The Duel and Other Stories
THE Don railway. A quiet, cheerless station, white and solitary in the steppe, with its
walls baking in the sun, without a speck of shade, and, it seems, without a human being.
The train goes on after leaving one here; the sound of it is scarcely audible and dies away
at last. Outside the station it is a desert, and there are no horses but one's own. One gets
into the carriage--which is so pleasant after the train--and is borne along the road through
the steppe, and by degrees there are unfolded before one views such as one does not see
near Moscow--immense, endless, fascinating in their monotony. The steppe, the steppe,
and nothing more; in the distance an ancient barrow or a windmill; ox-waggons laden
with coal trail by. . . . Solitary birds fly low over the plain, and a drowsy feeling comes
with the monotonous beat of their wings. It is hot. Another hour or so passes, and still the
steppe, the steppe, and still in the distance the barrow. The driver tells you something,
some long unnecessary tale, pointing into the distance with his whip. And tranquillity
takes possession of the soul; one is loth to think of the past. . . .
A carriage with three horses had been sent to fetch Vera Ivanovna Kardin. The driver put
in her luggage and set the harness to rights.
"Everything just as it always has been," said Vera, looking about her. "I was a little girl
when I was here last, ten years ago. I remember old Boris came to fetch me then. Is he
still living, I wonder?"
The driver made no reply, but, like a Little Russian, looked at her angrily and clambered
on to the box.
It was a twenty-mile drive from the station, and Vera, too, abandoned herself to the
charm of the steppe, forgot the past, and thought only of the wide expanse, of the
freedom. Healthy, clever, beautiful, and young--she was only three-and-twenty--she had
hitherto lacked nothing in her life but just this space and freedom.
The steppe, the steppe. . . . The horses trotted, the sun rose higher and higher; and it
seemed to Vera that never in her childhood had the steppe been so rich, so luxuriant in
June; the wild flowers were green, yellow, lilac, white, and a fragrance rose from them
and from the warmed earth; and there were strange blue birds along the roadside. . . .
Vera had long got out of the habit of praying, but now, struggling with drowsiness, she
"Lord, grant that I may be happy here."
And there was peace and sweetness in her soul, and she felt as though she would have
been glad to drive like that all her life, looking at the steppe.