A.P. Chekhov - An Inquiry
IT was midday. Voldyrev, a tall, thick-set country gentleman
with a cropped head and prominent eyes, took off his overcoat,
mopped his brow with his silk handkerchief, and somewhat
diffidently went into the government office. There they were
scratching away. . . .
"Where can I make an inquiry here?" he said, addressing a porter
who was bringing a trayful of glasses from the furthest recesses
of the office. "I have to make an inquiry here and to take a
copy of a resolution of the Council."
"That way please! To that one sitting near the window!" said the
porter, indicating with the tray the furthest window. Voldyrev
coughed and went towards the window; there, at a green table
spotted like typhus, was sitting a young man with his hair
standing up in four tufts on his head, with a long pimply nose,
and a long faded uniform. He was writing, thrusting his long
nose into the papers. A fly was walking about near his right
nostril, and he was continually stretching out his lower lip and
blowing under his nose, which gave his face an extremely
"May I make an inquiry about my case here . . . of you? My name
is Voldyrev. and, by the way, I have to take a copy of the
resolution of the Council of the second of March."
The clerk dipped his pen in the ink and looked to see if he had
got too much on it. Having satisfied himself that the pen would
not make a blot, he began scribbling away. His lip was thrust
out, but it was no longer necessary to blow: the fly had settled
on his ear.
"Can I make an inquiry here?" Voldyrev repeated a minute later,
"my name is Voldyrev, I am a landowner. . . ."
"Ivan Alexeitch!" the clerk shouted into the air as though he
had not observed Voldyrev, "will you tell the merchant Yalikov
when he comes to sign the copy of the complaint lodged with the
police! I've told him a thousand times!"
"I have come in reference to my lawsuit with the heirs of
Princess Gugulin," muttered Voldyrev. "The case is well known. I
earnestly beg you to attend to me."
Still failing to observe Voldyrev, the clerk caught the fly on
his lip, looked at it attentively and flung it away. The country
gentleman coughed and blew his nose loudly on his checked pocket
handkerchief. But this was no use either. He was still unheard.
The silence lasted for two minutes. Voldyrev took a rouble note
from his pocket and laid it on an open book before the clerk.
The clerk wrinkled up his forehead, drew the book towards him
with an anxious air and closed it.
"A little inquiry. . . . I want only to find out on what grounds
the heirs of Princess Gugulin. . . . May I trouble you?"
The clerk, absorbed in his own thoughts, got up and, scratching
his elbow, went to a cupboard for something. Returning a minute
later to his table he became absorbed in the book again: another
rouble note was lying upon it.
"I will trouble you for one minute only. . . . I have only to
make an inquiry."
The clerk did not hear, he had begun copying something.
Voldyrev frowned and looked hopelessly at the whole scribbling
"They write!" he thought, sighing. "They write, the devil take
He walked away from the table and stopped in the middle of the
room, his hands hanging hopelessly at his sides. The porter,
passing again with glasses, probably noticed the helpless
expression of his face, for he went close up to him and asked
him in a low voice:
"Well? Have you inquired?"
"I've inquired, but he wouldn't speak to me."
"You give him three roubles," whispered the porter.
"I've given him two already."
"Give him another."
Voldyrev went back to the table and laid a green note on the
The clerk drew the book towards him again and began turning over
the leaves, and all at once, as though by chance, lifted his
eyes to Voldyrev. His nose began to shine, turned red, and
wrinkled up in a grin.
"Ah . . . what do you want?" he asked.
"I want to make an inquiry in reference to my case. . . . My
name is Voldyrev."
"With pleasure! The Gugulin case, isn't it? Very good. What is
it then exactly?"
Voldyrev explained his business.
The clerk became as lively as though he were whirled round by a
hurricane. He gave the necessary information, arranged for a
copy to be made, gave the petitioner a chair, and all in one
instant. He even spoke about the weather and asked after the
harvest. And when Voldyrev went away he accompanied him down the
stairs, smiling affably and respectfully, and looking as though
he were ready any minute to fall on his face before the
gentleman. Voldyrev for some reason felt uncomfortable, and in
obedience to some inward impulse he took a rouble out of his
pocket and gave it to the clerk. And the latter kept bowing and
smiling, and took the rouble like a conjuror, so that it seemed
to flash through the air.
"Well, what people!" thought the country gentleman as he went
out into the street, and he stopped and mopped his brow with his