A.P. Chekhov - The Post
IT was three o'clock in the night. The postman, ready to set
off, in his cap and his coat, with a rusty sword in his hand,
was standing near the door, waiting for the driver to finish
putting the mail bags into the cart which had just been brought
round with three horses. The sleepy postmaster sat at his table,
which was like a counter; he was filling up a form and saying:
"My nephew, the student, wants to go to the station at once. So
look here, Ignatyev, let him get into the mail cart and take him
with you to the station: though it is against the regulations to
take people with the mail, what's one to do? It's better for him
to drive with you free than for me to hire horses for him."
"Ready!" they heard a shout from the yard.
"Well, go then, and God be with you," said the postmaster.
"Which driver is going?"
"Come, sign the receipt."
The postman signed the receipt and went out. At the entrance of
the post-office there was the dark outline of a cart and three
horses. The horses were standing still except that one of the
tracehorses kept uneasily shifting from one leg to the other and
tossing its head, making the bell clang from time to time. The
cart with the mail bags looked like a patch of darkness. Two
silhouettes were moving lazily beside it: the student with a
portmanteau in his hand and a driver. The latter was smoking a
short pipe; the light of the pipe moved about in the darkness,
dying away and flaring up again; for an instant it lighted up a
bit of a sleeve, then a shaggy moustache and big copper-red
nose, then stern-looking, overhanging eyebrows. The postman
pressed down the mail bags with his hands, laid his sword on
them and jumped into the cart. The student clambered
irresolutely in after him, and accidentally touching him with
his elbow, said timidly and politely: "I beg your pardon."
The pipe went out. The postmaster came out of the post-office
just as he was, in his waistcoat and slippers; shrinking from
the night dampness and clearing his throat, he walked beside the
cart and said:
"Well, God speed! Give my love to your mother, Mihailo. Give my
love to them all. And you, Ignatyev, mind you don't forget to
give the parcel to Bystretsov. . . . Off!"
The driver took the reins in one hand, blew his nose, and,
arranging the seat under himself, clicked to the horses.
"Give them my love," the postmaster repeated.
The big bell clanged something to the little bells, the little
bells gave it a friendly answer. The cart squeaked, moved. The
big bell lamented, the little bells laughed. Standing up in his
seat the driver lashed the restless tracehorse twice, and the
cart rumbled with a hollow sound along the dusty road. The
little town was asleep. Houses and trees stood black on each
side of the broad street, and not a light was to be seen. Narrow
clouds stretched here and there over the star-spangled sky, and
where the dawn would soon be coming there was a narrow crescent
moon; but neither the stars, of which there were many, nor the
half-moon, which looked white, lighted up the night air. It was
cold and damp, and there was a smell of autumn.
The student, who thought that politeness required him to talk
affably to a man who had not refused to let him accompany him,
"In summer it would be light at this time, but now there is not
even a sign of the dawn. Summer is over!"
The student looked at the sky and went on:
"Even from the sky one can see that it is autumn. Look to the
right. Do you see three stars side by side in a straight line?
That is the constellation of Orion, which, in our hemisphere,
only becomes visible in September."
The postman, thrusting his hands into his sleeves and retreating
up to his ears into his coat collar, did not stir and did not
glance at the sky. Apparently the constellation of Orion did not
interest him. He was accustomed to see the stars, and probably
he had long grown weary of them. The student paused for a while
and then said:
"It's cold! It's time for the dawn to begin. Do you know what
time the sun rises?"
"What time does the sun rise now?"
"Between five and six," said the driver.
The mail cart drove out of the town. Now nothing could be seen
on either side of the road but the fences of kitchen gardens and
here and there a solitary willow-tree; everything in front of
them was shrouded in darkness. Here in the open country the
half-moon looked bigger and the stars shone more brightly. Then
came a scent of dampness; the postman shrank further into his
collar, the student felt an unpleasant chill first creeping
about his feet, then over the mail bags, over his hands and his
face. The horses moved more slowly; the bell was mute as though
it were frozen. There was the sound of the splash of water, and
stars reflected in the water danced under the horses' feet and
round the wheels.
But ten minutes later it became so dark that neither the stars
nor the moon could be seen. The mail cart had entered the
forest. Prickly pine branches were continually hitting the
student on his cap and a spider's web settled on his face.
Wheels and hoofs knocked against huge roots, and the mail cart
swayed from side to side as though it were drunk.
"Keep to the road," said the postman angrily. "Why do you run up
the edge? My face is scratched all over by the twigs! Keep more
to the right!"
But at that point there was nearly an accident. The cart
suddenly bounded as though in the throes of a convulsion, began
trembling, and, with a creak, lurched heavily first to the right
and then to the left, and at a fearful pace dashed along the
forest track. The horses had taken fright at something and
"Wo! wo!" the driver cried in alarm. "Wo . . . you devils!"
The student, violently shaken, bent forward and tried to find
something to catch hold of so as to keep his balance and save
himself from being thrown out, but the leather mail bags were
slippery, and the driver, whose belt the student tried to catch
at, was himself tossed up and down and seemed every moment on
the point of flying out. Through the rattle of the wheels and
the creaking of the cart they heard the sword fall with a clank
on the ground, then a little later something fell with two heavy
thuds behind the mail cart.
"Wo!" the driver cried in a piercing voice, bending backwards.
The student fell on his face and bruised his forehead against
the driver's seat, but was at once tossed back again and knocked
his spine violently against the back of the cart.
