The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories
A Defenceless Creature
IN spite of a violent attack of gout in the night and the nervous exhaustion left by it,
Kistunov went in the morning to his office and began punctually seeing the clients of the
bank and persons who had come with petitions. He looked languid and exhausted, and
spoke in a faint voice hardly above a whisper, as though he were dying.
"What can I do for you?" he asked a lady in an antediluvian mantle, whose back view
was extremely suggestive of a huge dung-beetle.
"You see, your Excellency," the petitioner in question began, speaking rapidly, "my
husband Shtchukin, a collegiate assessor, was ill for five months, and while he, if you
will excuse my saying so, was laid up at home, he was for no sort of reason dismissed,
your Excellency; and when I went for his salary they deducted, if you please, your
Excellency, twenty-four roubles thirty-six kopecks from his salary. 'What for?' I asked.
'He borrowed from the club fund,' they told me, 'and the other clerks had stood security
for him.' How was that? How could he have borrowed it without my consent? It's
impossible, your Excellency. What's the reason of it? I am a poor woman, I earn my
bread by taking in lodgers. I am a weak, defenceless woman . . . I have to put up with ill-
usage from everyone and never hear a kind word. . ."
The petitioner was blinking, and dived into her mantle for her handkerchief. Kistunov
took her petition from her and began reading it.
"Excuse me, what's this?" he asked, shrugging his shoulders. "I can make nothing of it.
Evidently you have come to the wrong place, madam. Your petition has nothing to do
with us at all. You will have to apply to the department in which your husband was
"Why, my dear sir, I have been to five places already, and they would not even take the
petition anywhere," said Madame Shtchukin. "I'd quite lost my head, but, thank
goodness--God bless him for it--my son-in-law, Boris Matveyitch, advised me to come to
you. 'You go to Mr. Kistunov, mamma: he is an influential man, he can do anything for
you. . . .' Help me, your Excellency!"
"We can do nothing for you, Madame Shtchukin. You must understand: your husband
served in the Army Medical Department, and our establishment is a purely private
commercial undertaking, a bank. Surely you must understand that!"
Kistunov shrugged his shoulders again and turned to a gentleman in a military uniform,
with a swollen face.
"Your Excellency," piped Madame Shtchukin in a pitiful voice, "I have the doctor's
certificate that my husband was ill! Here it is, if you will kindly look at it."