(A translation by Marjorie Farquharson)


A room in the Provost’s house.

Scene I

The Provost, the charities’ commissioner, the schools’ inspector, the judge, the bailiff, the doctor, and two policemen.

Provost. I invited you here gentlemen, to give you some very unpleasant news. A government inspector is on his way.

Ammos Fyodorovich. What government inspector?

Artemy Filippovich. What government inspector?

Provost. An inspector from St Petersburg, who is travelling incognito, and on an undercover assignment no less.

Ammos Fyodorovich. Help. My. Bob!

Artemy Filippovich. Not a cloud in the sky, then this!

Luka Lukich. God almighty! On an undercover assignment no less.

Provost. I had a foreboding about this. All night long I was dreaming about two extraordinary rats. The biggest ones I’ve ever seen. Black. And enormous! They came nosing around, then slunk off. 

Listen, I’ll read you the letter I got from Chmykhov, whom you know, Artemy Filippovich. This is what he says: “ My dear friend, hero, benefactor (he mutters under his breath as he scans the lines) …and inform you”. Ah yes! “I hasten to inform you that a man has come from the ministry, to inspect the borough, and our district of it in particular (he raises a finger portentously). I have learned this from impeccable sources, although the man is passing himself off as an ordinary member of the public. 

Since I know that you, like the next man, are not without sin. And because clever men’s fingers tend to be sticky…” (he stops) , well that bit’s private… 

“I advise you to be extremely careful, because he could come at any moment, if he is not already among you, incognito… Last night I…” well that’s family business. “… wife’s sister Anna Kirilovna came over with her husband. Ivan Kirilovich has got very fat, still plays the violin…” and so on and so forth. 

So this is a fine how d’you do!

Ammos Fyodorovich. A fine how d’you do indeed… It’s incredible, simply incredible. There must be something behind it.

Luka Lukich. But why, Anton Antonovich? Why? Why should a government inspector come to inspect us?

Provost. Why? That’s obvious. It’s fate. (He sighes). Until now, by the grace of God, they’ve been sniffing around other districts. Now it is our turn.

Ammos Fyodorovich. Anton Antonovich, I think there is a more subtle, political reason behind this. It means that the country … is… yes, is planning to go to war and the ministry has sent someone on the look-out for traitors.

Provost. What drivel! And you’re supposed to have brains! Traitors in a borough town? Are we on a frontier or something? We’re three years away from the nearest border.

Ammos Fyodorovich. No, I tell you, you’re wrong… you don’t… The top brass has its own way of reasoning. Who cares if we’re hundreds of miles away from anywhere. They leave nothing to chance. 

Provost. Chance or no chance, gentlemen, I have warned you. 

I have taken some precautionary measures here and I advise you to do the same. Especially you Artemy Filippovich! There’s no doubt the man from the ministry will want to inspect your charities first thing. So make sure everything is shipshape. Clean nightcaps and none of the patients grubbing about like tramps the way they normally do.

Artemy Filippovich. No problem. We can maybe find them new nightcaps.

Provost. Yes, and write an illness above each bed in Latin or something – that’s your department Christian Ivanovich – saying when they were infected, with the day and the date…

It’s a pity your patients smoke such strong tobacco. It takes the breath away as soon as you step on the ward. 

And it would be better if there were fewer of them. It looks like bad nursing or poor surgery. 

Artemy Filippovich. Oh! Christian Ivanovich and I have the policy that nature’s way is best. We don’t go in for expensive medicines. 

Man is a simple organism, and if he dies,then he dies, and if he gets well, he gets well. And anyway it would be a bit difficult for Christian Ivanovich to explain, because he doesn’t speak a word of the language. 

Christian Ivanovich utters a sound, a bit like ‘i’ and a little like ‘e’.

Provost. And Ammos Fyodorovich, I suggest you look to your Chambers too. The doormen have taken to breeding geese and goslings in the doorway where the claimants gather, and they do terribly get in the way. Animal husbandry is an admirable thing, of course, and why shouldn’t doormen do it too? But, you know. Right there. It’s really not on… I kept meaning to mention it to you before but for some reason forgot.

