The mayor of the town, Anton Antonovich, receives a disquieting letter. A friend writes that an inspector is coming to visit the province and particularly his district. The inspector will probably travel incognito. The friend advises the mayor to clean up the town and hide evidence of any bribes that might discredit him. The mayor in haste calls a meeting of the local dignitaries and instructs them how to make a good impression on the official from the capital.
Zemlyanika, the hospital manager, is advised to put clean nightcaps on the patients and take away their strong tobacco for a time. The manager is thoughtful; he always proceeds on the theory that if a patient is going to die, he will die anyway. He decides, however, to clean up both the patients and the hospital and to put up a sign in Latin over each bed to tell the patient’s malady.
Lyapkin-Tyapkin, the judge, spends most of his time hunting. He keeps a whip and other sporting equipment in his courtroom, and in the vestibule the porter keeps a flock of geese. His assessor always smells of liquor. Ammos protests that the assessor was injured as a baby and has smelled of brandy ever since. Anton suggests that he eat garlic to cover the smell. Hlopov, the head of the school, is advised to cover up the more obvious foibles of his teachers. The one with a fat face, for instance, always makes horrible grimaces when a visitor comes and pulls his beard under his necktie, and the history teacher jumps on his desk when he describes the Macedonian wars.
Piqued by a recital of their weaknesses, the others turn on the mayor and remind him that he takes monetary bribes and only recently had the wife of a noncommissioned officer flogged. During the wrangle the postmaster comes in to see if they have any news of the inspector’s arrival. The mayor advises the postmaster to open all letters in an attempt to discover who the inspector might be and when he will arrive. The advice is superfluous, for the postmaster always reads all the letters anyway.
Two squires of the town, Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky, rush in with exciting news. A mysterious stranger, obviously a high-born gentleman, is at that moment lodging in the local inn, and he has been there a fortnight. His servant let it out that his master is from St. Petersburg. Sure that the stranger is the inspector, the company trembles to think what he might already have learned. They scatter to repair any damage they can.
At the inn Osip lies on his master’s bed and ruminates on the peculiarities of gentlefolk. His gentleman is always gambling, always broke, always selling his clothes to get funds. They are stuck in this wretched inn because there is no money to pay their bill. At this point, Ivan Alexandrovich Khlestakov bursts in, loudly calling for supper.
When the waiter is summoned, he insolently refuses to serve Khlestakov until the guest pays his bill. After a long argument, some watery soup and a tough hen are brought, and Khlestakov dines poorly. As the dishes are being removed amid a tussle...
(The entire section is 1253 words.)