The Joke (2)

tobbogan

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Original story by Russian author, Anton Chekhov. 
Adapted for English Language Learners

IT was a bright winter day. Nadenka was holding my arm and we were standing on a high hill. Beside us was a little sled. “Let’s go down the hill  Nadyezhda!” I begged her. "Only once! I promise you we will be all right. You will not be hurt."

But Nadenka was afraid. The slope to the bottom of the ice hill seemed to her too terrible. She was sure she would die.

"I beg you!" I said. “Don't be afraid!"

Nadenka at last said, “Yes,” but from her face I saw that she was terrified. I helped her into the sled.  She was pale and shaking. I put my arm round her and pushed us off down the hill!

The sled flew like a bullet. The air whistled in our ears and tried to tear our hats off our heads. We could hardly breathe from the force of the wind. 

"I love you, Nadya!" I said in a low voice.

The sled began moving more and more slowly as, at last, we were at the bottom. Nadenka was more dead than alive. She was pale and scarcely breathing. I helped her to get up.

“I will NEVER do that again," she said. "I almost died!"

A little later, however, she was less afraid and began to look into my eyes, wondering if I had really said those four words or did she just imagine it? She took my arm as we walked near the ice-hill. The riddle would not let her rest. Had I said those words or not? Yes or no? Yes or no? I saw that she was struggling with herself, that she wanted to say something, but I said nothing to help her solve the mystery.

"Do you know what," she said without looking at me.

"What?" I asked.

"Let us . . . slide down again."

We climbed up the ice-hill steps again. I helped Nadenka, pale and trembling, get into the sled. Again we flew down as the wind roared.  And again when the wind was the noisiest, I said in a low voice: "I love you, Nadenka!"

When the sled stopped, Nadenka looked at me. On her face was written the question, "What does it mean? Did he say those words, or did I only imagine it?” The poor girl was on the point of tears.

“Maybe we’ve done enough today and it’s time that I walk you home?" I asked.

"Well, I . . . I like this tobogganning," she said, embarrassed. “Can we go down once more?"

We went down for the third time, and the third time I whispered, "I love you, Nadya!"

But the mystery remained a mystery! I walked her home. She tried to walk slowly, waiting to see if I would say those words to her. Oh, how she was suffering!

"It cannot be that the wind said them! And I don't want it to be the wind that said them!"

The next day I saw Nadenka go to the ice-hill and look for me. When she didn’t see me, she timidly climbed the steps. She was frightened of going alone . . . oh, how frightened! She was white as the snow with fear. But she had to know: Did I say those words or was it just the wind blowing. I saw get into the sled, shut her eyes, say good-bye for ever to the earth, and push off. . . . 

Whether Nadenka heard those words or not I do not know. I only saw her get up from the sled looking faint. You could tell from her face that she could not tell herself whether she had heard anything or not. Her terror while flying down the hill deprived of her all power of hearing.  Poor Nadenka was never sure.

That was long ago now. Now Nadenka is married and has three children. That we once went sledding together and that the wind brought her the words "I love you, Nadenka," is not forgotten. It is for her a happy and funny memory in her life.

But now that I am older I cannot understand why I said those words or played such a mean joke on her!

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