Anton, a fifty-year-old serf muzhik, lean and hunched, looking at the peace of God with extinct eyes, is busy preparing fuel for the winter.
Returning to his hut, Anton finds there a guest, a poor old woman Arkharovna, who is not so much scolded as she looks out for the good from the inhabitants of the village. Supper Anton is one tyury of kvass and bread, but he does not grumble and still manages to give half of his share to children. Rastabarivaya with his grandmother, Anton recalls his brother and son Arkharovna, who were taken into the soldiers – for a long time, they have no news from them.
The peasant’s speeches are addressed not so much to the guest as to himself: to which he once again ponders his bitter life… The evil villain-manager is eating his eyelids, it’s time to pay the man’s pouch, and not a half-money; Nikita Fyodorych threatens to surrender Anton to the soldiers, and who will then
feed his wife and youngsters?
Anton did not have time to get out of the table, as his name was to the manager. Nikita Fedorych, a man dense and squat, like a bulldog, threateningly meets the arrears and, not listening to his plaintive excuses, demands the last horse to be sold to pay the master.
No matter how crying, no matter how his wife is killed, Anton has to go to the fair in the city and sell a wet nurse.
To top it all off, Anton is met by a miller, whom he has long avoided (and he needs a mill for grinding). Miller, of course, also requires his own.
At the fair, and without that an unruly and intimidated little peasant, and at all confused. And then there are gypsies, horses and traders near the horses scammers (they pretend that they want to help Anton) completely confused the peasant’s head. The day goes by for nothing – Anton does not dare to sell the peg, afraid to sell it cheap.
Anton’s new “friends” lead him to spend the night in the inn, where they solder the peasant who is tired of fatigue and hunger… In the morning the poor fellow discovers
the loss of a horse.
The innkeeper, who was in cahoots with the robbers, demands that Anton pay for dinner and vodka. We have to give him his last coat.
“Knowledgeable people” advise Anton to go in search of a horse in one of the nearby villages, although they realize that without a ransom, he will only knock his legs in vain.
Conveniently located on the bench advisers for a long time discussing the misfortune that happened to Anton. They listen to newly arrived guests, one of whom is familiar with the miserable. He explains the main cause of the disaster of Anton. He was disliked by the manager, confident that the complaint to the master of Nikita Fyodorich’s self-will comes from Anton.
While Anton wanders unknown where on impassable dirt, Nikita Fedorych spoils himself with tea, feeds an already fat sluggish little son and quarrels with his wife. From these pleasant pursuits he is torn off by a miller, along with whom the manager is engaged in dark deeds. Miller complains about all the same Anton – he does not want to pay for grinding.
Nikita Fedorych got on well with the miller and was about to resume tea drinking, but then a new wife is being nabbed on him, not without reason, suspecting that her faithful hides the money received from the miller.
Anton is wandering about for three days in search of a stolen gag on the dank autumn roads. In the mountain, he does not notice a cold rain, no fatigue, no hunger and no cold.
Searches, as one might expect, are in vain. Almost untarnished, Anton returns to his village in the early morning and first of all goes to Nikita Fedorych. The guard does not let him in; the manager is still resting.
As a madman runs an unfortunate peasant home and runs into Arkharovna. He is reminded of the rumors circulating in the village about her hidden wealth, and Anton decides that she can help him out. “Help, if you want to save the Christian soul from sin, – give me money!” he screams in despair.
The frightened old woman leads him to the ravine, in which, according to her, a small fraction of the ruble people is hidden in a small box.
However, in the ravine of Anton, two hefty fellows are caught. In one of them he recognizes his brother Ermolai. The other turns out to be the son of an old woman – and they are both runaway soldiers, who now steal and robbery.
Ermolai tells how they robbed a merchant yesterday, and promises to help his brother. It is necessary only first to meet in the tavern to go.
In the tavern of Anton awaits a new misfortune, more bitter than before. In the tavern, Yermolai and his partner are identified and detained, and Anton is knit along with them as an accomplice.
A week later, after these events, almost the whole village folk are crowded on the street. Everyone wants to see how the robbers are taken to prison. Especially interested in onlookers heavy birch pads, which will fill the criminals to their feet.
In the crowd discuss the fate of Anton and dump him all the thefts that happened in the district. “It’s well known that there’s nobody to look around for, someone who has something…”
Finally, a procession appears in the composition of Nikita Fedorych, escort soldiers and prisoners. Behind Anton, who goes last, the wife and children, roaring at the top of their voice, are dragged. When the turn came to stuffing Anton’s pads, the poor fellow, “who was sitting there with a look of perfect numbness, slowly raised his head and tears dripped from him with hail”.
Ermolai and Arkharovna’s son are humming and joking in public, but at last Antonov screams to his fellow villagers without any jokes: “Do not be deaf! Goodbye, brothers, good-bye, do not forget us!”
The carts with the prisoners approach the outskirts, and as if hiding them from human eyes, the fluffy snow flakes begin to cover the frozen ground, and the cold wind starts to blow even more.
And only Nikita Fyodorych escorts the departing with a glance, pleased that he did with the “robbers”.