translated by Bruce Eunson
This is a translation of Anton Chekhov’s short story, The Lady with the Little Dog. Originally written in Russian and published in 1899, I have translated Rosamund Bartlett’s English version into Shetland dialect. With the help of Vladimir Nabokov’s notes on the story (from his collection Lectures on Russian Literature) I have also adapted the story, taking it from Yalta, Moscow and Volga, and its late 19th century setting, and re-placing it in Lerwick, Edinburgh and Glasgow in a more 20th century Shetland and Scotland.
Details have also been changed, and rendered in a way that hopefully appeals to the readers of 2011.
A number o heads had turned aaready, tae see wha dis new person wis: a lass wi a peerie dug. Harry Hunter Manson had been in Lerwick fir twa weeks noo, an hivin settled intae its rhythms, wis also finnin himsel keepin an eye oot fir new faces. On a fine June day, as he wis sittin at wan o da ootside tables o da Peerie Shop, he watched da young lass wanderin alang da Esplanade; shö wisna datna tall, fair-haired, an shö wis wearin a Fair Isle patterned beret; a peerie Scotty dug scampert efter her.
He started bumpin intae her several times a day, on da street an in da flooer park. She ay waakit bi hersel wi da peerie dug, wearin da sam beret. Naebody Harry wis able tae akse kent wha shö wis, so he simply towt o her as da lass wi da peerie dug.
“If she is here on her own,” reasoned Harry, “it wouldn’t be a bad thing to get to know her.” Harry cam fae a lang line o Shetland-born an Shetland-spaekin fokk, but he bade sooth noo, only comin hame noo an ageen, an as a result, his mind an his speech flittit atween English an dialect.
He wisna yit 40 but he had himsel a 12-year-auld dowter an twa boys wha had juist startit at da school. He had mairried young, when he wis still at university, tae wan o his tutors, noo his wife seemed mair as twice his age. Shö wis a tall wife wi dark eyebroos; wis braaly uptight an aaful pretentious. Shö caad hersel, “intellectual”; he had come tae think o her as bein braaly “upstairs an ben-aff”. Da twa o dem didna spaek muckle ony mair. Wheniver it wis her turn tae brakk da silence shö had developed a peerie joke wi hersel; it wis tae caa him “Hunter”, it wis his midder’s maiden name. Shö had made somethin o a habit o it. Secretly he towt o her as bein smaa-mindit, cruel, an graceless; he wis faert fae her an didna laek bein at hame. He had started bein unfaithful tae her a braa start ago, had been unfaithful a braa piece, an it wis laekly fir dat reason dat he wis aye ready tae spaek negatively aboot weemin; if some-een wis tae spaek aboot dem tae him, he wid refer tae dem as “the lesser species”.
He felt dat he had accrued enyoch bitter experience tae caa dem whitiver he wantit tae, but aa da sam he coodna be wi-oot “the lesser species” fir mair as twartree days. In da company o men he wis dorty an didna feel comfortable; he wis tirn an cowld, but when he wis wi weemin he felt himsel, kaenin whit tae spaek tae dem aboot an how tae behave; he wis even happy tae hadd his tongue. Der wis somethin boannie an weel-laek in his appearance, in his looks, an in his hale nature which pre-disposed weemin tae him an drew dem tae him; he kent it fine weel, an some kind o power drew him tae dem as weel.
Repeatit experience, an bitter experience at dat, had lang ago taught him dat even though intimate relationships seem laek fine peerie adventures at first, addin a grain o flavour tae wan’s life, dey eventually aye turn intae an owerly complex an riddled dilemma fir maist fokk. Harry had heard himsel a number o times afore, laek a foreigner in his ain life, “Whit a tralldom dis wife is!” But den, ivery time he met a new an interestin een, past lessons juist seemed tae vaneesh; he wis eager ageen fir life, an iverything seemed aesy an fun.
