"In Autumn" (1883), by Anton Chekhov

(actualisé le ) by Anton Chekhov

On a stormy evening Tikhon’s tavern is crowded with coachmen and pilgrims, and a forty-year-old man in shoddy clothes at the bar is ceaselessly begging for a glass of vodka, eventually proposing his worn-out coat in exchange. Tikhon contemptuously refuses to give him any more vodka until a coachman arrives who recognizes the man as his former master, and we learn the unhappy and female cause of his downfall.

A dramatic story with a most convincing atmosphere, a remarkable achievement for a young author of twenty-three who had previously mainly specialized in humorous skits. The following year Chekhov developed it into his first one-act play, On the High Road [1]. (2,218 words).

Translated specially for this site [2].


e-book versions of the text are available for downloading below.



It was just before nightfall.

Uncle Tikhon’s tavern was crowded with coachmen and pilgrims. They’d been driven there by an autumn shower and a fierce wet wind that had slashed across their faces like a whip. Drenched and tired, the travelers sat on benches by the walls and dozed, listening to the wind. Boredom was written on their faces. One of the coachmen, a little man with a pockmarked, scratched face, had a wet harmonica on his lap: he played it mechanically and stopped regularly.
Rain sprayed over the door and around the dim, greasy lantern. The wind howled like a wolf, screeched and seemed to be trying to rip the tavern door from its hinges. From the yard could be heard the snorting of horses and their stamping in the mud. It was damp and cold.
Uncle Tikhon himself, a tall, muzzle-faced man with sleepy, swollen eyes, was sitting at the counter. In front of him on the other side of the counter stood a man of about forty in dirty, very cheap clothes who nevertheless had an intelligent look. He was wearing a crumpled, mud-soaked summer coat, plaid trousers, and rubber galoshes on his bare feet. His head, his hands that he held in his pockets, and his thin, prickly elbows shook as if in a fever. From time to time a slight convulsion ran through his whole emaciated body, from his weather-beaten face down to his rubber galoshes.
“Give me a glass, for Christ’s sake!” he asked Tikhon in a broken, rattling tenor. “One glass... one little one. On account, after all!”
"Go away... There are a lot of you good-for-nothings around here!”
The good-for-nothing in question looked at Tikhon with contempt, with hatred. He would have killed him if he could have.
"You must understand, you’re such a fool, such an ignoramus! I’m not asking; to put it in your manly way: my gut is asking! My disease needs it! Don’t you understand?”
"I’ve nothing to understand! Go away...”
“Do you understand that, after all, if I don’t have a drink now, if I don’t satisfy my need, then I could commit a crime? God knows what I could do! You’ve seen, you boor, that in your tavern there are a lot of drunken people; haven’t you really been able to figure out what kind of people they are? They’re sick! Put them in chains, beat them, cut them up, but give them vodka! Well, I humbly beg you! Mercy! I’m humiliated... My God, how I’m humiliated!”
The good-for-nothing shook his head and spat slowly.
"Give us the money, and then there’ll be vodka," said Tikhon.
"Where can I get money from? Everything’s been drunk up! Everything’s in ashes! I’ve only one coat left. I can’t give it to you because it’s on my naked body... Do you want a hat?”
He handed Tikhon his drape-cap, from which cotton wool peeped out in some places. Tikhon took the cap, looked it over and shook his head.
“It’s worth nothing,” he said. "Rubbish...”
"You don’t like it? Well, give me a loan if you don’t like it. I’ll go out of town and bring you your pennies back. Then you’ll choke on it! Choke on it!”
"What kind of a crook are you? What kind of man? Why’d you come here?”
"I want a drink! I don’t want it, my disease wants it! Do you understand?”
"What are you moaning about? There are lots like you, all filthy, staggering along the high road! Go over and ask the pilgrims, let them treat you for the sake of Christ if they want to, but I only serve bread for Christ’s sake, you bastard!”
"Take it from those poor people there, and I... no, I’m sorry! I can’t rob them! That’s not for me!”
He suddenly broke off, blushed and turned to the pilgrims:
"But that’s an idea, pilgrims! Give me something! My gut’s asking you! It’s sick!”
"Drink some water," the coachman with a pockmarked face said and grinned.
The good-for-nothing felt ashamed. He coughed and was silent. A minute later he begged Tikhon again. In the end he began to cry and offered his wet coat for a glass of vodka. In the dark Tikhon couldn’t see his tears, and he didn’t accept his coat because there were female pilgrims in the tavern who didn’t want to see any male nakedness.
"What can I do now?” he asked quietly in a voice full of despair. "What can I do? I can’t help but drink. Otherwise, I’ll commit a crime or dare to commit suicide... What can I do?”
He wandered around the tavern.

