Principles that make for a good story
1. Absence of lengthy verbiage of a political-social-economic nature
2. Total Objectivity
3. Truthful descriptions of persons and objects
4. Extreme brevity
5. Audacity and originality: flee the stereotype
Dutifully transcribed by yours truly from the Pevear/Volokhonsky…
The Huntsman (Chekhov 1885)
A sultry and stifling day. Not a cloud in the sky…The sun-scorched grass looks bleak, hopeless: there may be rain, but it will never be green again…The forest stands silent, motionless, as if its treetops were looking off somewhere or waiting for something.
A tall, narrow-shouldered man of about forty, in a red shirt, patched gentleman’s trousers, and big boots, lazily saunters along the edge of the clearing. He saunters down the road. To his right are green trees, to his left, all the way to the horizon, stretches a golden sea of ripe rye…His face is red and sweaty. A white cap with a straight jockey’s visor, apparently the gift of some generous squire, sits dashingly on his handsome blond head. Over his shoulder hangs a game back with crumpled black grouse in it. The man is carrying a cocked double-barreled shotgun and squinting his eyes at his old, skinny dog, who runs ahead, sniffing about in the bushes. It is quiet, not a sound anywhere…Everything alive is hiding from the heat.
“Yegor Vlasych!” the hunter suddenly hears a soft voice.
He gives a start and turns around, scowling. Beside him, as if sprung from the ground, stands a pale-face woman of about thirty with a sickle in her hand. She tries to peer into his face and smiles shyly.
“Ah, it’s you, Pelageya!” says the hunter, stopping and slowly uncocking his gun. “Hm!…How did you turn up here?”
“The women from our village are working here, so I’m here with them…Hired help, Yegor Vlasych.”
“So-o…” Yegor Vlasych grunts and slowly goes on.”
“I haven’t seen you for a long time, Yegor Vlasych…” says Pelageya, gazing tenderly at the hunters moving shoulders and shoulder blades. “You stopped by our cottage for a drink of water on Easter day, and we haven’t seen you since…You stopped for a minute on Easter day, and that God knows how…in a drunken state…You swore at me, beat me, and left…I’ve been waiting and waiting…I’ve looked my eyes out waiting for you…Eh, Yegor Vlasych, Yegor Vlasych! If only you’d come one little time!”
“What’s there for me to do at your place?”
“There’s nothing for you to do there, of course, just…anyway there’s the household…Things to be seen to…You’re the master…Look at you, shot a grouse, Yegor Vlasych! Why don’t you sit down and rest…”
As she says all this, Pelageya laughs like a fool and looks up at Yegor’s face…Her own face breathes happiness…
“Sit down? Why not…” Yegor says in an indifferent tone and picks a spot between two pine saplings. “Why are you standing? Sit down, too!”
“Pelageya sits down a bit further away in a patch of sun and, ashamed of her joy, covers her smiling mouth with here hand. Two minutes pass in silence.
“If only you’d come one little time,” Pelageya says softly.
“What for?” sighs Yegor, taking of his cap and wiping his forehead with his sleeve. “There’s no need. To stop by for an hour or two – dally around, get you stirred up – and my soul can’t stand living all the time in the village…You know I’m a spoiled man…I want there to be a bed, and good tea, and delicate conversation…I want to have all the degrees, and in the village there you’ve got poverty, soot…I couldn’t even live there a day. Suppose they issued a decree that I absolutely had to live with you, I’d either burn down the cottage or lay hands on myself. From early on I’ve been spoiled like this, there’s no help for it.”
“Where do you live now?”
“At the squire Dmitri Ivanych’s, as a hunter. I furnish game for his table, but it’s more like…he keeps me because he’s pleased to.”
