On a cold autumn day, a mud-spattered carriage stops at a small roadside inn. The elderly yet handsome officer who alights is evidently glad to enter a warm, tidy room after his chilly, damp ride. He locates the innkeeper, an attractive woman who resembles a Gypsy, and engages her in conversation. When he compliments her on her establishment’s cleanliness, she says that she knows how to keep things orderly because she grew up around nobility. She then astonishes him by calling him by his name—Nikolai Alexeyevich. As he looks at the woman more closely, he realizes that she is a woman whom he passionately loved some thirty years earlier, when she was eighteen and he was about thirty.
Their conversation begins innocuously. Nikolai tells Nadezhda that he lost touch with her after their affair ended, and he learned that her masters had released her. When he asks her whether she has ever married, she says no. He wonders why not, because she was so beautiful. She again answers simply that she was not able to marry. Disconcerted by her reply, Nikolai asks her what she means. This time, her response carries an implicit reproach: “What is there to explain? Surely you remember how much I loved you.” Nikolai seems to be stung by this and tries to minimize the seriousness of her words by saying that everything passes: love, youth—everything. Nadezhda does not retreat, however. She agrees that youth passes but says that love is another matter.
As their dialogue continues, it becomes clear that Nikolai heartlessly abandoned Nadezhda,...
(The entire section is 635 words.)