On a rainy autumn day a dirty tarantass pulled up to a long hut, one half of which housed a post office and the other half an inn. In the back of the tarantass sat Nikolai Alekseevich.
The old man walked into the halfway house that housed the inn. The landlady who came out to meet him called Nikolai Alekseyevich by name, and he recognized in her Nadezhda, his former love, whom he had not seen for thirty years.
An excited Nikolai Alekseevich began to ask how she had lived all these years. Nadezhda told him that the gentlemen had given her a free hand. She was not married because she loved Nikolai Alexeyevich too much.
The old man, embarrassed, muttered that it was an ordinary story, and that everything had long since passed: "all things pass with the years." Nadezhda objected that for others, maybe, but not for her. She had lived with him all her life, knowing that it was as if nothing had ever happened for him. After he had heartlessly abandoned her, more than once she had wanted to lay hands on herself.
With an unkind smile, Nadezhda recalled how Nikolai Alekseevich read her poems "about all sorts of 'dark alleys'". Nikolai Alekseyevich remembered how beautiful Nadezhda was. He, too, was good - it was not without reason that she gave him "her beauty, her fever."
Agitated and distraught, Nikolai Alexeevich asked Nadezhda to leave and added: "If only God will forgive me. And you, it seems, have forgiven me." But she did not and could not forgive.
...I could never forgive you. As I had nothing dearer than you in the world at that time, and then I had not. That's why I can't forgive you. But what's the point of remembering, they don't carry the dead from the graveyard.
Nikolai Alekseyevich overcame his excitement and tears and ordered the horses to be fed. He, too, was not happy in life. He married for great love - and his wife left him even more abusively than he did Nadezhda. He hoped for his son - but he grew up to be a scoundrel, an impudent man, without honor or conscience.
Nadezhda kissed Nikolai Alekseevich's hand goodbye, and he kissed hers. On the road he remembered it with shame and was ashamed of his shame. The coachman said that she had looked after them from the window, and added that Nadezhda was a clever woman, giving money in advance, but fair.
Now Nikolai Alekseevich realized that the time of the affair with Nadezhda was the best in his life: "the scarlet briar blossomed all around, the dark alleys of linden trees stood...". He tried to imagine that Nadezhda was not the mistress of the inn, but his wife, the mistress of his St. Petersburg home, the mother of his children, and closed his eyes and shook his head.
The retelling is based on an edition of the story from Bunin's Collected Works in 6 volumes (M.: Art Literature, 1988).