Tales of Belkin

The Station Master

This story was told to Belkin by Titular Counsellor A.G.N., and is a first-hand account. The story opens with the narrator complaining to the reader in a humorous fashion about collegiate registrars, the lowest of the fourteen ranks in the Imperial Russian civil service, who run posting stations along the country's roads, providing such services as fresh horses, beds, and food to travelers. The narrator derides collegiate registrars as power-drunk, unreasonable, asking the reader who hasn't cursed them, and asked to see their "vile ledger book." After this opening tirade, however, the narrator relents, and states that he will tell us a story about one particular sympathetic station master he met during his extensive travels on official business.

The narrator begins by telling us of one of his travels, which brought him to an infrequently used road very far out in the country. Stopping at the local posting station, he is captivated by the station's order and decoration, among which is an illustrated version of the biblical story of the Prodigal Son. When asked by the station master if he would like some tea, as all of the horses are out and he will be required to wait for some time until new horses can be prepared, the narrator accepts and stays a while. Shortly after, the tea is brought out by the station master's daughter, Dunya, who is described as being beautiful and very adult in demeanor and mannerisms. Dunya and the narrator converse as if they were good friends, and the narrator, who initially expressed his disapproval of having to wait, is sorry to leave the posting station after Dunya allows him to kiss her before he leaves.

The narrator goes on his way, but the posting station where he met Dunya remains in the back of his head. Three years later, the narrator decides to visit Dunya and her father. Upon reaching the station, which is no longer on an official imperial road, he finds the station in disrepair and the old station master a broken man. When the narrator inquires as to the state of his daughter, the old station master concedes that he has no idea where she is or what condition she is in. Although the old station master will not tell the story of his daughter's disappearance at first, when the narrator offers the old station master something to drink, the old station master relents and begins to tell the story.

Some time after the narrator's first visit, a dashing hussar Captain (ninth rank) comes to the posting station, and like many other visitors, has to wait until new horses could be prepared. The hussar, called Minsky, is initially enraged that someone of his rank would be forced to wait by a fourteenth-grade civil servant, and the station master calls Dunya in to calm him. Dunya begins to talk to Minsky, and just like the narrator, he takes a great liking to her and forgets his annoyance at being forced to stay at the station. Soon after, however, he falls gravely ill and remains at the station for several days, during which time Dunya cares for him day and night. When he gets better, as a token of gratitude he offers to take Dunya on a ride across the village in his fancy carriage. Dunya hesitates, but her father tells her that she may go, and she gets in the carriage. Minsky, his illness feigned, then proceeds to kidnap Dunya, who is never seen by her father again, even though he tracks Minsky down and even tries to barge into his home in Saint Petersburg. The station master is unsuccessful in his attempts to see Dunya (now going by her full name Avdotya), and he returns bitterly to his nearly defunct posting station.

Several years after hearing the old station master's story, the narrator returns to the remote village once again. The town has now been off the imperial road for several years, and upon visiting the old station master's house, the narrator learns that he has died, most likely from alcoholism. The family who now lives in the house offer to have one of their children show the narrator to the old post master's grave. The narrator remarks that the graveyard is the most desolate place he has ever seen, and feels that he has wasted his time and money in visiting the village yet again. Shortly after, the child who brought the narrator to the graveyard tells the narrator that not long before he arrived, a woman came to the village in a fancy carriage with several children, a governess, footmen, and wearing an expensive dress. She also asked to see the postmaster's grave, but said that she knew the way to the graveyard and did not need to be shown. The child continues by saying that the woman bowed down on the station master's grave and wept. Realizing that Dunya returned to her father's grave and has not been abandoned by Minsky as her father feared, the narrator feels at peace, and no longer thinks that the trip was wasted.

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