Ammos Fyodorovich. I’ll tell them to take the geese to the kitchen today. Come round for dinner, if you want.

Provost. And apart from that, it’s just not on to have all sorts of hunting tackle drying off in your office and a whip right above your filing cabinet. 

I know you love hunting, but for the time being it would be better to put everything away, and maybe bring it all out again once the inspector has been. 

The same goes for your magistrate…he’s a knowledgeable man, but he reeks, like a distillery. That’s not on either. I’ve been meaning to tell you for some time now, but I kept getting sidetracked, for some reason. If he really smells like that naturally, as he claims he does, he can take something for it. You could put him on onions or garlic, or something. That’s where Christian Ivanovich could help with different medicines. 

Christian Ivanovich utters the same sound.

Ammos Fyodorovich. No, there’s no getting rid of it now. He says his mother dropped him when he was young and he’s reeked of vodka ever since.

Provost. Well, I just wanted you to know. As for precautionary measures and what Chmykhov calls ‘sleaze’ in his letter, there is nothing I can say. It is strange, but true, that no person is free of sin. God himself has so disposed and no amount of free thinking will make it otherwise.

Ammos Fyodorovich. What do you call ‘sleaze’, Anton Antonovich? There are sins and sins. I tell everyone quite openly that I accept bribes – but what sort of bribes? Borzoi puppies. And that’s something completely different.

Provost. Well, puppies or not – it’s still bribery.

Ammos Fyodorovich Well no, Anton Antonovich. If someone, for instance, has a fur coat costing five thousand pounds, and his wife’s shawl is…

Provost. Well what’s so different about your Borzois? You don’t believe in God and you never go to church. At least I am devout and go to church every Sunday. But you… Oh, I know you. Your version of the Creation story makes my flesh creep.

Ammos Fyodorovich. I have used my own powers of reason to think things through.

Provost. Well, some times having a big brain is worse than having none at all. 

By the way, I said district court, but to be honest nobody’s likely to look there. It is such a holy of holies. 

Now you, Luka Lukich. You should be keeping tabs on your staff, as much as your schools. They are educated people to be sure, and all of them graduates of different colleges, but they have the peculiar tendencies that go with an intellectual calling. One of them, for instance, the one with the fat face – I forget his name – he can’t walk into the department without grimacing like this (pulls a face,) then putting his fingers up under his collar to smooth the hairs on his chin. 

Of course it’s one thing to pull faces at a child. Maybe it’s necessary; I’m not qualified to say. But judge for yourself – if he does that to a visitor, it could turn out very nasty. An inspector or someone might take it personally, then God knows what could happen.

Luka Lukich. What am I supposed to do? I’ve told him more than once already. Just a few days ago when the schools’ visitor was in, he pulled the worst face I have ever seen. For him it was all innocent, but for me it was the bottom of the league table and ‘why are free thinkers corrupting our young?’

Provost I must say something about the history teacher too. Agreed, he’s got a good brain and he must have swallowed an encyclopaedia, but he gets so carried away explaining things that he forgets where he is. I once heard him: well, when he was talking about the Assyrians and the Babylonians it was alright, but as soon as he got onto Alexander the Great, I can’t describe what happened to him. I thought there was a fire, for God’s sake. He raced out of the department and started smashing the life out of a chair. Alexander the Great is of course a heroic figure, but why break the furniture? It comes off our budget.

Luka Lukich. Yes, he is extremely volatile. I’ve mentioned it to him more than once already. He just says: “ Say what you like, but I will give my all for history.”

Provost. Yes, it’s one of the unfathomable laws of nature. A clever man is either drunk or violent, and either way you’ve got to take out the china.

Luka Lukich. God save us from teaching! You’re too frightened to do anything. Everyone meddles in what you’re doing and they all want to prove they’re as clever as you.

Provost. None of which would matter – if it were not for this blasted incognito! What if he suddenly pops up and says: “Ah, there you are chaps! And which of you is the judge?” – “Middleton-Bore” – “Well bring Middleton-Bore over here! And who is the Charities’ Commissioner?” – “Bramble.” – “Well let’s be having Bramble then”. 

