A district doctor and an examining magistrate are on their way to an inquest. The magistrate tells the story of a young pregnant woman who "foretold her own death" shortly after giving birth. Though she was apparently healthy, she simply closed her eyes and "gave up her soul to God." This tale, the magistrate contends, is an illustration of how inexplicable life can be.

No, the doctor responds, there is no effect without a cause. The woman probably poisoned herself, the doctor explains. Her husband was unfaithful. She wished to commit suicide, but did not want to harm the unborn baby. Thus, she waited until after her confinement. The magistrate is overwhelmed with grief--in fact, the story is that of his own wife. His infidelity may have caused her suicide!


Often, we believe that events are mysterious or inexplicable when, in fact, the cause may be discernable. It may simply be a matter of how we frame the question, or what type of evidence we consider relevant. More specifically, this story contrasts the rational (medical, scientific) and irrational (superstitious) approach to explaining events. In this case, the confronting "real" reason for his wife's death causes the magistrate pain.


Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett. First published in 1887.

Primary Source

The Tales of Chekhov, Vol. 11: The School Master and Other Stories



Place Published

New York



Page Count