Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > Russian, Scandinavian, etc.
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vol. XIV: Russian—Scandinavian—Miscellaneous
 
Incognito
By Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852)
 
From “The Inspector-General”

GOVERNOR, JUDGE, CHARITY COMMISSIONER, POSTMASTER, and CONSTABLE.

Post.  Tell me, gentlemen, who’s coming—what sort of official?
  1
  Gov.  What, haven’t you heard?  2
  Post.  I heard something from Bobchinski; he was just now with me at the post-office.  3
  Gov.  Well, what do you think about it?  4
  Post.  What do I think about it? Why, there’ll be a war with the Turks.  5
  Judge.  Exactly; that’s just what I thought!  6
  Gov.  Well, you’re both wide of the mark.  7
  Post.  It’ll be with the Turks, I’m sure. It’s all the Frenchman’s doing.  8
  Gov.  Pooh! war with the Turks, indeed! It’s we who are going to get into trouble, not the Turks. That’s quite certain. I’ve a letter to say so.  9
  Post.  Oh, then we sha’n’t go to war with the Turks.  10
  Gov.  (to the POSTMASTER).  Well, how do you feel?  11
  Post.  How do I feel? How do you?  12
  Gov.  I? Well, I’m no coward, but I am just a little uncomfortable. The shopkeepers and townspeople bother me. It seems I’m unpopular with them; but, the Lord knows, if I’ve blackmailed anybody, I’ve done it without a trace of ill-feeling. I even think  (buttonholes him, and takes him aside)—I even think there will be some sort of complaint drawn up against me. Why should we have an inspector coming here at all? Look here, don’t you think you could just slightly open every letter which comes in and goes out of your office, and read it—for the public benefit, you know—to see if it contains any kind of information against me, or only ordinary correspondence? If it is all right, you can seal it up again, or simply deliver the letter opened.  13
  Post.  Oh, I know that game! Don’t teach me that! I do it from pure curiosity, not as a precaution; I’m death on knowing what’s going on in the world. And they’re very interesting to read, I can tell you! Now and then you come across a love-letter, with bits of beautiful language, and so edifying—much better than the Moscow News!  14
  Gov.  Tell me, then, have you read anything about any official from Petersburg?  15
  Post.  No, nothing about any one from Petersburg, but plenty about the Kostroma and Saratov people. It’s 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 in first-rate style—splendid! “Dear friend,” he says, “I live in Elysium; heaps of girls, music playing, flags flying.” Quite a glowing description, quite! I’ve kept it by me, on purpose. Would you like to read it?  16
  Gov.  Thanks; there’s no time now. But oblige me, if ever you chance upon a complaint or a denouncement, by keeping it back, without the slightest compunction.  17
  Post.  I will, with the greatest pleasure.  18
  Judge  (who has overheard something).  You had better mind; you’ll get into trouble over that some time or other.  19
  Post.  (innocently).  Eh? The saints forbid!  20
  Gov.  It was nothing—nothing. It would be different if it concerned you or the public; but it was a private affair, I assure you!  21
  Judge  (aside).  Hm, some mischief was brewing, I know!  (To the GOVERNOR.)  But I was going to say that I had a puppy to make you a present of—own sister to the dog you know about. I dare say you’ve heard that Cheptovich and Varkhovinski have gone to law with each other. So now I live in clover; I hunt hares first on one fellow’s estate, and then on the other’s.  22
  Gov.  I don’t care about your hares now, my good friend. I’ve got that cursed incognito on the brain! I expect the door to open, and all of a sudden——  23
 
Enter BOBCHINSKI and DOBCHINSKI, out of breath.
  Bob.  What an extraordinary occurrence!