The postal carriage drove up with shouts. The postman, soaking wet, entered the pub, drank a glass of vodka and left. The mail coach moved on.
“I’ll give you one golden thing,” the good-for-nothing said to Tikhon, suddenly becoming pale as a sheet. "Please, I’ll give it to you. So be it... Though it’s vile, disgusting on my part, but take it... I’ll do this disgusting thing, being insane... And at a trial I’d be acquitted... Take it, but only on one condition: give it back to me later when I leave. I’ll give it to you in front of witnesses...”
The wretch reached into his bosom with a wet hand and pulled out a small gold medallion. He opened it and glanced briefly at the portrait.
"I ought to take out the portrait, but I’ve nowhere to put it: I’m all wet. Damn you, you’re robbing me with this portrait. Only on condition... My dear, my dear... I beg you... Don’t touch this face with your fingers... I beg you, my dear! Forgive me for being rude, for speaking rudely to you... I’m stupid... Don’t touch it with your fingers and don’t look at the face...”
Tikhon took the medallion, looked at it and put it in his pocket.
“A stolen watch,” he said, pouring a glass. "Well... drink!”
The drunkard took the glass in his hands, flashed his eyes at him, insofar as his drunken, cloudy eyes had the strength to sparkle, and drank... drank with feeling, convulsively. Having drunk up the medallion with the portrait, he bashfully lowered his eyes and walked over to the corner. There he perched on a bench near the pilgrims, cringed and closed his eyes.

Half an hour passed in silence. There was just the rustling of the wind, singing its autumn rhapsody like a trumpet. The pilgrims began to pray to God and to quietly settle down under the benches for the night. Tikhon opened the medallion and looked at the woman’s face that was smiling from the golden frame at the tavern, at Tikhon, and at the bottles.
A cart creaked in the yard. Splashing and flopping in the mud were heard... A little peasant in a long sheepskin coat and with a sharp beard ran into the tavern. He was wet and dirty.
"Well, come on! "he shouted, tapping his penny on the counter. "A glass of real Madeira! Pour it out!”
And, wheeling around on one leg, he looked over the whole company.
"Melted sugar, your aunt’s ass! They’re afraid of the rain, of the rain! So delicate! And what’s this raisin juice?
The little fellow rushed over to the good-for-nothing and looked him in the face.
"Hallo there Master Semyon Sergeich!" he said. “Our master! Why on earth are you hanging around in this tavern? Why, you don’t belong here! Eh... unfortunate martyr!”
The master glanced at the peasant and covered himself with his sleeve. The little man sighed, shook his head, desperately waved both hands and went to the counter to drink vodka.
“This is our master,” he whispered to Tikhon, nodding at the good-for-nothing. "Our landlord, Semyon Sergeich. Have you seen what he’s like? What kind of person he looks like now? Eh? That’s what it is... drunkenness to a degree...”
After drinking the vodka, the little peasant wiped his lips with his sleeve and continued:
“I’m from his village. Four hundred versts from Akhtilovka... His father had serfs... Such a pity, brother! Such a pity! He was such a glorious gentleman... Over there, that horse in the yard, do you see it? He gave me that horse! Ha ha! Fate!”
Ten minutes later cabs and pilgrims were sitting around the peasant. In a quiet, nervous tenor voice, under the sound of autumn, he told them the story. Semyon Sergeich remained sitting in the same corner, his eyes closed and muttering. He listened too.

