Petersburg Apollon Apollonovich Remembered

Yes, Apollon Apollonovich remembered: he had recently heard a certain good-natured joke about himself:

The civil servants said:

‘Our Bat41 (Apollon Apollonovich’s nickname in the Institution), when he shakes the hands of petitioners, behaves not at all like one of Gogol’s civil servants; when he shakes the hands of petitioners, he certainly does not run the gamut of handshakes from complete contempt, through inattention, to non-contempt: from collegiate registrar42 to state …’

And to this they observed:

‘He plays only one note: contempt …’

Here defenders intervened:

‘Gentlemen, please stop: it’s caused by haemorrhoids …’

And everyone agreed.

The door flew open: Apollon Apollonovich came in. The joke was timidly curtailed (thus does a young, quick-moving mouse swiftly fly into a crack as soon as you enter the room). But Apollon Apollonovich did not take offence at jokes; and, moreover, there was a degree of truth in the assertion: he did suffer from haemorrhoids.

Apollon Apollonovich went over to the window: two children’s heads in the windows of the house that stood there saw opposite them behind the pane of the house that stood there the facial stain of an unknown little old man.

And the heads over there in the windows disappeared.

Here, in the office of the lofty Institution, Apollon Apollonovich was truly growing into a kind of centre: into a series of government institutions, studies and green tables (only more modestly furnished). Here he was a point of radiating energy, an intersection of forces and an impulse of numerous, multi-constituent manipulations. Here Apollon Apollonovich was a force in the Newtonian sense; and a force in the Newtonian sense is, as you probably do not know, an occult force.

Here he was the final authority – in reports, petitions and telegrams.

He did not relate this authority in the state organism to himself, but to the centre he contained within himself – his consciousness.

Here consciousness detached itself from valiant personality, spilling around between the walls, growing incredibly clear, concentrating with such great force in a single point (between the eyes and the forehead) that it seemed an invisible, white light, flaring up between the eyes and the forehead, scattered around sheaves of serpentine lightnings; the lightning thoughts flew asunder like serpents from his bald head; and if a clairvoyant had stood at that moment before the face of the venerable statesman, he would without doubt have seen the head of the Gorgon Medusa.

And Apollon Apollonovich would have seized him with Medusan horror.

Here consciousness detached itself from valiant personality: while personality, with an abyss of all possible kinds of agitations (that incidental consequence of the soul’s existence), presented itself to the senator’s soul as a cranium, an empty, at the present moment voided, container.

At the Institution Apollon Apollonovich spent hours in the review of the document factory: from the radiant centre (between the eyes and the forehead) flew out all the circulars to the heads of the subordinate institutions. And in so far as he, from this armchair, cut across his life by means of his consciousness, so far did his circulars, from this place, cut the patchwork field of everyday life.

Apollon Apollonovich liked to compare this life with a sexual, vegetable or any other need (for example, the need for a quick trip through the St Petersburg prospects).

When he emerged from the cold-permeated walls, Apollon Apollonovich suddenly became an ordinary man in the street.

Only from here did he tower up and madly hover over Russia, in his enemies evoking a fateful comparison (with a bat). These enemies were – all to a man – ordinary folk; this enemy without the walls was himself.

Apollon Apollonovich was particularly efficient today: not once did his bare head nod at a report; Apollon Apollonovich was afraid to display weakness: in the discharging of his official duties! … To tower up into logical clarity he found particularly difficult today: God knew why, but Apollon Apollonovich had come to the conclusion that his own son, Nikolai Apollonovich, was an out-and-out scoundrel.

A window permitted one to see the lower part of the balcony. If one went over to the window one could see the caryatid at the entrance: a bearded man of stone.

Like Apollon Apollonovich, the bearded man of stone rose above the noise of the streets and above the season: the year eighteen twelve had freed him from his scaffolding. The year eighteen hundred and twenty-five had raged beneath him in crowds; the crowd was passing even now – in the year nineteen hundred and five. For five years now Apollon Apollonovich had seen daily from here the smile sculpted in stone; time’s tooth was gnawing it away. During five years events had flown past: Anna Petrovna was in Spain; Vyacheslav Konstantinovich was no more; the yellow heel had audaciously mounted the ridges of the Port Arthur heights; China had been in a state of ferment and Port Arthur had fallen.

As he prepared to go out to the crowd of waiting petitioners, Apollon Apollonovich smiled; but the smile proceeded from timidity: something was waiting for him outside the doors.

Apollon Apollonovich had spent his life between two writing desks: the desk of his study and the desk of the Institution. A third favourite place was the senatorial carriage.

And now: he – quailed.

But already the door had opened: the secretary, a young man, with a small medal liberally throbbing somewhere on the starch of his throat, flew up to the elevated personage, with a deferential click of the overstarched edge of his snow-white cuff. And to his timid question Apollon Apollonovich honked:

‘No, no! … Do as I said … And knowest thou,’ said Apollon Apollonovich, stopped, corrected himself:

‘Dyouknow …’

He had meant to say ‘do you know’, but it had come out as: ‘knowest thou …’

About his absent-mindedness legends circulated; one day Apollon Apollonovich had appeared at a lofty reception, imagine – without a tie, and stopped by a palace lackey he had got into the greatest confusion, from which the lackey had extricated him by suggesting that he borrow a tie from him.