We’re in my living room again with a group of friends drinking wine and reading Chekhov, the great short story writer of Russia and the reading world. We love him for so many reasons, including the fact that he invites us to digress. We’re reading a famous story called “The Student.” It’s a late winter, early spring night in the 1890s, Easter weekend. A student is coming home from shooting, and he pauses to share a Gospel story — Peter’s denial of Jesus — with peasant women. Chekhov liked to say this was his favorite story; a lot of people disagreed with him, some vehemently. I think he liked to say it because the story ends on an exalted note, as if to answer those who thought he was desperately gloomy and dark and atheistic. He may have said that he loved it as a sort of sop to his critics. It is for me not only the most perfect, postage-stamp little dose of Chekhov’s moods, alternately bleak and ecstatic; it also sets a complex reflection on betrayal, hardship, history and hope in an unforgettably beautiful scene.