That is what’s so awful!

Scene II

The same characters, with the postmaster.

Postmaster. Tell me gentlemen, who is the man from the ministry?

Provost. You really don’t know?

Postmaster. I heard from Pyotr Ivanovich Babbit. He was just in the post office.

Provost. So? What do you think about it all?

Postmaster. What do I think? I think there’ll be war in the Middle East. 

Ammos Fyodorovich. Exactly! Just what I was thinking.

Provost. Yes, and you’re both way off the mark.

Postmaster. It’s true. War with Turkey. Europe has been stirring things up.

Provost. Turkey shmurkey! We’ll be the only ones to cop it, not the Turks, and that’s a fact. I’ve had a letter.

Postmaster. If you’ve had a letter, then there won’t be war with Turkey.

Provost. So, Ivan Kuzmich. How are you fixed?

Postmaster. How am I fixed? How about you, Anton Antonovich?

Provost. Me? I’ve nothing to be afraid of, well hardly …The business community and the public bother me. They say I’ve been hard on them, whereas in fact, God knows, if I’ve taken anything off any them it usually wasn’t personal. 

I even wonder (he takes him aside by the arm) I even wonder if someone hasn’t dropped me in it. When you think about it, why should we be having a visit from a government inspector? Listen, Ivan Kuzmich, for all our sakes, could you not, you know, tweak the letters that come through the Post Office. All the incoming and outgoing mail. Just skim through it to see if it is ordinary post, or from someone blowing a whistle. If it’s not, you can seal it up again. Actually, no need. Deliver it as it is, unsealed.

Postmaster. I know, I know…You’re not telling me anything new. It’s what I do, but more out of curiosity than as a precaution. I just love finding out what’s new. I tell you, it makes the most fascinating reading. Someone else’s letter is such a delight – different passages are described so beautifully…and they are so edifying. Better than the Herald!

Provost. Well then, tell me, did you read nothing about a man from the ministry in St Petersburg?

Postmaster. No, nothing about St Petersburg, but lots about men from Kostroma and Saratov. It’s a pity you didn’t read the letters: there were some splendid passages. Not long ago one ensign was describing a ball to his friend in the wickedest terms… it was very very good. “My life old pal, he wrote, is stiff with ambrosial delights: ladies galore, bands playing, my standard cocked and at the ready…” He wrote with great, great feeling. I deliberately kept it back. Do you want to read it?

Provost. Well, not just this moment. Do me a favour, Ivan Kuzmich, if you by any chance come across a complaint or a denunciation, sit on it without a second thought.

Postmaster. With the greatest of pleasure.

Ammos Fyodorovich Watch out. They’ll get you for that one day.

Postmaster. Oh God!

Provost. Never mind, never mind. It would be different if you were going public, but this is all in the family.

Ammos Fyodorovich. Yes, it’s a bad business. 

And, I confess, I was about to come and see you, Anton Antonovich, to present you with a little bitch, the sister of that dog you know. You probably heard that Scobie and Howker have begun a lawsuit? Now I have the luxury of hare-coursing on both their estates.

Provost. Friend, I’ve no time for your rabbits right now. That blasted man incognito is all I can think about. You wait for the door to open, and suddenly…

Scene III

The same characters. Babbit and Ragget enter, panting

Babbit. Something extraordinary has happened!

Ragget. A most unexpected development!

All. What? What’s happened?

Ragget. Something most unforeseen: we were going into the hotel…

Babbit(interrupting) Pytor Ivanovich and I were going into the hotel.

Ragget(interrupting) Please, Pytor Ivanovich, I’ll tell them.

Babbit. No, please, I’ve already…please, please… you can’t string…

Ragget But you get muddled up and don’t remember…

Babbit. I remember, for heaven’s sake, I remember. Just don’t interrupt. Let me tell them, without your interruptions! Gentlemen, would you be so kind as to tell Pyotr Ivanovich not to interrupt.

