Petersburg Apollon Apollonovich

Apollon Apollonovich had recovered from his palpitations; Apollon Apollonovich looked into the depths of the enfilade of rooms; hidden in the dark curtains, he stood unnoticed by anyone; he was trying to get away from the curtains in such a way that his appearance in the drawing-room would not betray the strange behaviour of a government official. Apollon Apollonovich tried to conceal the paroxysm of his heart trouble from everyone; but it would have been even more unpleasant for him to admit that this evening’s attack had been caused by the appearance before him of the red domino: the colour red was, of course, an emblem of the chaos that was leading Russia to ruin; but he did not want to admit that the domino’s preposterous desire to frighten him had any political tinge.

And Apollon Apollonovich was ashamed of his fear.

Recovering from the paroxysm, he cast glances around the ballroom. All that he saw there struck his gaze with garish gaudiness; the images that fleeted there had a kind of repulsive touch that shocked him personally: he saw a monster with a double-eagled head; somewhere over there, somewhere over there – quickly the ballroom was traversed by the dried-up little figure of a knight and the flashing blade of a sword, in the image and likeness of some luminous phenomenon; he ran dimly and unclearly, without hair, without moustache, the contours of his greenish ears standing out and glittering diamond insignia dangling on his chest; and when out of the maskers and Capuchins a one-horned creature flung itself at the little knight, with its horn it broke off the knight’s luminous phenomenon; in the distance something clinked and fell to the floor in the likeness of a beam of moonlight; strangely, this image awoke in Apollon Apollonovich’s consciousness some recently forgotten incident he had encountered, and he felt his backbone; for a moment Apollon Apollonovich thought he had tabes dorsalis. With revulsion he turned away from the gaudy ballroom; and passed into the drawing-room.

Here, when he appeared, everyone rose from their seats; courteously towards him came Lyubov’ Alekseyevna; and the professor of statistics, who had risen from his place, mumbled:

‘We have once had occasion to meet: very happy to see you; I have some business with you, Apollon Apollonovich.’

To which Apollon Apollonovich, kissing the hostess’s hand, rather drily remarked:

‘Well, you know, I see callers at the Institution.’

With this reply he cut off the possibility of a certain liberal party coming to meet the government. The conjuncture was upset; and the professor had no option but to abandon that glittering house, and in future to sign without hindrance all the expressions of protest, in future to raise without hindrance his goblet at all the liberal banquets.

Getting ready to leave, he approached the hostess, on whom the editor was continuing to practise his eloquence.

‘You think that Russia’s ruin is being prepared for us in the hope of social equality. Somehow I doubt it. They quite simply want to sacrifice us to the devil.’

‘Oh, but how?’ the hostess exclaimed in surprise.

‘Very simply, madam: you are only surprised because you have read nothing about this question …’

‘But wait, wait!’ the professor said, once again interjecting a remark. ‘You are basing yourself on the fabrications of Taxil17 …’

‘Taxil?’ interrupted the hostess, suddenly taking out a small, exquisite writing pad and starting to write it down:

‘Taxil, you say? …’

‘They are preparing to sacrifice us to Satan, because the higher levels of Jewish Freemasonry belong to a certain cult, called Palladism18 … This cult …’

‘Palladism?’ the hostess interrupted, again starting to write something in her notebook.

‘Pa-lla- … What was it, again?’


From somewhere the housekeeper was heard giving an anxious sigh, and then a tray was brought, on which stood a faceted decanter, filled to the top with cooling fruit punch, and was placed in the room between the drawing-room and the ballroom. And standing in the drawing-room, one could observe again and again and again how, from the melodic system of the surf of sound that beat against the walls, and from the ripple of the muslin-and-lace couples who swayed to and fro in the waltz, now one, now another young girl, covered in gleams of light, her little face flushed and the transparent yellow of her tresses dishevelled on her back, broke loose, broke loose and ran through, laughing, to the next room, the high heels of her white silk dancing shoes tapping, and quickly poured from the decanter the acidulous ruby liquid: thick, iced fruit punch. And gulped it down avidly.

And the hostess distractedly abandoned her interlocutor.

‘But tell me …’

Putting her miniature lorgnette to her eyes, she saw that there in the next room a law student in a rustling little silk uniform jacket with the waist pulled in too tight, had fluttered out of the ballroom to the flushed young girl who was drinking fruit punch and, rolling his r’s in the French manner in a thunderous little bass, the law student was jokingly pulling the glass of ruby fruit punch out of the young girl’s hand and shyly taking a cold sip from it. And Lyubov’ Alekseyevna, breaking off the editor’s ferocious discourse, stood up, rustling, and sailed through to the semi-dark room in order to sternly observe:

‘What are you doing here – you must dance, dance.’

And then the happy couple returned to the ballroom that seethed with gleams of light; the law student embraced with a snow-white glove the young girl’s waist that was as slender as a wasp; the young girl threw herself back on this snow-white glove; both suddenly began to fly intoxicatingly, moving their legs with extreme swiftness, cutting through the flying dresses, shawls and fans that wove sparkling patterns around them; at last, they themselves became a kind of radiant sparks. Over there the ballroom pianist, arching his spine in bizarre fashion, leaned over his flying fingers on the keys somehow stealthily, in order to pour out some rather garish sounds in the treble: they too ran off in pursuit of one another; then the pianist, leaning back wearily, with a squeak of the piano stool ran his fingers over some thick bass notes …

‘Taxil made up a complete fable about the Masons,’ rang the caustic voice of the professor. ‘Unfortunately many people believed that fable; but later Taxil renounced the fable in decisive fashion; he publicly confessed that his sensational statements to the pope were merely his own plain mockery at the obscurantism and evil will of the Vatican. But for that Taxil was anathemaed in a papal encyclical …’

Here someone new came in – a bustling, taciturn-like gentleman with an enormous wart near his nose – and suddenly began to nod and smile to the senator, rubbing his fingers together; and with ambiguous meekness he led the senator off to a corner:

‘You see … Apollon Apollonovich … the director of Department X has proposed … how should one put it … Well, to ask you a certain ticklish question.’

More than this it was hard to make out: one could hear the little gentleman whispering something in the pale ear with ambiguous meekness, and then Apollon Apollonovich flung himself at him with a kind of pathetic fear.

‘Speak to the point … My son?’

‘That’s precisely it, precisely it: that is the delicate question.’

‘My son has relations with …?’

More than this one could not make out; all one could hear was:

‘Nonsense …

‘It’s all utter nonsense …’

‘To be sure, it’s a pity that this inappropriate joke should have assumed such an inappropriate character that the press …

‘And you know: I will confess that we have given the Petersburg police instructions to follow your son …

‘Only for his own good, naturally …’

And again there was a whispering. And the senator asked:

‘A domino, you say?’

‘Yes – the very same one.’

With these words the bustling little gentleman pointed to the next room, where somewhere the bustling domino, moving jerkily about, was trailing his satin cape over the lacquered tiles of the parquetry.