A.P. Chekhov - Oh! the Public!
"HERE goes, I've done with drinking! Nothing. . . n-o-thing
shall tempt me to it. It's time to take myself in hand; I must
buck up and work. . . You're glad to get your salary, so you
must do your work honestly, heartily, conscientiously,
regardless of sleep and comfort. Chuck taking it easy. You've
got into the way of taking a salary for nothing, my boy --
that's not the right thing . . . not the right thing at all. . .
After administering to himself several such lectures Podtyagin,
the head ticket collector, begins to feel an irresistible
impulse to get to work. It is past one o'clock at night, but in
spite of that he wakes the ticket collectors and with them goes
up and down the railway carriages, inspecting the tickets.
"T-t-t-ickets . . . P-p-p-please!" he keeps shouting, briskly
snapping the clippers.
Sleepy figures, shrouded in the twilight of the railway
carriages, start, shake their heads, and produce their tickets.
"T-t-t-tickets, please!" Podtyagin addresses a second-class
passenger, a lean, scraggy-looking man, wrapped up in a fur coat
and a rug and surrounded with pillows. "Tickets, please!"
The scraggy-looking man makes no reply. He is buried in sleep.
The head ticket-collector touches him on the shoulder and
repeats impatiently: "T-t-tickets, p-p-please!"
The passenger starts, opens his eyes, and gazes in alarm at
"What? . . . Who? . . . Eh?"
"You're asked in plain language: t-t-tickets, p-p-please! If you
"My God!" moans the scraggy-looking man, pulling a woebegone
face. "Good Heavens! I'm suffering from rheumatism. . . . I
haven't slept for three nights! I've just taken morphia on
purpose to get to sleep, and you . . . with your tickets! It's
merciless, it's inhuman! If you knew how hard it is for me to
sleep you wouldn't disturb me for such nonsense. . . . It's
cruel, it's absurd! And what do you want with my ticket! It's
Podtyagin considers whether to take offence or not -- and
decides to take offence.
"Don't shout here! This is not a tavern!"
"No, in a tavern people are more humane. . ." coughs the
passenger. "Perhaps you'll let me go to sleep another time! It's
extraordinary: I've travelled abroad, all over the place, and no
one asked for my ticket there, but here you're at it again and
again, as though the devil were after you. . . ."
"Well, you'd better go abroad again since you like it so much."
"It's stupid, sir! Yes! As though it's not enough killing the
passengers with fumes and stuffiness and draughts, they want to
strangle us with red tape, too, damn it all! He must have the
ticket! My goodness, what zeal! If it were of any use to the
company -- but half the passengers are travelling without a
"Listen, sir!" cries Podtyagin, flaring up. "If you don't leave
off shouting and disturbing the public, I shall be obliged to
put you out at the next station and to draw up a report on the
"This is revolting!" exclaims "the public," growing indignant.
"Persecuting an invalid! Listen, and have some consideration!"
"But the gentleman himself was abusive!" says Podtyagin, a
little scared. "Very well. . . . I won't take the ticket . . .
as you like. . . . Only, of course, as you know very well, it's
my duty to do so. . . . If it were not my duty, then, of course.
. . You can ask the station-master . . . ask anyone you like. .
Podtyagin shrugs his shoulders and walks away from the invalid.
At first he feels aggrieved and somewhat injured, then, after
passing through two or three carriages, he begins to feel a
certain uneasiness not unlike the pricking of conscience in his
"There certainly was no need to wake the invalid," he thinks,
"though it was not my fault. . . .They imagine I did it
wantonly, idly. They don't know that I'm bound in duty . . . if
they don't believe it, I can bring the station-master to them."
A station. The train stops five minutes. Before the third bell,
Podtyagin enters the same second-class carriage. Behind him
stalks the station-master in a red cap.
"This gentleman here," Podtyagin begins, "declares that I have
no right to ask for his ticket and . . . and is offended at it.
I ask you, Mr. Station-master, to explain to him. . . . Do I ask
for tickets according to regulation or to please myself? Sir,"
Podtyagin addresses the scraggy-looking man, "sir! you can ask
the station-master here if you don't believe me."
The invalid starts as though he had been stung, opens his eyes,
and with a woebegone face sinks back in his seat.
"My God! I have taken another powder and only just dozed off
when here he is again. . . again! I beseech you have some pity
"You can ask the station-master . . . whether I have the right
to demand your ticket or not."
"This is insufferable! Take your ticket. . . take it! I'll pay
for five extra if you'll only let me die in peace! Have you
never been ill yourself? Heartless people!"
"This is simply persecution!" A gentleman in military uniform
grows indignant. "I can see no other explanation of this
"Drop it . . ." says the station-master, frowning and pulling
Podtyagin by the sleeve.
Podtyagin shrugs his shoulders and slowly walks after the
"There's no pleasing them!" he thinks, bewildered. "It was for
his sake I brought the station-master, that he might understand
and be pacified, and he . . . swears!"
Another station. The train stops ten minutes. Before the second
bell, while Podtyagin is standing at the refreshment bar,
drinking seltzer water, two gentlemen go up to him, one in the
uniform of an engineer, and the other in a military overcoat.
"Look here, ticket-collector!" the engineer begins, addressing
Podtyagin. "Your behaviour to that invalid passenger has
revolted all who witnessed it. My name is Puzitsky; I am an
engineer, and this gentleman is a colonel. If you do not
apologize to the passenger, we shall make a complaint to the
traffic manager, who is a friend of ours."
"Gentlemen! Why of course I . . . why of course you . . ."
Podtyagin is panic-stricken.
"We don't want explanations. But we warn you, if you don't
apologize, we shall see justice done to him."
"Certainly I . . . I'll apologize, of course. . . To be sure. .
Half an hour later, Podtyagin having thought of an apologetic
phrase which would satisfy the passenger without lowering his
own dignity, walks into the carriage. "Sir," he addresses the
invalid. "Listen, sir. . . ."
The invalid starts and leaps up: "What?"
"I . . . what was it? . . . You mustn't be offended. . . ."
"Och! Water . . ." gasps the invalid, clutching at his heart.
"I'd just taken a third dose of morphia, dropped asleep, and . .
. again! Good God! when will this torture cease!"
"I only . . . you must excuse . . ."
"Oh! . . . Put me out at the next station! I can't stand any
more. . . . I . . . I am dying. . . ."
"This is mean, disgusting!" cry the "public," revolted. "Go
away! You shall pay for such persecution. Get away!"
Podtyagin waves his hand in despair, sighs, and walks out of the
carriage. He goes to the attendants' compartment, sits down at
the table, exhausted, and complains:
"Oh, the public! There's no satisfying them! It's no use working
and doing one's best! One's driven to drinking and cursing it
all. . . . If you do nothing -- they're angry; if you begin
doing your duty, they're angry too. There's nothing for it but
Podtyagin empties a bottle straight off and thinks no more of
work, duty, and honesty!
third bell: train passengers were given 3 warning bells: the
first (single) ring indicated 15 minutes until departure; the
second (2 rings) indicated 5 minutes; and the third bell (3
rings) sounded as the train left the station.