The Schoolmaster and Other Stories HTML version

The Orator
ONE fine morning the collegiate assessor, Kirill Ivanovitch Babilonov, who had died of
the two afflictions so widely spread in our country, a bad wife and alcoholism, was being
buried. As the funeral procession set off from the church to the cemetery, one of the
deceased's colleagues, called Poplavsky, got into a cab and galloped off to find a friend,
one Grigory Petrovitch Zapoikin, a man who though still young had acquired
considerable popularity. Zapoikin, as many of my readers are aware, possesses a rare
talent for impromptu speechifying at weddings, jubilees, and funerals. He can speak
whenever he likes: in his sleep, on an empty stomach, dead drunk or in a high fever. His
words flow smoothly and evenly, like water out of a pipe, and in abundance; there are far
more moving words in his oratorical dictionary than there are beetles in any restaurant.
He always speaks eloquently and at great length, so much so that on some occasions,
particularly at merchants' weddings, they have to resort to assistance from the police to
stop him.
"I have come for you, old man!" began Poplavsky, finding him at home. "Put on your hat
and coat this minute and come along. One of our fellows is dead, we are just sending him
off to the other world, so you must do a bit of palavering by way of farewell to him. . . .
You are our only hope. If it had been one of the smaller fry it would not have been worth
troubling you, but you see it's the secretary . . . a pillar of the office, in a sense. It's
awkward for such a whopper to be buried without a speech."
"Oh, the secretary!" yawned Zapoikin. "You mean the drunken one?"
"Yes. There will be pancakes, a lunch . . . you'll get your cab-fare. Come along, dear
chap. You spout out some rigmarole like a regular Cicero at the grave and what gratitude
you will earn!"
Zapoikin readily agreed. He ruffled up his hair, cast a shade of melancholy over his face,
and went out into the street with Poplavsky.
"I know your secretary," he said, as he got into the cab. "A cunning rogue and a beast--
the kingdom of heaven be his--such as you don't often come across."
"Come, Grisha, it is not the thing to abuse the dead."
"Of course not, aut mortuis nihil bene, but still he was a rascal."
The friends overtook the funeral procession and joined it. The coffin was borne along
slowly so that before they reached the cemetery they were able three times to drop into a
tavern and imbibe a little to the health of the departed.
In the cemetery came the service by the graveside. The mother-in-law, the wife, and the
sister-in-law in obedience to custom shed many tears. When the coffin was being lowered