A.P. Chekhov - Ladies
FYODOR PETROVITCH the Director of Elementary Schools in the N.
District, who considered himself a just and generous man, was
one day interviewing in his office a schoolmaster called
"No, Mr. Vremensky," he was saying, "your retirement is
inevitable. You cannot continue your work as a schoolmaster with
a voice like that! How did you come to lose it?"
"I drank cold beer when I was in a perspiration. . ." hissed the
"What a pity! After a man has served fourteen years, such a
calamity all at once! The idea of a career being ruined by such
a trivial thing. What are you intending to do now?"
The schoolmaster made no answer.
"Are you a family man?" asked the director.
"A wife and two children, your Excellency . . ." hissed the
A silence followed. The director got up from the table and
walked to and fro in perturbation.
"I cannot think what I am going to do with you!" he said. "A
teacher you cannot be, and you are not yet entitled to a
pension. . . . To abandon you to your fate, and leave you to do
the best you can, is rather awkward. We look on you as one of
our men, you have served fourteen years, so it is our business
to help you. . . . But how are we to help you? What can I do for
you? Put yourself in my place: what can I do for you?"
A silence followed; the director walked up and down, still
thinking, and Vremensky, overwhelmed by his trouble, sat on the
edge of his chair, and he, too, thought. All at once the
director began beaming, and even snapped his fingers.
"I wonder I did not think of it before!" he began rapidly.
"Listen, this is what I can offer you. Next week our secretary
at the Home is retiring. If you like, you can have his place!
There you are!"
Vremensky, not expecting such good fortune, beamed too.
"That's capital," said the director. "Write the application
Dismissing Vremensky, Fyodor Petrovitch felt relieved and even
gratified: the bent figure of the hissing schoolmaster was no
longer confronting him, and it was agreeable to recognize that
in offering a vacant post to Vremensky he had acted fairly and
conscientiously, like a good-hearted and thoroughly decent
person. But this agreeable state of mind did not last long. When
he went home and sat down to dinner his wife, Nastasya Ivanovna,
"Oh yes, I was almost forgetting! Nina Sergeyevna came to see me
yesterday and begged for your interest on behalf of a young man.
I am told there is a vacancy in our Home. . . ."
"Yes, but the post has already been promised to someone else,"
said the director, and he frowned. "And you know my rule: I
never give posts through patronage."
"I know, but for Nina Sergeyevna, I imagine, you might make an
exception. She loves us as though we were relations, and we have
never done anything for her. And don't think of refusing, Fedya!
You will wound both her and me with your whims."
"Who is it that she is recommending?"
"What Polzuhin? Is it that fellow who played Tchatsky at the
party on New Year's Day? Is it that gentleman? Not on any
The director left off eating.
"Not on any account!" he repeated. "Heaven preserve us!"
"But why not?"
"Understand, my dear, that if a young man does not set to work
directly, but through women, he must be good for nothing! Why
doesn't he come to me himself?"
After dinner the director lay on the sofa in his study and began
reading the letters and newspapers he had received.
"Dear Fyodor Petrovitch," wrote the wife of the Mayor of the
town. "You once said that I knew the human heart and understood
people. Now you have an opportunity of verifying this in
practice. K. N. Polzuhin, whom I know to be an excellent young
man, will call upon you in a day or two to ask you for the post
of secretary at our Home. He is a very nice youth. If you take
an interest in him you will be convinced of it." And so on.
"On no account!" was the director's comment. "Heaven preserve
After that, not a day passed without the director's receiving
letters recommending Polzuhin. One fine morning Polzuhin
himself, a stout young man with a close-shaven face like a
jockey's, in a new black suit, made his appearance. . . .
"I see people on business not here but at the office," said the
director drily, on hearing his request.
"Forgive me, your Excellency, but our common acquaintances
advised me to come here."
"H'm!" growled the director, looking with hatred at the pointed
toes of the young man's shoes. "To the best of my belief your
father is a man of property and you are not in want," he said.
"What induces you to ask for this post? The salary is very
"It's not for the sake of the salary. . . . It's a government
post, any way . . ."
"H'm. . . . It strikes me that within a month you will be sick
of the job and you will give it up, and meanwhile there are
candidates for whom it would be a career for life. There are
poor men for whom . . ."
"I shan't get sick of it, your Excellency," Polzuhin interposed.
"Honour bright, I will do my best!"
It was too much for the director.
"Tell me," he said, smiling contemptuously, "why was it you
didn't apply to me direct but thought fitting instead to trouble
ladies as a preliminary?"
"I didn't know that it would be disagreeable to you," Polzuhin
answered, and he was embarrassed. "But, your Excellency, if you
attach no significance to letters of recommendation, I can give
you a testimonial. . . ."
He drew from his pocket a letter and handed it to the director.
At the bottom of the testimonial, which was written in official
language and handwriting, stood the signature of the Governor.
Everything pointed to the Governor's having signed it unread,
simply to get rid of some importunate lady.
"There's nothing for it, I bow to his authority. . . I obey . .
." said the director, reading the testimonial, and he heaved a
"Send in your application to-morrow. . . . There's nothing to be
done. . . ."
And when Polzuhin had gone out, the director abandoned himself
to a feeling of repulsion.
"Sneak!" he hissed, pacing from one corner to the other. "He has
got what he wanted, one way or the other, the good-for-nothing
toady! Making up to the ladies! Reptile! Creature!"
The director spat loudly in the direction of the door by which
Polzuhin had departed, and was immediately overcome with
embarrassment, for at that moment a lady, the wife of the
Superintendent of the Provincial Treasury, walked in at the
"I've come for a tiny minute . . . a tiny minute. . ." began the
lady. "Sit down, friend, and listen to me attentively. . . .
Well, I've been told you have a post vacant. . . . To-day or
to-morrow you will receive a visit from a young man called
Polzuhin. . . ."
The lady chattered on, while the director gazed at her with
lustreless, stupefied eyes like a man on the point of fainting,
gazed and smiled from politeness.
And the next day when Vremensky came to his office it was a long
time before the director could bring himself to tell the truth.
He hesitated, was incoherent, and could not think how to begin
or what to say. He wanted to apologize to the schoolmaster, to
tell him the whole truth, but his tongue halted like a
drunkard's, his ears burned, and he was suddenly overwhelmed
with vexation and resentment that he should have to play such an
absurd part -- in his own office, before his subordinate. He
suddenly brought his fist down on the table, leaped up, and
"I have no post for you! I have not, and that's all about it!
Leave me in peace! Don't worry me! Be so good as to leave me
And he walked out of the office.