Only 886 words for today’s story, http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/009.html.
A quick portrait of government corruption. Voldyrev, a country gentleman, is practically invisible in the eyes of the clerk assigned to his case until rubles came out of his pocket. Nine-tenths of the story details the Voldyrev’s frustration at trying to inquire about his case and then in two sentences, after the correct amount of money hit the the clerk’s desk, the case is handled with the upmost efficiency and care. “The clerk became as lively as though he were whirled round by a hurricane.” It is like the power was turned on a carousel. The final line “Well, what people!” reminds me of Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff’s “What a Country!” tagline, but in a very negative sense.
The scene of this story is a government office where Chekhov paints a stereotyped portrait of corruption. A country gentleman, unaware of the rules that govern bureaucracy, presents to make an inquiry about his case and is met with deaf ears but an open palm. This is perhaps more social commentary than story with the notion that every question has its price (the answers appear free but not necessarily reassuring). We are left with the closing comment by the honest country gentleman, “What people!” and yet he too felt compelled to tip the bureaucrat. Overall, this story provided a snapshot of how foreign a government office (“scribbling brotherhood”) must have felt to the country gentlemen of Chekhov’s time.