I walked along a narrow path at the very edge of a railway embankment. The moonlight glided over the lines which were already covered with dew. Great shadows from the clouds kept flitting over the embankment. Far ahead, a dim green light was glimmering peacefully.
"So everything is well," I thought, looking at them.
I had a quiet, peaceful, comfortable feeling in my heart. I was returning from a tryst, I had no need to hurry; I was not sleepy, and I was conscious of youth and health in every sigh, every step I took, rousing a dull echo in the monotonous hum of the night. I don't know what I was feeling then, but I remember I was happy, very happy.
I had gone not more than three-quarters of a mile when I suddenly heard behind me a monotonous sound, a rumbling, rather like the roar of a great stream. It grew louder and louder every second, and sounded nearer and nearer. I looked round; a hundred paces from me was the dark copse from which I had only just come; there the embankment turned to the right in a graceful curve and vanished among the trees. I stood still in perplexity and waited. A huge black body appeared at once at the turn, noisily darted towards me, and with the swiftness of a bird flew past me along the rails. Less than half a minute passed and the blur had vanished, the rumble melted away into the noise of the night.
It was an ordinary goods truck. There was nothing peculiar about it in itself, but its appearance without an engine and in the night puzzled me. Where could it have come from and what force sent it flying so rapidly along the rails? Where did it come from and where was it flying to?
If I had been superstitious I should have made up my mind it was a party of demons and witches journeying to a devils' sabbath, and should have gone on my way; but as it was, the phenomenon was absolutely inexplicable to me. I did not believe my eyes, and was entangled in conjectures like a fly in a spider's web. . . .
I suddenly realized that I was utterly alone on the whole vast plain; that the night, which by now seemed inhospitable, was peeping into my face and dogging my footsteps; all the sounds, the cries of the birds, the whisperings of the trees, seemed sinister, and existing simply to alarm my imagination. I dashed on like a madman, and without realizing what I was doing I ran, trying to run faster and faster. And at once I heard something to which I had paid no attention before: that is, the plaintive whining of the telegraph wires.
"This is beyond everything," I said, trying to shame myself. "It's cowardice! it's silly!"
But cowardice was stronger than common sense. I only slackened my pace when I reached the green light, where I saw a dark signal-box, and near it on the embankment the figure of a man, probably the signalman.
"Did you see it?" I asked breathlessly.
"See whom? What?"
"Why, a truck ran by."
"I saw it, . . ." the peasant said reluctantly. "It broke away from the goods train. There is an incline at the ninetieth mile . . .; the train is dragged uphill. The coupling on the last truck gave way, so it broke off and ran back. . . . There is no catching it now! . . ."
The strange phenomenon was explained and its fantastic character vanished. My panic was over and I was able to go on my way.
My third fright came upon me as I was going home from stand shooting in early spring. It was in the dusk of evening. The forest road was covered with pools from a recent shower of rain, and the earth squelched under one's feet. The crimson glow of sunset flooded the whole forest, coloring the white stems of the birches and the young leaves. I was exhausted and could hardly move.
Four or five miles from home, walking along the forest road, I suddenly met a big black dog of the water spaniel breed. As he ran by, the dog looked intently at me, straight in my face, and ran on.
"A nice dog!" I thought. "Whose is it?"
I looked round. The dog was standing ten paces off with his eyes fixed on me. For a minute we scanned each other in silence, then the dog, probably flattered by my attention, came slowly up to me and wagged his tail.
I walked on, the dog following me.
"Whose dog can it be?" I kept asking myself. "Where does he come from?"
I knew all the country gentry for twenty or thirty miles round, and knew all their dogs. Not one of them had a spaniel like that. How did he come to be in the depths of the forest, on a track used for nothing but carting timber? He could hardly have dropped behind someone passing through, for there was nowhere for the gentry to drive to along that road.
I sat down on a stump to rest, and began scrutinizing my companion. He, too, sat down, raised his head, and fastened upon me an intent stare. He gazed at me without blinking. I don't know whether it was the influence of the stillness, the shadows and sounds of the forest, or perhaps a result of exhaustion, but I suddenly felt uneasy under the steady gaze of his ordinary doggy eyes. I thought of Faust and his bulldog, and of the fact that nervous people sometimes when exhausted have hallucinations. That was enough to make me get up hurriedly and hurriedly walk on. The dog followed me.
"Go away!" I shouted.
The dog probably liked my voice, for he gave a gleeful jump and ran about in front of me.
"Go away!" I shouted again.
The dog looked round, stared at me intently, and wagged his tail good-humoredly. Evidently my threatening tone amused him. I ought to have patted him, but I could not get Faust's dog out of my head, and the feeling of panic grew more and more acute. . . Darkness was coming on, which completed my confusion, and every time the dog ran up to me and hit me with his tail, like a coward I shut my eyes. The same thing happened as with the light in the belfry and the truck on the railway: I could not stand it and rushed away.
At home I found a visitor, an old friend, who, after greeting me, began to complain that as he wa s driving to me he had lost his way in the forest, and a splendid valuable dog of his had dropped behind.
Chekhov's Short Stories Vol. 1 -by- Anton Chekhov