The Schoolmaster and Other Stories
A Peculiar Man
BETWEEN twelve and one at night a tall gentleman, wearing a top-hat and a coat with a
hood, stops before the door of Marya Petrovna Koshkin, a midwife and an old maid.
Neither face nor hand can be distinguished in the autumn darkness, but in the very
manner of his coughing and the ringing of the bell a certain solidity, positiveness, and
even impressiveness can be discerned. After the third ring the door opens and Marya
Petrovna herself appears. She has a man's overcoat flung on over her white petticoat. The
little lamp with the green shade which she holds in her hand throws a greenish light over
her sleepy, freckled face, her scraggy neck, and the lank, reddish hair that strays from
under her cap.
"Can I see the midwife?" asks the gentleman.
"I am the midwife. What do you want?"
The gentleman walks into the entry and Marya Petrovna sees facing her a tall, well-made
man, no longer young, but with a handsome, severe face and bushy whiskers.
"I am a collegiate assessor, my name is Kiryakov," he says. "I came to fetch you to my
wife. Only please make haste."
"Very good . . ." the midwife assents. "I'll dress at once, and I must trouble you to wait
for me in the parlour."
Kiryakov takes off his overcoat and goes into the parlour. The greenish light of the lamp
lies sparsely on the cheap furniture in patched white covers, on the pitiful flowers and the
posts on which ivy is trained. . . . There is a smell of geranium and carbolic. The little
clock on the wall ticks timidly, as though abashed at the presence of a strange man.
"I am ready," says Marya Petrovna, coming into the room five minutes later, dressed,
washed, and ready for action. "Let us go."
"Yes, you must make haste," says Kiryakov. "And, by the way, it is not out of place to
enquire--what do you ask for your services?"
"I really don't know . . ." says Marya Petrovna with an embarrassed smile. "As much as
you will give."
"No, I don't like that," says Kiryakov, looking coldly and steadily at the midwife. "An
arrangement beforehand is best. I don't want to take advantage of you and you don't want
to take advantage of me. To avoid misunderstandings it is more sensible for us to make
an arrangement beforehand."
"I really don't know--there is no fixed price."