  24
  Dob.  An unexpected piece of news!  25
  All.  What is it? What is it?  26
  Dob.  Something quite unforeseen; we go into the inn——  27
  Bob.  Yes, Dobchinski and I go into the inn——  28
  Dob.  All right; let me tell it!  29
  Bob.  No, no, allow me—allow me. You haven’t got the knack——  30
  Dob.  Oh, but you’ll get mixed up and forget it all.  31
  Bob.  Oh, no, I sha’n’t—good heavens, no! There, don’t interrupt me—do let me tell the news—don’t interrupt! Pray oblige me, gentlemen, and tell Dobchinski not to interrupt.  32
  Gov.  Well, say on, for God’s sake, what is it? My heart is in my mouth! Sit down, gentlemen; take seats!  (They all sit round BOBCHINSKI and DOBCHINSKI.)  Well, now, what is it, what is it?  33
  Bob.  Permit me—permit me; I can relate it properly. Hm—as soon as I had the pleasure of taking my leave after you were good enough to be bothered with the letter which you had received, sir—yes, then I ran out— Now, please don’t keep on taking me up, Dobchinski; I know all about it, all, I tell you, sir.—So, as you’ll kindly take notice, I ran out to see Karobkin. But not finding Karobkin at home, I went off to Rastakovski, and not seeing him, I went, you see, to the postmaster’s to tell him of the news you’d got; yes, and going on from there I met Dobchinski——  34
  Dob.  By the stall, where they sell tartlets——  35
  Bob.  ——by the stall, where they sell tartlets. Well, I meet Dobchinski and say to him, “Have you heard the news the governor has got? The letter may be depended on!” But he had already heard of it from your housekeeper, Avdotya, who, I don’t know why, had been sent to Pachechuyev’s——  36
  Dob.  With a bottle for some French brandy.  37
  Bob.  ——yes, with a bottle for some French brandy. Then I went with Dobchinski to Pachechuyev’s— Will you stop, Dobchinski—there, do have done with your interfering!—So off we go to Pachechuyev’s, and on our way Dobchinski says, “Let’s go,” says he, “to the hotel. I’ve eaten nothing since morning; there’s such a rumbling in my inner man.” Yes, sir, in Dobchinski’s internals. “But they’ve got some fresh salmon at the hotel,” he says; “so we can have a snack.” We hadn’t been in the hotel a moment when in comes a young man——  38
  Dob.  Rather good-looking and well-dressed.  39
  Bob.  ——yes, rather good-looking and well-dressed, and walks into the room, with such an expression on his face—such a physiognomy—and style—so distinguished a head-piece. I had a kind of presentiment, and I say to Dobchinski, “There’s something up here, sir!” Yes, and Dobchinski beckoned, and called up the landlord, Vlas, the innkeeper, you know—three weeks ago his wife presented him with a baby, such a fine, forward boy—he’ll grow up just like his father, and keep a hotel. Well, we called up Vlas, and Dobchinski asks him quite privately, “Who,” says he, “is that young man?” And Vlas replies, “That,” says he— “Oh, don’t interrupt me so, Dobchinski, please; good Lord! you can’t tell the story, you can’t tell it—you don’t speak plainly, with only one tooth in your head, and a lisp.”—“That young man,” says he, “is an official”—yes, sir—“who is on his way from St. Petersburg, and his name,” says he, “is Ivan Alexandrovich Khlestakov, sir, and he’s off,” says he, “to the government of Saratov,” says he, “and his goings-on are very peculiar. He’s stayed here over a fortnight; he doesn’t leave the house; he takes everything on account, and doesn’t pay a copeck.” When he told me that, I felt illuminated from above, and I said to Dobchinski, “Hey!”  40
  Dob.  No, I said “Hey!”  41
  Bob.  Well, first you said it, and then I did. “Hey!” said both of us, “and why does he stay here, when he’s bound for Saratov?” Yes, sir, that official is he!  42
  Gov.  Who—what official?  43
  Bob.  Why, the official of whom you were pleased to get the notification—the Inspector-General.  44
  Gov.  Great God! What do you say? It can’t be he!  45
  Dob.  It is, though! Why, he pays no money, and he doesn’t go. Who else could it be? And his order for post-horses is made out for Saratov.  46
  Bob.  It’s he, it’s he! good God, it’s he! Why, he’s so observant; he noticed everything. He saw that Dobchinski and I were eating salmon—all on account of Dobchinski’s inside—and he looked at our plates like this  (imitates).  I was in an awful fright.  47
