Petersburg And, Tearing Himself Free, Broke into a Run

Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin cast his gaze about the staircase, the floor-polisher and the hussy, who was trudging out of the doorway with another feather mattress; and – it was a strange thing: the everyday simplicity of this staircase did not dispel what had been experienced here the night before; and now, in broad daylight, amidst the stairs, the eggshells, the floor-polisher and the cat, which was devouring a chicken entrail on the window sill, to Aleksandr Ivanovich returned the sense of fear he had once experienced before: all that had happened to him during the past night really happened; and tonight what had really happened would return: he would return at night: the staircase would be shadowing and threatening; some kind of black outline would again dog his heels behind the door with the card that read ‘Zakatalkin’ there would again be the cretin’s swallowing of spittle (perhaps – of spittle, but perhaps – of blood) …

And the familiar, impossible words would resound with utter distinctness:

‘Yes, yes, yes … It is I … I annihilate irrevocably …’

Where had he heard that?

Out of here! To the street! …

He must start striding again, keep striding, striding away: until his strength was completely exhausted, until his brain was completely numb and then flop down at the table of an eating-house, so that he should not dream of murky phantoms; and then resume his old activity: trudging through Petersburg, losing himself in the damp reeds, in the hanging mists of the seashore, to turn his back on everything in torpor and to regain consciousness amidst the damp lights of the Petersburg suburbs.

Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin was about to go trotting off down the many-staired stone staircase; but suddenly stopped; he had noticed that some strange fellow in a black Italian cloak and a similarly fantastically turned-down hat, striding three steps at a time, was hurtling towards him, his head bowed low, and desperately twirling a heavy cane in his hand.

His back was bent.

This strange fellow in the black Italian cloak flew at Aleksandr Ivanovich hurry-scurry; he very nearly poked him in the chest with his head; and when his head jerked back, Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin saw, right in front of his nose, the deathly pale and perspiring forehead of – imagine! – Nikolai Apollonovich: a forehead with a throbbing, swollen vein; only by this characteristic sign (the leaping vein) did Aleksandr Ivanovich recognize Ableukhov: not by his wildly squinting eyes, nor by his strange, foreign attire.

‘Hello: I’ve – come to see you.’

Nikolai Apollonovich rapped out these words at great speed; and – what do you suppose? Did he rap them out in a threatening whisper? Oh, and how he was puffing and panting. Without even offering his hand, he swiftly pronounced – in a threatening whisper:

‘I must observe to you, Aleksandr Ivanovich, that I cannot do it.’


‘You do, of course, realize that I cannot do it: I cannot, and I do not want to do it; in a word – I will not do it.’


‘This is a refusal: an irreversible refusal. You may communicate it to the proper quarters. And I ask you to leave me in peace …’

As Nikolai Apollonovich said this, his face displayed confusion, even, almost, alarm.

Nikolai Apollonovich turned; and, twirling his heavy cane, Nikolai Apollonovich rushed back down the stairs, as though he were rushing into flight.

‘But wait, but wait,’ Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin cried, hurrying after him and feeling beneath his feet the tremor of the staircase as it flew past.

‘Nikolai Apollonovich?’

By the exit he caught Ableukhov by the sleeve, but the latter tore himself away. Nikolai Apollonovich turned towards Aleksandr Ivanovich; with a barely trembling hand Nikolai Apollonovich held on to the brim of his dashingly cocked hat; and, trying not appear afraid, blurted out in a semi-whisper:

‘This is, so to speak … vile … Do you hear?’

He quickened his pace across the little courtyard.

Aleksandr Ivanovich snatched at the door for a moment; Aleksandr Ivanovich felt the most intense anxiety: an insult – for nothing, about nothing; for a second he hung back, wondering what he should do now; involuntarily he began to twitch; with an unconscious movement he exposed his most delicate neck; and then in two leaps caught up with the fugitive.

He seized hold of the black edge of the Italian cloak that was flying away from him; at this point, the cloak’s owner began desperately to tear himself away; for an instant they began to wallow about among the stacked firewood and in the struggle something fell ringing on the asphalt. With raised cane, Nikolai Apollonovich jerkily, panting with anger, began to shout out loudly some impermissible and, above all, offensive nonsense of his own: offensive to Aleksandr Ivanovich.

‘Is this what you call revolutionary action, Party work? Surrounding me with detectives … Dogging my heels everywhere I go … When you yourself have lost faith in everything … Read the Book of Revelation … While at the same time you shadow me … My dear sir, you … you … you …’

At last, tearing himself free, Nikolai Apollonovich Ableukhov broke into a run: they flew along the street.