Act I - Scene II

[Enter Ivan Kuzmich, the Postmaster.]

POSTMASTER: Tell me, gentlemen, who's coming? What chinovnik?

GOVERNOR: What, haven't you heard?

POSTMASTER: Bobchinsky told me. He was at the postoffice just now.

GOVERNOR: Well, what do you think of it?

POSTMASTER: What do I think of it? Why, there'll be a war with the Turks.

AMMOS: Exactly. Just what I thought.

GOVERNOR: [sarcastically] Yes, you've both hit in the air precisely.

POSTMASTER: It's war with the Turks for sure, all fomented by the French.

GOVERNOR: Nonsense! War with the Turks indeed. It's we who are going to get it, not the Turks. You may count on that. Here's a letter to prove it.

POSTMASTER: In that case, then, we won't go to war with the Turks.

GOVERNOR: Well, how do you feel about it, Ivan Kuzmich?

POSTMASTER: How do I feel? How do YOU feel about it, Anton Antonovich?

GOVERNOR: I? Well, I'm not afraid, but I just feel a little—you know—The merchants and townspeople bother me. I seem to be unpopular with them. But the Lord knows if I've taken from some I've done it without a trace of ill-feeling. I even suspect—[Takes him by the arm and walks aside with him.]—I even suspect that I may have been denounced. Or why would they send an Inspector to us? Look here, Ivan Kuzmich, don't you think you could—ahem!—just open a little every letter that passes through your office and read it—for the common benefit of us all, you know—to see if it contains any kind of information against me, or is only ordinary correspondence. If it is all right, you can seal it up again, or simply deliver the letter opened.

POSTMASTER: Oh, I know. You needn't teach me that. I do it not so much as a precaution as out of curiosity. I just itch to know what's doing in the world. And it's very interesting reading, I tell you. Some letters are fascinating—parts of them written grand—more edifying than the Moscow Gazette.

GOVERNOR: Tell me, then, have you read anything about any official from St. Petersburg?

POSTMASTER: No, nothing about a St. Petersburg official, but plenty about Kostroma and Saratov ones. A pity you don't read the letters. There are some very fine passages in them. For instance, not long ago a lieutenant writes to a friend describing a ball very wittily.—Splendid! "Dear friend," he says, "I live in the regions of the Empyrean, lots of girls, bands playing, flags flying." He's put a lot of feeling into his description, a whole lot. I've kept the letter on purpose. Would you like to read it?

GOVERNOR: No, this is no time for such things. But please, Ivan Kuzmich, do me the favor, if ever you chance upon a complaint or denunciation, don't hesitate a moment, hold it back.

POSTMASTER: I will, with the greatest pleasure.

AMMOS: You had better be careful. You may get yourself into trouble.

POSTMASTER: Goodness me!

GOVERNOR: Never mind, never mind. Of course, it would be different if you published it broadcast. But it's a private affair, just between us.

AMMOS: Yes, it's a bad business—I really came here to make you a present of a puppy, sister to the dog you know about. I suppose you have heard that Cheptovich and Varkhovinsky have started a suit. So now I live in clover. I hunt hares first on the one's estate, then on the other's.

GOVERNOR: I don't care about your hares now, my good friend. That cursed incognito is on my brain. Any moment the door may open and in walk—