  Gov.  Lord, have mercy upon sinners like us! Where is he staying now, then?  48
  Dob.  In room No. 5, first floor.  49
  Bob.  In the same room where the officers quarreled last year on their way through.  50
  Gov.  How long has he been here?  51
  Dob.  A fortnight or more. He came on St. Vasili’s Day.  52
  Gov.  A fortnight!  (Aside.)  Holy Fathers and Saints, preserve me! In that fortnight the sergeant’s wife was flogged! No provisions given to the prisoners! Dramshops and dirt in the streets! Shameful! scandalous!  (Tears his hair.)  53
  Char. Com.  (to the GOVERNOR).  What do you think, had we better go to the inn in gala uniform?  54
  Judge.  No, no! First send the mayor, then the clergy and the tradespeople.  55
  Gov.  No, no! Leave it to me! I’ve had ticklish jobs before now, and I’ve managed ’em all right, and even been thankful for them. Maybe the Lord will help us out this time as well.  (Turns to BOBCHINSKI.)  You say he’s a young man?  56
  Bob.  Yes, about twenty-three or four at the outside.  57
  Gov.  So much the better—it’s easier to ferret a thing out. It’s the devil, if you’ve got an old bird to deal with; but a young man’s all on the surface. You, gentlemen, had better get your departments in order, while I’ll go by myself, or with Dobchinski here, and have a private stroll round, to see that travelers are treated with due consideration. Here, constable!  58
  Con.  Sir?  59
  Gov.  Go at once to the Police Superintendent’s; or no— I shall want you. Tell somebody to send him as quick as possible to me, and then come back here.  (CONSTABLE runs out at full speed.)  60
  Char. Com.  (to JUDGE).  Let us go! Let us go! Some mischief may happen, I do believe.  61
  Judge.  What’s there for you to be afraid of? Give the sick clean nightcaps, and the thing’s done!  62
  Char. Com.  Nightcaps—bosh! The sick were ordered to have oatmeal porridge. Instead of that, there’s such a smell of cabbages in all my corridors that you’re obliged to hold your nose.  63
  Judge.  Well, my mind’s at ease on that score. As to the County Court, who’ll visit that? Supposing he does look at any of the papers, he’ll wish he’d left it alone. Why, I’ve been sitting fifteen years on the bench—and do I ever look at a charge-sheet? No, thank you! Solomon himself couldn’t make head or tail of ’em!
*        *        *        *        *
  64
The same characters (except POSTMASTER) with DIRECTOR OF SCHOOLS and KAROBKIN, an ex-official.

Enter the POSTMASTER, out of breath, with an opened letter in his hand.
  Post.  Here’s an astounding thing happened, gentlemen! The official we took to be the Inspector-General, is not an inspector!
  65
  All.  What! not an inspector?  66
  Post.  Not an inspector at all. I’ve found that out from the letter.  67
  Gov.  What do you mean—what do you mean? from what letter?  68
  Post.  Why, from the letter he wrote himself. They bring me a letter to post. I look at the address, and see “Post-office Street.” I was regularly stunned. Well, I say to myself, he’s without doubt found something wrong in the postal department, and he’s reporting it to the authorities. So I took the letter and—opened it.  69
  Gov.  How could you——  70
  Post.  I don’t know—a supernatural force impelled me. I had already ordered a courier to take it by express, but such a feeling of curiosity overpowered me as I had never known before. “I can’t do it, I can’t, I can’t!” I hear myself saying; but I feel drawn, drawn to it! “Oh, don’t open it, or you’ll be utterly ruined!” that’s what sounds in one ear; and in the other, like a devil whispering, “Open it! Open it! Open it!” And so I broke the sealing-wax—my veins were on fire; but after I had done it they froze—by God, they froze! My hands shook, and everything whirled.  71
  Gov.  And so you dared to open the letter of so powerful a personage?  72
  Post.  That’s where the joke is! He’s neither a personage nor powerful!  73
  Gov.  What is he, then, according to you?  74
  Post.  Neither the one nor the other; the devil knows what he is!  75
  Gov.  (furiously).  What do you mean? How do you dare to call him neither the one nor the other, nor the devil knows what? I’ll put you under arrest——  76
  Post.  Who? You?  77