Provost. For God’s sake, what has happened? You’re giving me heart failure. Sit down gentlemen! Take a seat. Pyotr Ivanovich, here’s a chair! (Everyone sits in a circle around the Pyotr Ivanoviches). Well, what has happened?

Babbit Please, please: I’ll tell you from start to finish. No sooner had I left you, after you kindly shared your indignation at the receipt of the letter, sir – when I immediately popped in… No, please, Pyotr Ivanovich, don’t interrupt! I’ll tell them everything, everything, everything I know sir. So, as you will kindly observe, I popped in to see Boxer. And finding Boxer not at home, I went to see Rastakovsky, and finding him out, I called on Ivan Kuzmich here, to tell him your news, and proceeding from there I met Pyotr Ivanovich…

Ragget (interrupting) Near the kiosk where they sell the pies.

Babbit Near the kiosk where they sell the pies. Yes, and having met Pyotr Ivanovich, I said to him: “Have you heard the news that Anton Antonovich has learned from an impeccable source?” 

But Pyotr Ivanovich already knew about it from your concierge Ada, who for some reason, had been sent to Filipp Nephritin’s…

Ragget (interrupting) For a barrel to store some French vodka.

Babbit (spreading his hands).

For a barrel to store some French vodka. So, Pyotr Ivanovich and I set off to Nephritin’s house… Now Pyotr Ivanovich…don’t interrupt, please don’t interrupt! We set off for Nephritin’s and on the way Pyotr Ivanovich said: ”Let’s pop into the inn. My stomach’s…I’ve had nothing to eat since breakfast and my stomach’s …” Yes sir, Pyotr Ivanovich’s stomach was…”And, he said, they’ve got fresh salmon, let’s pop in for a bite”. No sooner had we walked in when a young man…

Ragget (interrupting) Not bad looking, in a very stylish outfit…

Babbit Not bad looking and dressed in a very stylish outfit, walked around the bar like this, with such a discriminating look on his face – his features…his walk, and up here (he waves a hand around his forehead) all his chairs at home. 

It was as though I had a premonition and I said to Pyotr Ivanovich: “This did not come in with the cat, sir.” No. And Pyotr Ivanovich beckoned to the manager, who then called over the barman sir, Vlas the barman. His wife had a baby three weeks ago: such a sharp-eyed boy he’s bound to be a barman, like his father. When they called Vlas over, Pyotr Ivanovich asked him quietly: “Who, he asked, is that young man?” and Vlas replied: “That” he said… 

Now Pytor Ivanovich, don’t interrupt please, don’t interrupt: you can’t tell the story, for heaven’s sake, you can’t tell it. You’ve got a lisp and you whistle when you speak, I know you do… “That young man, he said, is a man from the ministry – yes sir – he’s come from St Petersburg and they call him, he said, Ivan Alexandrovich Lashman sir, and he’s travelling, he said, to Saratov, and, he said, he’s constantly drawing attention to himself. It’s his second week in the hotel, he never goes out, he buys everything on tab and he’s as tight as a fist”. 

That’s what he said. Then suddenly it dawned on me like a blinding flash of light. “Hey!” I said to Pyotr Ivanovich…

Ragget No, Pyotr Ivanovich, I said “Hey!” 

Babbit First you said it, then I said it. “Hey!” Pyotr Ivanovich I said. Why is he holed up here when he is on his way to Saratov? Yes sir! And so, it must be that he is the man.

Provost Who? What man?

Babbit The man from the ministry, about whom you kindly received notice. The Government Inspector.

Provost (in terror) Good Lord, what are you saying! It can’t be him.

Ragget It is him! He spends no money and he goes nowhere. Who else could it be? And his horses are booked for Saratov.

Babbit It’s him, it’s him for goodness sake. Him… He’s so sharp-eyed. He takes in everything. He noticed that Pyotr Ivanovich and I were eating salmon – mostly because of Pyotr Ivanovich and his stomach… and he even gave our plates the once over. I was terrified.

Provost. Lord have mercy on us, sinners! Which room is he in?

