The Schoolmaster and Other Stories HTML version

The Examining Magistrate
A DISTRICT doctor and an examining magistrate were driving one fine spring day to an
inquest. The examining magistrate, a man of five and thirty, looked dreamily at the
horses and said:
"There is a great deal that is enigmatic and obscure in nature; and even in everyday life,
doctor, one must often come upon phenomena which are absolutely incapable of
explanation. I know, for instance, of several strange, mysterious deaths, the cause of
which only spiritualists and mystics will undertake to explain; a clear-headed man can
only lift up his hands in perplexity. For example, I know of a highly cultured lady who
foretold her own death and died without any apparent reason on the very day she had
predicted. She said that she would die on a certain day, and she did die."
"There's no effect without a cause," said the doctor. "If there's a death there must be a
cause for it. But as for predicting it there's nothing very marvellous in that. All our ladies-
-all our females, in fact--have a turn for prophecies and presentiments."
"Just so, but my lady, doctor, was quite a special case. There was nothing like the ladies'
or other females' presentiments about her prediction and her death. She was a young
woman, healthy and clever, with no superstitions of any sort. She had such clear,
intelligent, honest eyes; an open, sensible face with a faint, typically Russian look of
mockery in her eyes and on her lips. There was nothing of the fine lady or of the female
about her, except--if you like-- her beauty! She was graceful, elegant as that birch tree;
she had wonderful hair. That she may be intelligible to you, I will add, too, that she was a
person of the most infectious gaiety and carelessness and that intelligent, good sort of
frivolity which is only found in good-natured, light-hearted people with brains. Can one
talk of mysticism, spiritualism, a turn for presentiment, or anything of that sort, in this
case? She used to laugh at all that."
The doctor's chaise stopped by a well. The examining magistrate and the doctor drank
some water, stretched, and waited for the coachman to finish watering the horses.
"Well, what did the lady die of?" asked the doctor when the chaise was rolling along the
road again.
"She died in a strange way. One fine day her husband went in to her and said that it
wouldn't be amiss to sell their old coach before the spring and to buy something rather
newer and lighter instead, and that it might be as well to change the left trace horse and to
put Bobtchinsky (that was the name of one of her husband's horses) in the shafts.
"His wife listened to him and said:
"'Do as you think best, but it makes no difference to me now. Before the summer I shall
be in the cemetery.'