  Gov.  Yes. I will!  78
  Post.  Pooh! That’s beyond your power!  79
  Gov.  Are you aware that he is going to marry my daughter—that I shall become a grandee—that I shall have power to send people to Siberia?  80
  Post.  Eh, Governor, Siberia? That’s a long way off. But I had better read you the letter.—Gentlemen, let me read it you!  81
  All.  Yes, read it, read it!  82
  Post.  (reads).  “I hasten to let you know, my dear Tryapichkin, all about my adventures. On the way an infantry captain cleared me out completely, so that the innkeeper wanted to send me to jail; when, all of a sudden, owing to my Petersburg get-up and appearance, the whole town took me for the Governor-General. So now I am living at the Governor’s. I do just as I please; I flirt madly with his wife and daughter—but I can’t settle which to begin with. Do you remember how hard up we were, how we dined at other people’s expense, and how the pastry-cook once pitched me out, neck and crop, because I had put some tarts I had eaten down to the account of the King of England? It is quite a different state of things now. They all lend me as much money as ever I please. They are an awful set of originals; you would die of laughing if you saw them! You write articles, I know: bring these people in. First and foremost, there’s the Governor. He’s as stupid as a mule——”  83
  Gov.  Impossible! It can’t be there!  84
  Post.  (showing him the letter).  Read it yourself!  85
  Gov.  (reads).  “Stupid as a mule.” It can’t be so—you’ve written it yourself!  86
  Post.  How could I have written it?  87
  Char. Com.  Read!  88
  Dir. of Schools.  Read on!  89
  Post.  “——The Governor. He’s as stupid as a mule——”  90
  Gov.  Oh, devil take it! Is it necessary to repeat that? As if it wasn’t there without that!  91
  Post.  (continues).  Hm—hm—hm—“as a mule. The Postmaster, too, is a good fellow—”  (Stops.)  Well, he says something uncomplimentary about me, too.  92
  Gov.  No—read it out!  93
  Post.  But what’s the good?  94
  Gov.  No, no—confound it, if you read any of it, read it all! Read it through!  95
  Char. Com.  Allow me; I’ll have a try!  (Puts on his spectacles, and reads.)  “The Postmaster is exactly like our office-beadle Mikheyev, and a rascal into the bargain. He drinks like a fish.”  96
  Post.  Well, the young blackguard ought to be flogged—that’s all!  97
  Char. Com.  (continuing).  “The Charity Com—er—er—”  (Hesitates.)  98
  Karob.  But what are you stopping for?  99
  Char. Com.  It’s badly written. However, it’s clearly something insulting.  100
  Karob.  Give it to me! My eyes are better, I fancy.  (Tries to take the letter.)  101
  Char. Com.  (holding it back).  No, we can leave that part out; farther on it’s plain enough.  102
  Karob.  But allow me—I can read!  103
  Char. Com.  Why, so can I! Farther on, I tell you, it’s quite easy to make out.  104
  Post.  No, read it all! It was all read before!  105
  All.  Give it up! Give the letter up!  (To KAROBKIN.)  You read it!  106
  Char. Com.  Certainly!  (Hands the letter.)  There, if you please.  (Covers the passage with his finger.)  That’s where you begin.  (All crowd round.)  107
  Post.  Read it, read it through! What nonsense! Read it all!  108
  Karob.  (reading).  “The Charity Commissioner is a regular pig in a skullcap.”  109
  Char. Com.  That’s supposed to be witty! Pig in a skullcap! Who ever saw a pig in a skullcap?  110
  Karob.  (continues).  “The School Director reeks of onions——”  111
  Dir. of Schools.  Good God! Why, an onion has never crossed my lips!  112
  Judge  (aside).  Thank goodness, there’s nothing, at any rate, about me!  113
  Karob.  (reading).  “The Judge——”  114
  Judge  (aside).  Now for it!  (Aloud.)  I think this letter is tedious. What the devil’s the good of reading all that rubbish?  115
  Dir. of Schools.  No!  116
  Post.  Go on with it!  117
  Char. Com.  No, read it through!  118
  Karob.  (resumes).  “The Judge is in the utmost degree mauvais ton.”  (Stops.)  That must be French!  119
  Judge.  But the devil knows what’s the meaning of it! It’s bad enough if it’s only swindler, but it may be a good deal worse.  120