Ragget Room five, under the stairs

Babbit The room of the officers’ brawl last year.

Provost Has he been there long?

Ragget About two weeks. He arrived for St Basil’s day.

Provost Two weeks! (aside) Good grief, bring out the holy saints! In the last two weeks the officer’s wife got flogged! The prisoners got no food! The streets were filthy and inundated by drunkards! What a scandal! How humiliating! (He grabs his head)

Artemy Filippovich So, Anton Antonovich? We should make our way down to the hotel.

Ammos Fyodorovich No, no! We should let the Provost go first, followed by the priests, then the business community. All according to the Freemason’s handbook.

Provost No no, let me go on my own. I have been through some tough experiences in my life, but came through them all, sometimes with flying colours. Perhaps God will carry me through this one too. (To Babbit) You say he is young?

Babbit Yes. About twenty three, or twenty four and a bit.

Provost So much the better. The young ones are easier to read. An old devil spells trouble, but a young man is an open book. Gentlemen, get ready for your turn, and I will go off alone, or perhaps with Pyotr Ivanovich, just for a private stroll, to pop in and see if everything’s alright for the town’s visitors. Hey, Whistler!

Whistler What do you want?

Provost Go and get the bailiff – no, it’s you I need. Tell the bailiff I need him as fast as possible, then come back here.

The policeman runs off at full tilt.

Artemy Filippovich Let’s go, let’s go Ammos Fyodorovich! This could be a disaster. 

Ammos Fyodorovich What have you got to fear? Look out clean nightcaps for the patients and you’re laughing.

Artemy Filippovich What do you mean nightcaps? We are supposed to be feeding them oatmeal porridge but the stink of cabbage gas in the corridor would knock you out.

Ammos Fyodorovich I am safe on that score, and who would visit a district court house anyway? If you looked through the paperwork, you’d be none the wiser. I’ve spent fifteen years on the bench and when I look at those stenographs – well! I just throw up my hands. Solomon himself couldn’t make sense of them.

The judge, the charities’ commissioner, the schools’ inspector and the postmaster leave and collide in the doorway with the policeman

Scene IV

The Provost, Babbit, Ragget and the policeman

Provost Is the cab waiting?

Policeman Yes

Provost Go out on the street…no, wait! Bring me… Where are the others? Surely you’re not alone? I gave orders for Prokhorov to come too. Where’s Prokhorov?

Policeman Prokhorov is at a private address, and is unavailable for work.

Provost Why?

Policeman Because. He was brought in drunk as a skunk this morning and after two dousings with cold water, he still hasn’t sobered up. 

Provost (holding his head) Oh my God! God almighty! Go out on the street…no, first run up to my room, listen! And fetch my sword and new hat. So, Pyotr Ivanovich, we’re off!

Babbit And me, and me, let me come too Anton Antonovich!

Provost No, no, Pyotr Ivanovich, I can’t, I can’t! It would be awkward, and you wouldn’t fit in the cab.

Babbit Not to worry, I can run along behind it. I just need the door open a crack – like this – to see how he walks in…

Provost (taking his sword and addressing the policeman) Run and get eight special constables and have each of them take…Uch, this sword is covered in scratches! That damned tinker Abdulin: he can see the Provost has an old sword but doesn’t bother sending him a new one. Oh what a sly race of extortionists they are! Forever pulling bills out of their sleeves. 

Have each of them go up and down the street … yes, the street, dammit!, with a broom in their hands. And tell them to sweep it all the way down to the inn, and sweep it clean…do you hear me! 

And look here, you! You! I know you. You’ve got light fingers, and you’re always, pilfering silver teaspoons up your boot flaps. Watch yourself – I’ve got sharp ears!…What did you do to Blackstone in the market, eh? He offered you two yards of cloth for a uniform and you took the whole roll. Watch it! You overreach yourself! Now skedaddle!

Scene V

The same characters, with the bailiff

Provost Ah, Stepan Illich! Where did you disappear to for heaven’s sake! What are you like?

Bailiff I was right here behind the gates.