“It’s not a dignified thing to do, Yegor Vlasych…For people it’s just toying, but for you it’s like a trade…a real occupation…”
“You don’t understand, stupid,” say Yegor, dreamily looking at the sky. “In all your born days you’ve never understood and never will understand what kind of a man I am…To you, I’m a crazy, lost man, but for somebody who understands, I’m the best shot in the whole district. The gentlemen feel it and even printed something about me in a magazine. Nobody can match me in the line of hunting…And if I scorn your village occupations, It’s not because I’m spoiled or proud. Right from infancy, you know, I’ve never known any occupation but guns and dogs. Take away my gun, I’ll get a fishing pole, I’ll hunt bare-handed. Well, and I also did some horse trading, roamed around the fairs whenever I had some money, and you know yourself, if any peasant gets in with hunters or horse traders, it’s good-bye to the plough. Once a free spirit settles into a man, there’s no getting it out of him. It’s like when a squire goes to the actors or into some other kind of artistry, then for him there’s no being an official or a landowner. You’re a woman, you don’t understand, and it takes understanding.”
“I understand, Yegor Vlasych.”
“Meaning you don’t understand, because you’re about to cry…”
“I…I’m not crying…” says Pelageya, turning away. “It’s a sin, Yegor Vlasych! You could spend at least one little day with me, poor woman. It’s twelve years since I married you, and…and never once was there any love between us!…I…I”m not crying…”
“Love…” Yegor mutters, scratching his arm. “There can’t be any love, It’s just in name that we’re man and wife, but is it really so? For you I’m a wild man, and for me you’re a simple woman, with no understanding. Do we make a couple? I’m free, spoiled, loose, and you’re a barefoot farm worker, you live in dirt, you never straighten your back. I think like this about myself, that I’m first in the line of hunting, but you look at me with pity…What kind of couple are we?”
“But we were married in church, Yegor Vlasych!” Pelageya sobs.
“Not freely…Did you forget? You can thank count Sergei Pavlych…and yourself. The count was envious that I was a better shot than he was, kept me drunk for a whole month, and a drunk man can not only be married off but even be seduced into a different faith. In revenge he up and married me to you…A huntsman to a cow girl. You could see I was drunk, why did you marry me? You’re not a serf, you could have told him no! Of course, a cow girl’s lucky to marry a huntsman, but we need to be reasonable. Well, so now you can suffer and cry. It’s a joke for the count, but you cry…beat your head on the wall…”
Silence ensues. Three wild ducks fly over the clearing. Yegor looks at them and follows them with his eyes until they turn into three barely visible specks and go down beyond the forest.
“How do you live?” he asks, shifting his eyes from the ducks to Pelageya.
“I go out to work now, and in winter I take a baby from the orphanage and nurse him with a bottle. They give me a rouble and a half a month.”
Again silence. From the harvested row comes a soft song, which breaks off at the very beginning. Its too hot for singing…
“They say you put up a new cottage for Akulina,” says Pelageya.
Yegor is silent.
“It means she’s after your own heart…”
“That’s just your luck, your fate!” says the hunter, stretching. “Bear with it, orphan. But, anyhow, good-bye, we’ve talked too much…I’ve got to make it to Boltovo by evening…”
Yegor gets up, stretches, shoulders his gun. Pelageya stands up.
“And when will you come to the village?” she asks softly.
“No point. I’ll never come sober, and when I’m drunk there’s not much profit for you. I get angry when I’m drunk…Good-bye!”
“Good-bye, Yegor Vlasych…”
Yegor puts his cap on the back of his head and, clucking for his dog, continues on his way. Pelageya stands where she is and looks at his back…She sees his moving shoulder blades, his dashing head, his lazy, nonchalant stride, and her eyes fill with sadness and a tender caress…Her gaze moves over the tall, skinny figure of her husband and caresses and fondles it…He seems to feel this gaze, stops, and looks back…He is silent, but Pelageya can see from his face, from his raised shoulders, that he wants to say something to her. She timidly goes up to him and looks at him with imploring eyes.
“For you!” he says, turning away.
He hands her a worn rouble and quickly walks off.
“Good-bye, Yegor Vlasych!” she says, mechanically accepting the rouble.
He walks down the long road straight as a stretched-out belt…She stands pale, motionless as a statue, and catches his ever step with her eyes. But now the red color of his shirt merges with the dark color of his trousers, his steps can no longer be seen, the dog is indistinguishable from his boots. Only his visored cap can still be seen, but…suddenly Yegor turns sharply to the right in the clearing and the cap disappears into the greenery.
“Good-bye, Yegor Vlaysch!” Pelageya whispers and stands on tiptoe so as at least to see the white cap one more time.