(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

After an irrelevant introduction about station-masters in general, the narrator tells about one in particular. Samson Vyrin, a widower, is the harried station-master at a remote location visited by the narrator. The operation runs smoothly because his beautiful fourteen-year-old daughter, Dunya, knows how to calm irritated customers, organize the business of the station, and keep her father on an even keel.

The weary narrator presents his papers to the station-master, who copies them in a log book, a bureaucratic necessity in czarist Russia. As the narrator looks around the station during this process, he notes the presence of paintings on the wall depicting the tale of the prodigal son. The first painting portrays the leave-taking of the son, the second his dissolute behavior as he wastes his inheritance, the third his subsequent poverty and tending of swine, and the fourth the joyous reception of the son by the father as the boy returns to the paternal home. As the station-master completes the recording of the orders, Dunya enters the room with a samovar; the three sit down for a chat and tea. The narrator is very impressed by Dunya and, when he is ready to leave, he asks for a kiss. The narrator remembers this kiss even to this day.

A few years later, the narrator is again in the area and stops at the same station. The paintings depicting the parable of the prodigal son are still on the wall, but the station is unkempt and the master has aged. After a few preliminary remarks, Samson tells the narrator what has happened since their last meeting.

A young officer, a certain Minsky, stopped at the station and fell in love with Dunya. In order to prolong his visit, he feigned an illness and Dunya served as his nurse. When...

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