Provost Well, listen Stepan Illich! The man from the ministry in St Petersburg has arrived. What precautionary measures have you taken?

Bailiff I’ve done what you told me to. I sent PC Button and ten special constables out to clean the pavement.

Provost And where’s Clampitt?

Bailiff Clampitt went off with the fire hose.

Provost And Prokhorov’s drunk?

Bailiff Yes

Provost How did that happen?

Bailiff God knows. There was a punch up outside town yesterday. He went to sort it out and came back drunk.

Provost Listen, here’s the plan. PC Button… he’s tall, so put him on the bridge for appearances’ sake. Pull down the old fence next to the cobbler’s PDQ, and put up some straw feature that could pass for landscaping. The more demolition there is, the more it looks like town planning. 

Oh God! I forgot there are 40 containers of rubbish next to that fence. What a tip this town is! You just need to put up a monument or a fence, and all sorts of rubbish immediately accumulates behind it, God knows where from! (He sighes)

And tell them if the man from the ministry asks if they enjoy their work, they are to say: “we are content with everything, your honour” and if anyone’s not, I’ll give them something to be unhappy about later… O, oh oh ho. I am a sinner. I have done many many wrong things. (Instead of his hat, he picks up the hat box)

Please God, if he gets off my patch soon, I’ll light the biggest candle you’ve ever seen: three pounds of wax for every lousy businessman. Oh my God, oh my God! Let’s go Pyotr Ivanovich! (Instead of his hat he tries to put on a paper hat box)

Bailiff Anton Antonovich, that’s a box not a hat.

Provost (Throwing off the box) Stupid box. Damn! If he asks why the almshouse has no church, when money was set aside for it five years ago, don’t forget to say that work started on it, then it burnt down. I even wrote a report about it. But perhaps some idiot who doesn’t remember, might say the work never started. And tell Clampitt not to be too free with his fists. When he’s on duty everyone gets a black eye, whether they’re guilty or not. Let’s go, let’s go Pyotr Ivanovich! (He goes out and comes back in again).  And don’t let the soldiers out on the street bare-arsed: this crummy garrison goes about in top shirts only and arse to the wind down below.

They all leave.

Scene VI

Anna Andreyevna and Mariya Antonovna run onto the stage

Anna Andreyevna Where, where have they gone? Ah! Oh heavens! (opening the door). Husband! Antosha! Anton! (speaking fast). This is all your fault. It’s all your doing. You’re always fussing: “Get me a hairpin, get me a scarf”. (She runs to the window and shouts). Anton, where oh where have you gone? What, is he here? The Government Inspector? Does he have a moustache? What kind?

Provost’s voice Later, mother, later.

Anna Andreyevna Later? Oh, that’s the latest news – ‘later’. I want to know now… I just need to know one thing: what is he – a colonel? Eh? (Disdainfully) He’s gone! I’ll pay him back for that! 

And this one with her “Mummy, mummy, just a minute while I fix my scarf”. I’ll give you ‘just a minute’. We missed the whole thing, with all your stupid simpering. As soon as you heard the postmaster was here you started striking poses in front of the mirror, seeing which is your better side. You think he’s taken a shine to you, but he’s just having you on behind your back.

Mariya Antonovna So what, Mummy? In two hours we’ll find out everything there is to know anyway.

Anna Andreyevna Two hours! I’m most grateful I’m sure. What an answer! In a month’s time we’ll know even more, I’m surprised you didn’t say that ! (Hangs out of the window) Hey, Ada! Eh? Did you hear if anyone has come?… You don’t know? The silly cow. She’s waving me away? Let her wave, she still might know something. You wouldn’t! Your head’s stuffed full of men and nonsense. Eh? They’ve only just gone? You could run after the cab? Run after it, go now! Listen, run and ask where they are going. Don’t take no for an answer. Ask what the visitor looks like. What rank he is, do you hear me? Look through the crack of the door and see what colour his eyes are. See if they are dark or not, and come straight back here. Do you hear me? Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry! (She carries on shouting until the curtain comes down. The curtain closes on the two of them standing at the window.)