"All that came from one single act of cowardice," said the little man, moving and gesturing with his hands. "What a shame! Master was rich, one of the richest in the whole province... You could eat and drink as much as you like! You yourself, I suppose, have seen for yourself... How many times I’ve driven him by this very tavern in a carriage! He used to be rich... I remember when about five years ago he was going on the Mikishkinsky ferry and he threw in a ruble instead of a nickel... His ruin began for a trifle. First of all there was the woman. He fell deeply in love, my dear, with a city woman... It was unreal. The crow fell in love with the falcon... She was nicknamed Marya Yegorovna, the vile one; her surname was so weird that you couldn’t even pronounce it. So he fell in love and asked her to marry him, as is God’s way. And she, you know, gave her consent, because he wasn’t a frivolous gentleman, he was vigorous and had money... I remember walking one evening through their garden; I looked around and there they were sitting on a bench, kissing each other. He was hers, and she, the snake, was his. He had her by her lily-white hand, and she was flushing and hugging him, she was such an actress! “I love you, Senya”... And Senya, like a bewitched person, went around everywhere boasting foolishly of his happiness... One ruble here, two there... He even gave me a horse... He forgave all of us our debts in his joy... Then came the wedding... They got married, in the proper way... Just when all the company were sitting down for dinner, she got up and ran off in a carriage... She fled in a hurry to the lawyer, her lover. After the wedding, she hid, eh? Right afterwards! He’s been drunk since then, he’s in a daze... That’s why, you see... He walks about like a crazy man, and just thinks about her, the snake. Love! He’d like to be going to the city now on foot to get a glimpse of her... Second of all, brothers, the ruin came from the brother-in-law, the sister’s husband... He took it into his head to vouch for his brother-in-law in the banking community... thirty thousand... The brother-in-law was in league with a rogue, and didn’t contribute a dog’s ear, but from him they took all thirty thousand... A stupid man suffers for his stupidity... The wife with her brood of children took root, the brother-in-law bought an estate near Poltava, and our master goes into taverns like a fool goes up to our brother the peasant with a complaint: ‘I’ve lost my faith, brother! There’s no one for me to believe in now!’ Cowardice! Everyone has their own griefs, but do they go drinking then? Here we have, for example, a foreman. His wife takes a teacher home in broad daylight, she takes her husband’s money for hops, and the fellow goes around with a smile on his face...”

People started to wake up...
“Who knows what kind of power God has given..." sighed Tikhon.
“Power comes in all shapes and sizes – that’s for sure."
The little peasant talked for a long time. When he had finished, silence reigned in the tavern.
"Hey, you... how’re you doing?... unhappy fellow! Come and have a drink!" said Tikhon, addressing the master.
The master went to the counter and drank the proffered drink with pleasure.
"Give me the locket back for a minute!" he whispered to Tikhon. "I’ll just look at it and... I’ll give it back to you...”
Tikhon frowned and silently gave him the medallion. The pock-faced fellow sighed, shook his head and demanded vodka.
"Have a drink, sir! Eh! It’s good without vodka, but even better with vodka! With vodka and grief, there’s no grief! Go ahead!”
Having drunk five glasses, the master went to the corner, opened the medallion and with drunken, dull eyes began to look for the dear face... But the face was gone... It had been scratched out of the medallion with the nails of the virtuous Tikhon.

The lantern flashed and went out. In the corner a pilgrim talked in tongues. The little fellow with a pockmarked face prayed aloud to God and stretched out on the counter. Someone else drove up... And the rain poured down and down... The cold became more and more intense, and it seemed that there would be no end to the vile, gloomy autumn. The master glared at the medallion and kept looking for a woman’s face...
The candle went out.

Spring, where are you?


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Footnotes

[1Chekhov had earlier, at the age of 18, written the four-act play Platonov that was never performed during his lifetime and was first published posthumously in 1923.

[2by Ray, Mat and DeepL