Act V - Scene VIII

[The same and the Postmaster, who rushes in with an unsealed letter in his hand.]

POSTMASTER: A most astonishing thing, ladies and gentlemen! The official whom we took to be an inspector-general is not an inspector-general.

ALL: How so? Not an inspector-general?

POSTMASTER: No, not a bit of it. I found it out from the letter.

GOVERNOR: What are you talking about? What are you talking about? What letter?

POSTMASTER: His own letter. They bring a letter to the postoffice, I glance at the address and I see Pochtamtskaya Street. I was struck dumb. "Well," I think to myself, "I suppose he found something wrong in the postoffice department and is informing the government." So I unsealed it.

GOVERNOR: How could you?

POSTMASTER: I don't know myself. A supernatural power moved me. I had already summoned a courier to send it off by express; but I was overcome by a greater curiosity than I have ever felt in my life. "I can't, I can't," I hear a voice telling me. "I can't." But it pulled me and pulled me. In one ear I heard, "Don't open the letter. You will die like a chicken," and in the other it was just as if the devil were whispering, "Open it, open it." And when I cracked the sealing wax, I felt as if I were on fire; and when I opened the letter, I froze, upon my word, I froze. And my hands trembled, and everything whirled around me.

GOVERNOR: But how did you dare to open it? The letter of so powerful a personage?

POSTMASTER: But that's just the point—he's neither powerful nor a personage.

GOVERNOR: Then what is he in your opinion?

POSTMASTER: He's neither one thing nor another. The devil knows what he is.

GOVERNOR: [furiously] How neither one thing nor another? How do you dare to call him neither one thing nor another? And the devil knows what besides? I'll put you under arrest.



POSTMASTER: You haven't the power.

GOVERNOR: Do you know that he's going to marry my daughter? That I myself am going to be a high official and will have the power to exile to Siberia?

POSTMASTER: Oh, Anton Antonovich, Siberia! Siberia is far away. I'd rather read the letter to you. Ladies and gentlemen, permit me to read the letter.

ALL. Do read it.

POSTMASTER: [reads] "I hasten to inform you, my dear friend, what wonderful things have happened to me. On the way here an infantry captain did me out of my last penny, so that the innkeeper here wanted to send me to jail, when suddenly, thanks to my St. Petersburg appearance and dress, the whole town took me for a governor-general. Now I am staying at the governor's home. I am having a grand time and I am flirting desperately with his wife and daughter. I only haven't decided whom to begin with. I think with the mother first, because she seems ready to accept all terms. You remember how hard up we were taking our meals wherever we could without paying for them, and how once the pastry cook grabbed me by the collar for having charged pies that I ate to the king of England? Now it is quite different. They lend me all the money I want. They are an awful lot of originals. You would split your sides laughing at them. I know you write for the papers. Put them in your literature. In the first place the Governor is as stupid as an old horse—"

GOVERNOR: Impossible! That can't be in the letter.

POSTMASTER: [showing the letter] Read for yourself.

GOVERNOR: [reads] "As an old horse." Impossible! You put it in yourself.

POSTMASTER: How could I?

ARTEMY: Go on reading.

LUKA: Go on reading.

POSTMASTER: [continuing to read] "The Governor is as stupid as an old horse—"

GOVERNOR: Oh, the devil! He's got to read it again. As if it weren't there anyway.

POSTMASTER: [continuing to read] H'm, h'm—"an old horse. The Postmaster is a good man, too." [Stops reading.] Well, here he's saying something improper about me, too.

GOVERNOR: Go on—read the rest.


GOVERNOR: The deuce take it! Once we have begun to read it, we must read it all.

ARTEMY: If you will allow me, I will read it. [Puts on his eye-glasses and reads.] "The Postmaster is just like the porter Mikheyev in our office, and the scoundrel must drink just as hard."

POSTMASTER: [to the audience] A bad boy! He ought to be given a licking. That's all.

ARTEMY: [continues to read] "The Superintendent of Char-i-i—" [Stammers.]

KOROBKIN: Why did you stop?

ARTEMY: The handwriting isn't clear. Besides, it's evident that he's a blackguard.

KOROBKIN: Give it to me. I believe my eyesight is better.

ARTEMY: [refusing to give up the letter] No. This part can be omitted. After that it's legible.

KOROBKIN: Let me have it please. I'll see for myself.

ARTEMY: I can read it myself. I tell you that after this part it's all legible.

POSTMASTER: No, read it all. Everything so far could be read.

ALL: Give him the letter, Artemy Filippovich, give it to him. [To Korobkin.] You read it.

ARTEMY: Very well. [Gives up the letter.] Here it is. [Covers a part of it with his finger.] Read from here on. [All press him.]

POSTMASTER: Read it all, nonsense, read it all.

KOROBKIN: [reading] "The Superintendent of Charities, Zemlianika, is a regular pig in a cap."

ARTEMY: [to the audience] Not a bit witty. A pig in a cap! Have you ever seen a pig wear a cap?

