Chekhov, Anton

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: May-27-2003


It is a summer night on the steppe and two shepherds are lying on the ground as their sheep sleep. A man on a horse stops to ask them for a light for his pipe, but stays to chat. They discuss the recent death of Yefim Zhmenya, an old man who had sold his soul to the Evil One. You could tell he was evil because people walking past his garden could hear his melons whistle. The older shepherd tells another story about Yefim, whom he had seen appear as a bullock one stormy night.

One of the men observes that there are many treasures buried in the local hills. "Yes," says the old shepherd, "but no one knows where to dig for them." But then he tells them about a map to the treasure and indicates that he knows precisely where to dig. However, when the horsemen asks him what he would do with the treasure if he finds it, the old shepherd can't answer.


Living in a world of superstition and fear, the characters in this story believe that happiness is just beyond their grasp. They are convinced that the countryside is full of buried treasure, but no one knows how to find it. They spend their lives swapping tales about "what if," but when confronted with the reality of a treasure (happiness), they wouldn't know what to do.

They see their lives as a long quest for happiness, without realizing that the treasure is within them all along. It's even possible that they can't recognize happiness when they see it in others--perhaps they considered old Yefim "evil" because he had put aside the narrowness and fear that characterizes the other villagers' lives.


First published:1887. Translated by Constance Garnett.

Primary Source

The Tales of Chekhov, Vol. 6: The Witch and Other Stories



Place Published

New York



Page Count