(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Edward, a recent graduate of a teachers college, is visiting his amiable farmer brother. Although now happily settled into his new existence, Edward’s brother was once expelled from Edward’s college for laughing at a fellow student’s exaggerated grief over Joseph Stalin’s death. That student, who later denounced Edward’s brother to the authorities, is now the director of a school in a small town. Edward’s brother advises him that because “she was always after young boys,” Edward should apply to her for a position. Edward calls on Miss Chehachkova, the director, whose very “ugliness” puts him at ease, and soon he is teaching at her school.

Though indifferent to his teaching duties, Edward is soon pursuing the beautiful young Alice in the town. Alice, however, is reserved, and one day asks Edward if he believes in God. Unwilling to admit that he does not, Edward says that he does believe but is “bothered by doubts.” Edward attends church with Alice, but as he is leaving he is seen by the director. He later excuses his behavior to the director by claiming an interest in “the baroque interior of the cathedral.” During the following weeks, Edward pursues Alice but is frustrated by her sexual puritanism. For tactical reasons, he begins to read the Bible, study theology, and “exaggerate his religiousness.”

At school, Edward is soon called in for “a friendly and unofficial talk” with a panel that includes the director. Deciding that the momentum of events makes it impossible to tell the truth, Edward untruthfully says that he does believe in God, although quite unwillingly. The director, disarmed, praises him for his apparent honesty, and says that she personally will oversee Edward’s future intellectual development. Visiting her apartment on a required visit, Edward finds the director well disposed toward him, but he also has an uncomfortable vision of the sadness and intense loneliness of her life....

(The entire section is 800 words.)