The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories
IN the course of the maneuvres the N---- cavalry regiment halted for a night at the district
town of K----. Such an event as the visit of officers always has the most exciting and
inspiring effect on the inhabitants of provincial towns. The shopkeepers dream of getting
rid of the rusty sausages and "best brand" sardines that have been lying for ten years on
their shelves; the inns and restaurants keep open all night; the Military Commandant, his
secretary, and the local garrison put on their best uniforms; the police flit to and fro like
mad, while the effect on the ladies is beyond all description.
The ladies of K----, hearing the regiment approaching, forsook their pans of boiling jam
and ran into the street. Forgetting their morning deshabille and general untidiness, they
rushed breathless with excitement to meet the regiment, and listened greedily to the band
playing the march. Looking at their pale, ecstatic faces, one might have thought those
strains came from some heavenly choir rather than from a military brass band.
"The regiment!" they cried joyfully. "The regiment is coming!"
What could this unknown regiment that came by chance to-day and would depart at dawn
to-morrow mean to them?
Afterwards, when the officers were standing in the middle of the square, and, with their
hands behind them, discussing the question of billets, all the ladies were gathered
together at the examining magistrate's and vying with one another in their criticisms of
the regiment. They already knew, goodness knows how, that the colonel was married, but
not living with his wife; that the senior officer's wife had a baby born dead every year;
that the adjutant was hopelessly in love with some countess, and had even once attempted
suicide. They knew everything. When a pock-marked soldier in a red shirt darted past the
windows, they knew for certain that it was Lieutenant Rymzov's orderly running about
the town, trying to get some English bitter ale on tick for his master. They had only
caught a passing glimpse of the officers' backs, but had already decided that there was not
one handsome or interesting man among them. . . . Having talked to their hearts' content,
they sent for the Military Commandant and the committee of the club, and instructed
them at all costs to make arrangements for a dance.
Their wishes were carried out. At nine o'clock in the evening the military band was
playing in the street before the club, while in the club itself the officers were dancing
with the ladies of K----. The ladies felt as though they were on wings. Intoxicated by the
dancing, the music, and the clank of spurs, they threw themselves heart and soul into
making the acquaintance of their new partners, and quite forgot their old civilian friends.
Their fathers and husbands, forced temporarily into the background, crowded round the
meagre refreshment table in the entrance hall. All these government cashiers, secretaries,
clerks, and superintendents--stale, sickly-looking, clumsy figures--were perfectly well