KOROBKIN: [continues reading] "The School Inspector reeks of onions."

LUKA: [to the audience] Upon my word, I never put an onion to my mouth.

AMMOS: [aside] Thank God, there's nothing about me in it.

KOROBKIN: [continues reading] "The Judge—"

AMMOS: There! [Aloud.] Ladies and gentlemen, I think the letter is far too long. To the devil with it! Why should we go on reading such trash?


POSTMASTER: No, go on.

ARTEMY: Go on reading.

KOROBKIN: "The Judge, Liapkin-Tiapkin, is extremely mauvais ton." [He stops.] That must be a French word.

AMMOS: The devil knows what it means. It wouldn't be so bad if all it means is "cheat." But it may mean something worse.

KOROBKIN: [continues reading] "However, the people are hospitable and kindhearted. Farewell, my dear Triapichkin. I want to follow your example and take up literature. It's tiresome to live this way, old boy. One wants food for the mind, after all. I see I must engage in something lofty. Address me: Village of Podkatilovka in the Government of Saratov." [Turns the letter and reads the address.] "Mr. Ivan Vasilyevich Triapichkin, St. Petersburg, Pochtamtskaya Street, House Number 97, Courtyard, third floor, right."

A LADY: What an unexpected rebuke!

GOVERNOR: He has cut my throat and cut it for good. I'm done for, completely done for. I see nothing. All I see are pigs' snouts instead of faces, and nothing more. Catch him, catch him! [Waves his hand.]

POSTMASTER: Catch him! How? As if on purpose, I told the overseer to give him the best coach and three. The devil prompted me to give the order.

KOROBKIN’S WIFE: Here's a pretty mess.

AMMOS: Confound it, he borrowed three hundred rubles from me.

ARTEMY: He borrowed three hundred from me, too.

POSTMASTER: [sighing] And from me, too.

BOBCHINSKY: And sixty-five from me and Piotr Ivanovich.

AMMOS: [throwing up his hands in perplexity] How's that, gentlemen? Really, how could we have been so off our guard?

GOVERNOR: [beating his forehead] How could I, how could I, old fool? I've grown childish, stupid mule. I have been in the service thirty years. Not one merchant, not one contractor has been able to impose on me. I have over-reached one swindler after another. I have caught crooks and sharpers that were ready to rob the whole world. I have fooled three governor-generals. As for governor-generals, [with a wave of his hand] it is not even worth talking about them.

ANNA: But how is it possible, Antosha? He's engaged to Mashenka.

GOVERNOR: [in a rage] Engaged! Rats! Fiddlesticks! So much for your engagement! Thrusts her engagement at me now! [In a frenzy.] Here, look at me! Look at me, the whole world, the whole of Christendom. See what a fool the governor was made of. Out upon him, the fool, the old scoundrel! [Shakes his fist at himself.] Oh, you fat-nose! To take an icicle, a rag for a personage of rank! Now his coach bells are jingling all along the road. He is publishing the story to the whole world. Not only will you be made a laughing-stock of, but some scribbler, some ink-splasher will put you into a comedy. There's the horrid sting. He won't spare either rank or station. And everybody will grin and clap his hands. What are you laughing at? You are laughing at yourself, oh you! [Stamps his feet.] I would give it to all those ink-splashers! You scribblers, damned liberals, devil's brood! I would tie you all up in a bundle, I would grind you into meal, and give it to the devil. [Shakes his fist and stamps his heel on the floor. After a brief silence.] I can't come to myself. It's really true, whom the gods want to punish they first make mad. In what did that nincompoop resemble an inspector-general? In nothing, not even half the little finger of an inspector-general. And all of a sudden everybody is going about saying, "Inspector-general, inspector-general." Who was the first to say it? Tell me.

ARTEMY: [throwing up his hands] I couldn't tell how it happened if I had to die for it. It is just as if a mist had clouded our brains. The devil has confounded us.

AMMOS: Who was the first to say it? These two here, this noble pair. [Pointing to Dobchinsky and Bobchinsky.]

BOBCHINSKY: So help me God, not I. I didn't even think of it.

DOBCHINSKY: I didn't say a thing, not a thing.

ARTEMY: Of course you did.

LUKA: Certainly. You came running here from the inn like madmen. "He's come, he's come. He doesn't pay." Found a rare bird!

GOVERNOR: Of course it was you. Town gossips, damned liars!

ARTEMY: The devil take you with your inspector-general and your tattle.

GOVERNOR: You run about the city, bother everybody, confounded chatterboxes. You spread gossip, you short-tailed magpies, you!

AMMOS: Damned bunglers!

LUKA: Simpletons.

ARTEMY: Pot-bellied mushrooms!

All crowd around them.

BOBCHINSKY: Upon my word, it wasn't I. It was Piotr Ivanovich.

DOBCHINSKY: No, Piotr Ivanovich, you were the first.

BOBCHINSKY: No, no. You were the first.