"I am falling!" was the thought that flashed through his mind,
but at that instant the horses dashed out of the forest into the
open, turned sharply to the right, and rumbling over a bridge of
logs, suddenly stopped dead, and the suddenness of this halt
flung the student forward again.
The driver and the student were both breathless. The postman was
not in the cart. He had been thrown out, together with his
sword, the student's portmanteau, and one of the mail bags.
"Stop, you rascal! Sto-op!" they heard him shout from the
forest. "You damned blackguard!" he shouted, running up to the
cart, and there was a note of pain and fury in his tearful
voice. "You anathema, plague take you!" he roared, dashing up to
the driver and shaking his fist at him.
"What a to-do! Lord have mercy on us!" muttered the driver in a
conscience-stricken voice, setting right something in the
harness at the horses' heads. "It's all that devil of a
tracehorse. Cursed filly; it is only a week since she has run in
harness. She goes all right, but as soon as we go down hill
there is trouble! She wants a touch or two on the nose, then she
wouldn't play about like this. . . Stea-eady! Damn!"
While the driver was setting the horses to rights and looking
for the portmanteau, the mail bag, and the sword on the road,
the postman in a plaintive voice shrill with anger ejaculated
oaths. After replacing the luggage the driver for no reason
whatever led the horses for a hundred paces, grumbled at the
restless tracehorse, and jumped up on the box.
When his fright was over the student felt amused and
good-humoured. It was the first time in his life that he had
driven by night in a mail cart, and the shaking he had just been
through, the postman's having been thrown out, and the pain in
his own back struck him as interesting adventures. He lighted a
cigarette and said with a laugh:
"Why you know, you might break your neck like that! I very
nearly flew out, and I didn't even notice you had been thrown
out. I can fancy what it is like driving in autumn!"
The postman did not speak.
"Have you been going with the post for long?" the student asked.
"Oho; every day?"
"Yes, every day. I take this post and drive back again at once.
Making the journey every day, he must have had a good many
interesting adventures in eleven years. On bright summer and
gloomy autumn nights, or in winter when a ferocious snowstorm
whirled howling round the mail cart, it must have been hard to
avoid feeling frightened and uncanny. No doubt more than once
the horses had bolted, the mail cart had stuck in the mud, they
had been attacked by highwaymen, or had lost their way in the
blizzard. . . .
"I can fancy what adventures you must have had in eleven years!"
said the student. "I expect it must be terrible driving?"
He said this and expected that the postman would tell him
something, but the latter preserved a sullen silence and
retreated into his collar. Meanwhile it began to get light. The
sky changed colour imperceptibly; it still seemed dark, but by
now the horses and the driver and the road could be seen. The
crescent moon looked bigger and bigger, and the cloud that
stretched below it, shaped like a cannon in a gun-carriage,
showed a faint yellow on its lower edge. Soon the postman's face
was visible. It was wet with dew, grey and rigid as the face of
a corpse. An expression of dull, sullen anger was set upon it,
as though the postman were still in pain and still angry with
"Thank God it is daylight!" said the student, looking at his
chilled and angry face. "I am quite frozen. The nights are cold
in September, but as soon as the sun rises it isn't cold. Shall
we soon reach the station?"
The postman frowned and made a wry face.
"How fond you are of talking, upon my word!" he said. "Can't you
keep quiet when you are travelling?"
The student was confused, and did not approach him again all the
journey. The morning came on rapidly. The moon turned pale and
melted away into the dull grey sky, the cloud turned yellow all
over, the stars grew dim, but the east was still cold-looking
and the same colour as the rest of the sky, so that one could
hardly believe the sun was hidden in it.
The chill of the morning and the surliness of the postman
gradually infected the student. He looked apathetically at the
country around him, waited for the warmth of the sun, and
thought of nothing but how dreadful and horrible it must be for
the poor trees and the grass to endure the cold nights. The sun
rose dim, drowsy, and cold. The tree-tops were not gilded by the
rays of the rising sun, as usually described, the sunbeams did
not creep over the earth and there was no sign of joy in the
flight of the sleepy birds. The cold remained just the same now
that the sun was up as it had been in the night.
The student looked drowsily and ill-humouredly at the curtained
windows of a mansion by which the mail cart drove. Behind those
windows, he thought, people were most likely enjoying their
soundest morning sleep not hearing the bells, nor feeling the
cold, nor seeing the postman's angry face; and if the bell did
wake some young lady, she would turn over on the other side,
smile in the fulness of her warmth and comfort, and, drawing up
her feet and putting her hand under her cheek, would go off to
sleep more soundly than ever.
The student looked at the pond which gleamed near the house and
thought of the carp and the pike which find it possible to live
in cold water. . . .
"It's against the regulations to take anyone with the post. . .
." the postman said unexpectedly. "It's not allowed! And since
it is not allowed, people have no business . . . to get in. . .
. Yes. It makes no difference to me, it's true, only I don't
like it, and I don't wish it."
"Why didn't you say so before, if you don't like it?"
The postman made no answer but still had an unfriendly, angry
expression. When, a little later, the horses stopped at the
entrance of the station the student thanked him and got out of
the cart. The mail train had not yet come in. A long goods train
stood in a siding; in the tender the engine driver and his
assistant, with faces wet with dew, were drinking tea from a
dirty tin teapot. The carriages, the platforms, the seats were
all wet and cold. Until the train came in the student stood at
the buffet drinking tea while the postman, with his hands thrust
up his sleeves and the same look of anger still on his face,
paced up and down the platform in solitude, staring at the
ground under his feet.
With whom was he angry? Was it with people, with poverty, with
the autmn nights?