Ee day he wis sittin aetin his tae ootside Osla’s, when wha sood wander alang an sit doon but da lass in da Fair Isle beret. Da manner o da lass, her expression, her claes, her style aa made him think dat shö wis fae Shetland originally, had mairried a sooth man, had been bydin awa, but dat shö had felt an itch tae come hame. He guessed dat it wis laekly her first time awa fae him, but, despite bein juist as bored an lonesome here as shö wis awa, shö didna miss her man, in fact, mair as dat, shö wis blyde tae be on her ain. Der wis a fair grain o untruth in da stories aboot local morals; he hated dem an kent dat dey wir maistly made up bi fokk wha wid sin demsels if geen half da chance, but when da lass wis sittin dare juist twartree feet awa fae him, he minded aa da stories aboot past infidelities an how aesy it cood be, an he wis suddenly grippit bi da seductive towt o a swift an brief relationship – a romance wi a wife wha’s name he didna even kaen.
He lowert his hand an bidded her dug tae come ower, but when it did he shook his finger at it. Da dug growled; Harry shook his finger ageen.
Da lass glanced at him den at wance lookit awa.
“He doesn’t bite,” shö said, blushin at da soond o her ain voice.
“Does doo tink he wid laek dis piece o fat?” he aksed. Efter shö nodded he wheeched his unwantit gristle ontae da street dan aksed, “Have you been in Lerwick for long?” Aa o a sudden his English cam rushin back tae him.
“A couple of days.”
“I’ve just finished my second week.”
Da twa o dem sat in silence fir a peerie start.
“Time passes quickly, but it’s also so dull here!” shö said, athoot lookin at him.
“Dat’s juist cause hit’s da done thing ta say it’s dull here. Fokk complain aboot da cost o winnin here, aboot da time it takks tae git here . . . an wance dey dö: ‘Oh isn’t it boring!’ is aa dey hiv ta say.”
Da lass gaffed at dis. Dan dey baith aet in silence ageen, laek strangers. But efter dey had fineeshed an baith paid dir bills dey started chattin wance mair, an fann dey wir wanderin doon da street taegidder. Dey geed doonbye da Market Cross, an past da Royal Bank, an dir conversation continued at leisure, neidder o dem buddert bi whit dey spokk aboot or whaar dey wir gyaan. Dey wan tae da Lodberries an began tae spaek aboot da sea; da sun wis high but its colour had aaready won weel doon intae da depths o da water, makkin ivery wave look saft an warm, each wan pentit pink an orange, an wi a lilac-lick. Dey spokk aboot foo warm it wis wi nae wind blaain. Harry began spaekin aboot himsel, sheeksin aboot bein browt up in Cunningsburgh bi his midder an faidder, til dir mairrige cindered when he wis 13 an he geed wi his faidder tae bide in Edinburgh; he had been at university, studyin poetry, but noo he rowt in a bank; he had a hoose in Edinburgh but cam hame twartree times a year tae be wi his midder, wha wisna aaful weel . . . An fae her he learnt dat shö had been browt up in Trondra, bydin dare wi her granny aa her life til shö fell fir a man up fae Glasgow, an wis noo mairried tae him, an bade doon in Glasgow wi him. Aa her relatives wir dead, except fir dis granny, wha noo bade in Montfield. Shö had rented a hoose in Lerwick fir a mont, it wis her first time back fae shö mairried; her man might come up fir a weekend, but he dinna really care fir Shetland. Shö coodna say whaar exactly her man worked at, juist dat he did somethin fir da cooncil, dis made him gaff an her giggle. Harry also fan oot dat her name wis Sonja Sinclair.
He towt aboot her when he wis back in da hoose, an aboot da possibility o dem meetin da moarn. Dey surely wid. As he wis gyaan tae his bed he mindit dat no sae lang ago shö widda been gittin ready tae start university, juist laek his boys wir noo. He mindit foo nervous an timid shö wis when it wis her turn tae spaek – shö hadna turned gruff or owerly-forwird laek sae mony Shetland weemin did efter mairryin. No, dis lass wis different fae dem, an different fae aa da idder eens in Edinburgh. He minded her fine slender neck, her slim frail fingers; an her boannie grey eyes.