  Karob.  (goes on).  “But, after all, the people are hospitable and well-meaning. Farewell, my dear Tryapichkin. I myself should like to follow your example and take up literature. It’s a bore, my friend, to live as I do—one certainly wants food for the mind. One must, I see, have some elevated pursuit. Write to me at the village of Podkalitovka, Saratov government.”  (He turns the letter over and reads the address.)  “To the Well-born and Gracious Ivan Vasiliyevich Tryapichkin, St. Petersburg, Post-office Street, Number Ninety-seven, within the Courtyard, Third Floor, on the right.”  121
  Gov.  He has as good as cut my throat! I’m crushed, crushed—regularly crushed! I can see nothing—only pigs’ snouts instead of faces, nothing else! Catch him! Catch him!  (Gesticulates wildly.)  122
  Post.  How can we catch him? Why, as if on purpose I told the manager to give him his very best sledge, and the devil persuaded me to give him an order for horses in advance.  123
  Judge.  Besides, sirs, confound it! he has borrowed three hundred rubles of me!  124
  Char. Com.  And three hundred of me too!  125
  Post.  Yes, and three hundred of me as well!  126
  Bob.  And Dobchinski and I gave him sixty-five, in banknotes!  127
  Judge.  How was it, gentlemen, that we came to make such a mistake?  128
  Gov.  (beats himself on the shoulders).  How could I? There’s not such another old blockhead as I am! I must be in my dotage, idiot of a muttonhead that I am! Thirty years have I been in the service; not a tradesman or contractor could cheat me; rogue after rogue have I over-reached, sharpers and rascals I have hooked, that were ready to rob the whole universe! Three governors-general I’ve duped! And look at me now, look—all the world, all Christendom, all of you, see how the Governor’s fooled! Ass, booby, dotard that I am!  (Shakes his fists at himself.)  Ah, you fat-nose! Taking an icicle, a rag, for a man of rank! And now he’s rattling along the road with his bells, and telling the whole world the story! Not only do you get made a laughing-stock of, but some quill-driver, some paper-stainer, will go and put you in a play! It’s maddening! He’ll spare neither your rank nor your profession, and all will grin and clap their hands.  (Stamps on the ground ferociously.)  I’d like to get my hands on the pack of scribblers! Ugh! The quill-splitters! Damned liberals! Devil’s brood! I would throttle them all; I’d grind them to powder!  (Shakes his fist and grinds his heel on the ground. Then, after a short silence.)  I can’t collect myself yet. It’s true, that if God intends to punish a man, he first drives him mad. To be sure, what was there like an inspector-general in that crack-brained trifler? Nothing at all! Not the resemblance of half a little finger. Yet all of them shout at once: The Inspector! the Inspector! Who was it who first gave out he was an official? Answer me!  129
  Char. Com.  (shrugging his shoulders).  It all happened in such a way that I wouldn’t tell you, if you were to kill me. Our wits were befogged; it was the devil’s doing!  130
  Judge.  Who started the idea? Why, there they are, those enterprising young bucks!  (Points to DOBCHINSKI and BOBCHINSKI.)  131
  Bob.  I swear it wasn’t I! I never thought——  132
  Dob.  I hadn’t the least idea——  133
  Char. Com.  Undoubtedly it was you!  134
  Post.  Why, certainly it was. They ran like mad from the hotel with the news, “He’s here! He’s come! He pays no money!” A fine bird you discovered!  135
  Gov.  Of course it was you, you gossiping busybodies, you infernal liars!  136
  Char. Com.  I wish you had gone to the devil with your inspector and your stories!  137
  Gov.  All you do is to run about the town, and meddle with everybody, you confounded chatterboxes, you tittle-tattling scandal-mongers, you short-tailed jackdaws!  138
  Judge.  You confounded bunglers!  139
  Dir. of Schools.  You dirty nightcaps!  140
  Char. Com.  You pot-bellied drivelers!  (All crowd up to them threateningly.)  141
  Bob.  Heavens! it wasn’t I; it was Dobchinski!  142
  Dob.  No, Bobchinski, you certainly were the first to——  143
  Bob.  No, I did not; you began it!  144
 
Enter a POLICE SERGEANT.
  Pol. Ser.  The Inspector-General sent by Imperial command has just arrived, and requests your attendance at once. He awaits you at the hotel, gentlemen.
  145
 
 
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