The Bishop and Other Stories HTML version

The Letter
The clerical superintendent of the district, his Reverence Father Fyodor Orlov, a
handsome, well-nourished man of fifty, grave and important as he always was, with an
habitual expression of dignity that never left his face, was walking to and fro in his little
drawing-room, extremely exhausted, and thinking intensely about the same thing: "When
would his visitor go?" The thought worried him and did not leave him for a minute. The
visitor, Father Anastasy, the priest of one of the villages near the town, had come to him
three hours before on some very unpleasant and dreary business of his own, had stayed
on and on, was now sitting in the corner at a little round table with his elbow on a thick
account book, and apparently had no thought of going, though it was getting on for nine
o'clock in the evening.
Not everyone knows when to be silent and when to go. It not infrequently happens that
even diplomatic persons of good worldly breeding fail to observe that their presence is
arousing a feeling akin to hatred in their exhausted or busy host, and that this feeling is
being concealed with an effort and disguised with a lie. But Father Anastasy perceived it
clearly, and realized that his presence was burdensome and inappropriate, that his
Reverence, who had taken an early morning service in the night and a long mass at
midday, was exhausted and longing for repose; every minute he was meaning to get up
and go, but he did not get up, he sat on as though he were waiting for something. He was
an old man of sixty-five, prematurely aged, with a bent and bony figure, with a sunken
face and the dark skin of old age, with red eyelids and a long narrow back like a fish's; he
was dressed in a smart cassock of a light lilac colour, but too big for him (presented to
him by the widow of a young priest lately deceased), a full cloth coat with a broad leather
belt, and clumsy high boots the size and hue of which showed clearly that Father
Anastasy dispensed with goloshes. In spite of his position and his venerable age, there
was something pitiful, crushed and humiliated in his lustreless red eyes, in the strands of
grey hair with a shade of green in it on the nape of his neck, and in the big shoulder-
blades on his lean back. . . . He sat without speaking or moving, and coughed with
circumspection, as though afraid that the sound of his coughing might make his presence
more noticeable.
The old man had come to see his Reverence on business. Two months before he had been
prohibited from officiating till further notice, and his case was being inquired into. His
shortcomings were numerous. He was intemperate in his habits, fell out with the other
clergy and the commune, kept the church records and accounts carelessly --these were the
formal charges against him; but besides all that, there had been rumours for a long time
past that he celebrated unlawful marriages for money and sold certificates of having
fasted and taken the sacrament to officials and officers who came to him from the town.
These rumours were maintained the more persistently that he was poor and had nine
children to keep, who were as incompetent and unsuccessful as himself. The sons were
spoilt and uneducated, and stayed at home doing nothing, while the daughters were ugly
and did not get married.