“All the same,” he towt afore faain asleep, “there is something sad about her.”
A week geed by fae da first time dey met. It wis da weekend ageen. Inside da air wis braaly closs, an ootside wis warm as weel, but ivery sae aften da wind wid pick up an you had tae watch you didna loss whitiver you had in your haand. Da pair o dem wir dry aa day, so as dey wandert Harry kept nippin intae Don Leslie’s or Connochies tae buy cowld lemonades or ice creams.
In da evenin dey wandert up aroond da Knab an stood tae watch as da Hrössey wis settin sail. Wi it bein a fine night, der wis a fair few fokk oot; some eens wir waakin da dug, idders wir standin wavin tae da steamer. Sonja pat on her favourite sunglasses, tae shield her een fae da sun, an inspectit da deck o da boat, as if lippenin tae see fokk she kent. Shö turned her head as da boat geed furder oot, dan smiled as her een cam tae rest on Harry. Shö took aff her glasses tae see him in his natural colour, dan spokk nervously. Shö aksed plenty o questions aboot mony a different thing, an firgot whit shö had aksed as soon as he replied; her sunglasses fell fae her pocket an landit on da girse as dey wandert doon da hill.
Aa da fokk dat had been aboot wir geen bi noo. Harry an Sonja bade whaar dey wir, watchin da boat sail sooth, as if somebody closs tae dem wis aboard. Sonja had faan silent, an wis smellin some flooers shö’d picked, no lookin at Harry.
“It’s come a fine night,” he said, “So where will we go now? Fancy a run somewhere?”
Shö didna reply.
He watched her intently, dan pat his airms aboot her suddenly an geed her a smooriken apon da lips. He wis taen bi da scent an moisture o da flooers; dan immediately lookit aboot him, wary dat ony body might be watchin.
“Let’s go to your place . . .” he whispert tae her.
Dey startit waakin awa quickly.
Da windows o da hoose had been shut aa day, it wis braaly closs in her room an da air smelt o da perfume shö had bowt in a Japanese shop doon in Glasgow. As he lookit at her noo, Harry wis thinkin, “Life certainly does throw up some strange encounters!” He had memories fae da past o fine, carefree weemin wha laekit haen flings an seemed kinda grateful-wye tae him fir dir time taegidder, even when it wis aaful short; he hid memories o weemin – takk his wife as ee example – wha loved wi-oot ony sincerity, weemin whaase passion cam fae somewhaar different fae dat o his ain, an wore an expression dat implied dat dis wisna love nor passion, but somethin dey towt o as mair significant; an he had idder memories, o a handful o very beautiful, but terribly cowld weemin, on whaase faces you wid wan day be awaar o an ill-döin or ill-trickit expression an a heavy desire tae takk, tae takk mair as wis offert; weemin laek dis wir rarely young, dey wir filsket, ower-steer, an far fae cliver; Harry had com tae kaen dat when his interest in dem passed, dir beauty faded braaly quick, an da lace an silks dat dey wore took on da texture o fish scales.
But here, in Sonja, wis dat timidity, dat tenderness an lakk o experience, an shö had a kinda gluffed-wye tae her, as if somebody had juist knockit hard at da door. Sonja Sinclair, “da lass wi da peerie dug”, seemed tae be terribly towtful aboot whit had gone on atween dem, as if it wis her doonfaa – or so it seemed, an dis felt queer an inappropriate. Her face droopit an wis expressionless, her lang hair hung sadly doon aboot her, an shö sat yunder in a dejectit pose, laek some sinner in an auld penteen, lost in her towts.
“This is awful,” shö said, an wi da wirds wis mindit o her hom in Trondra, an da life shö left when shö moved tae Glasgow, “Doo’ll be da first wan tae loss respect fir me noo.”
Dir wis a watermelon on da table dat Sonja had bowt da day afore. Harry slowly cut himsel a slice, using da point o da nail o his first finger tae poke da seeds fae it. Haaf an oor passed, at laest.
