor for himself.
When I saw him to the door, he was, I fancied, purposely a long
while putting on his coat. Twice he kissed my hand without a
word, and looked a long while into my tear-stained face. I
believe at that moment he recalled the storm, the streaks of
rain, our laughter, my face that day; he longed to say something
to me, and he would have been glad to say it; but he said
nothing, he merely shook his head and pressed my hand. God help
After seeing him out, I went back to my study and again sat on
the carpet before the fireplace; the red embers were covered
with ash and began to grow dim. The frost tapped still more
angrily at the windows, and the wind droned in the chimney.
The maid came in and, thinking I was asleep, called my name.