He wis braaly fond o Sonja; shö had da wholesome air o a respectable, naive lass wi nae muckle experience o life; da solitary candle burnin on da table barely lit her face, but it wis clear shö felt terrible.
“Why on earth wid I stop respectin dee?” aksed Harry. “Doo doesna hae ony idea aboot whit doo’s sayin.”
“May God forgive me!” shö said, as her een filt wi tears. “This is terrible.”
“Doo seems tae want tae juistify deesel.”
“How can I justify myself? I am a bad and wretched woman, I despise myself; justification is the last thing on my mind. It’s not my husband I’ve betrayed but myself. And not just now either: I’ve been betraying myself for a long time. Maybe my husband is a decent and good man, but he’s a fool. I don’t know what he does at the council – all that I know is that he’s an idiot. I was 20 when I got married to him. I was bursting with curiosity, I wanted something better for myself – there has to be a better life, I kept telling myself. I wanted to live! I so wanted to live . . . I was consumed with curiosity . . . You won’t be able to understand this, but I swear to God, I couldn’t restrain myself any longer, something was happening to me; I couldn’t stop myself, so I told my husband that Granny was ill and I had to come back . . . And I’ve been walking around here all the time in complete ecstasy, like a madwoman . . . and now I have become cheap and worthless, a woman whom anyone might despise.”
Harry had aaready gotten fed up wi listenin tae her; he wis annoyed bi da naive an penitential tone, whit wis sae unexpectit an sae misplaced; if it wisna fir da tears in her een, you mighta towt shö wis pittin it on.
“I don’t understand,” he said quietly, “what is it that you want?”
Shö hid her face in his chest an clung closs tae him.
“Please believe me, I beg you . . . I just want to live a decent, honest life; I can’t bear sin and I don’t know myself what I am doing,” shö said. “Shetland fokk spaek aboot gittin tangled up wi an evil spirit. Now I can say that about myself – dat I hiv gotten tangled up wi an evil spirit.”
“Come on now, that’s enough,” he whispert.
He lookit at her scared, staring eyes, dan kissed her, spokk in a saft an tender voice, an gradually shö calmed doon; her good spirits returned an dey baith startit tae smile.
Dey decided tae geng fir anidder wander. It wis nearly midnight but der wis still plenty o light fir dem tae see. Der wisna a soul doon on da pier; juist da scories flappin aboot; da hale toon felt dead, but da waves cood be heard comin up against da concrete o da pier, an der wis lights twinklin fae Bressay trow da midsummer air.
Dey took Harry’s car an drave tae da tap o da Scord.
“When leaving your house I noticed some mail lying by the door addressed to Sonja White,” Harry said, “Is your husband English?”
“No. I think his grandparents might have been, but he was born in Glasgow.”
Dey parked da car on da corner an wandert up da hill a piece afore sittin demsels doon tae takk in da view. Dey sat fir a start, neidder o dem sayin onythin. Dey cood see da Scalloway Castle an Blackness pier, but tae da left an right Tingwall an Trondra wir harder tae makk oot, as white mist an low-lyin clood wis formin wi da moarnin light. East Voe lay flat calm, dew grew in amongst da girse, twartree yowes wir wanderin aboot, a quiet shoosh cam up fae da voe doon below dem an spokk o rest an o da eternal sleep dat awaits wis aa. Da voe had made dat soond afore Scalloway or Lerwick iver existed, it wis makkin dat soond noo, an wid gae on makkin dat sam soond in dat sam hushed an indifferent wye when we ir aa nae langer here. An in dat permanence, in dat complete indifference tae da life an daeth o ivery wan o wis, is mibee hidden a guarantee o wir eternal salvation, a guarantee o da constant movement o life on eart an o endless perfection. Sittin nixt tae a young lass wha seemed sae beautiful in da midsummer light, taen wi dis magical settin – da mirror o da voe, da mist trow da valley, da colours o da sky an da sangs fae da birds – Harry wis thinkin dat when you really reflect apon it, aathing is beautiful on dis eart, aathing dat is, except whit we think an do when we firgaet aboot da higher purpose o existence an aboot wir human dignity.
Suddenly some idder body appeared, waakin up da sam sheep’s gaet dat dey had taen. Da person cam closs, geed dem a glance, den wandert awa. Harry wis sae taen wi his towts o mysticism an beauty dat even dis strange happeneen didna budder him. Da Milky Way cood be seen slowly comin in taeward da pier; nae need fur it’s lights sae bright wis da midsummer sky.
“There’s dew on the grass,” said Sonja, brakkin da silence.
“Yes, it’s time to go back.”
Dey drave back tae Lerwick.
Noo dey took tae meetin up ivery day, buyin lunch fae somewhaar, changin whaar ivery time, dan gyaan fir wanders tae aa sorts o places, admirin da sea ivery time. Shö complained dat shö wisna sleepin, an dat her haert wis geein a cry; shö aksed him da sam questions, idder oot o jealousy or due tae a fear dat he didna hae enyoch respect fir her. An mony a time, when dey wid mibee be gyaan up wan o da lanes, an nae body wis aboot, he wid draa her tae him an suddenly kiss her. He felt rejuvenated bi da complete idleness an da kisses in da middle o da day, which wir accompanied bi furtive looks an da fear dat dey might o been seen; he felt rejuvenated bi da wind, bi da smell o da sea, an bi da constant flittin afore his een o occupied tourists; he telt Sonja foo boannie an wonderful shö wis, he cam tae be datna taen wi her dat he niver left her on her ain, while shö wis laek tae be ower-towtful an begged him tae admit dat he didna respect or love her in da slightest, an dat he towt o her as bein nithin but a cheap woman. Dey left Lerwick nearly ivery night an drave oot wast or doon tae da sooth end; an da trips wir aye a success; da impressions unfailinly beautiful an majestic.
Dey wir lippenin her man tae come up. Instead shö got wird dat he wis sufferin fae an eye infection an widna be fit fir da trip. He aksed her tae come hame. He begged her. Sonja gaddert her things as fast as shö wis able.
“It’s a good thing that I’m leaving,” shö said tae Harry. “It’s fate.”
He drave her doon tae Sumburgh fir her tae catch her plane, dey spent da hale day taegidder, gyaan ower tae St Ninian’s Isle in da moarnin. Dey sat in da far coarner o da airport, wi dir backs tae aabody idder. When da tannoy announced da Glasgow flight shö got up tae geng, an took twartree steps afore turnin back tae him, sayin:
“Let me look at you again . . . I want one last look.”
Shö wisna greetin, but shö lookit braaly doon apon it, as if shö wis poorly, an her face wis tremblin.
“I’ll think about you . . . and remember you,” shö said. “Think well of me. This is goodbye forever and it has to be that way, because we shouldn’t have ever met. God bless.”
Oot in da car park he sat in his car wi da key in his haand, an watched her takk aff. Shö wis awa laek dat, awa fae his side, da plane far oot o sight, as if some special agreement had been made tae bring dis sweet oblivion, dis insanity, tae a quick end. Harry windit doon da car window, an listened tae da soond o vehicles, an da wash o da sea, an he felt laek he had juist wokened. He towt aboot foo dis had been wan mair fling, wan mair story tae his life; noo it had com tae an end, an aa dat wis left, wis whit he mindit o it . . . He felt moved bi it aa; sad an kinda repentant-wye; efter aa, da young lass wha he wid niver see ageen hadna been happy wi him; he had been freendly wi her, an sincere, but aa da sam, wheniver he had been wi her der had been a trace o mockery in his tone an in his endearments – it wis da crude arrogance o a contented man wha wis nearly twa times da age shö wis. Shö had kept sayin foo fine he wis, foo different, foo honourable; shö hadna divined his real personality, so it had been dat ithoot kaenin, he had deceived her . . .
Der wis da bite o hairst wi da wind noo, an he felt cowld.
“I doot it’s time fir me tae head sooth as weel,” towt Harry as he drave slowly up trow Cunningsburgh. “Yis, I doot A’m been lang enyoch in Shetland.”