Petersburg But First Of All …

Anna Petrovna!

We have forgotten her: Anna Petrovna had returned; and now she was awaiting … But first of all: –

– these last twenty-four hours! –

– these last twenty-four hours of our narrative have expanded and scattered in psychic space: in a most outrageous dream; and have blocked the horizon around us; and the author’s gaze, too, has become entangled in psychic space; it has been shut off.

Anna Petrovna has been concealed along with it.

Like stern, leaden clouds, cerebral, leaden games have dragged themselves along in a closed horizon, along a circle that has been traced by us, – hopelessly, hopelessly, meticulously –

– in these last twenty-four hours! …

And through these sternly flowing and insalubrious events the news about Anna Petrovna has fluttered by with gleams of some kind of gentle light – from somewhere. Then we reflected sadly – only for a single moment; and – forgot; while we ought to have remembered … that Anna Petrovna – had returned.

These last twenty-four hours!

A day and a night, that is: a relative concept, a concept that consists of a multivariety of moments, where the moment –

– is either a minimal segment of time, or – something, well, different, psychical, able to be defined by the completeness of psychic events, – not by a figure; for if by a figure, it is precise, it is two-tenths of a second; and is in that case immutable; defined by the completeness of psychic events it is an hour, or a zero; the experience grows in the moment, or – is absent in the moment –

– where the moment in our narrative has resembled a full cup of events.

But Anna Petrovna’s arrival is a fact; and – an enormous one; to be sure, there are in it no dreadful contents, as in other facts we have noted; that is why we, the author, have forgotten about Anna Petrovna; and, as is usually the case, the heroes of the novel have also forgotten about Anna Petrovna.

And yet all the same … –

Anna Petrovna had returned; the events we have described she did not see; she did not suspect, did not know about these events; only one thing that had happened troubled her: her return; and it must have troubled the persons I have described; these persons must after all have responded at once to this thing that happened; have showered her with notes, letters, expressions of joy or anger; but there were no notes or messengers for her: no one paid any attention to the tremendous thing that had happened – neither Nikolai Apollonovich, nor Apollon Apollonovich.

And – Anna Petrovna was sad.

She did not go out; a hotel of magnificent fashion enclosed her within one of its small rooms; and Anna Petrovna sat for hours on the only chair, staring at the specks on the wallpaper; these specks got into her eyes; she moved her eyes to the window; and the window looked out on to an impudently staring wall that was some kind of olive tint; instead of the sky there was yellow smoke; all one could see, in a window over there, obliquely, was some piles of dirty plates, a washtub, and the rolled-up sleeves of arms through the gleaming of the panes …

Not a letter nor a visit: either from her husband or her son.

Sometimes she rang; some kind of giddy creature in a butterfly-shaped bonnet appeared.

And Anna Petrovna – for the umpteenth time! – was pleased to ask:

‘A thé complet in my room, please.’

A lackey in black evening dress appeared, his linen starched, his necktie gleaming with freshness – with a most enormous tray, placed neatly: on his palm and shoulder; he surveyed the little room contemptuously, the clumsily mended dress of its occupant, the brightly coloured Spanish rags that lay on the double bed, and the shabby little suitcase; disrespectfully, but soundlessly, he plucked from his shoulders the most enormous tray; and without any sound the thé complet descended to the table. And without any sound the lackey withdrew.

No one, nothing: the same specks on the wallpaper; the same laughter and noise from the next room, the conversation of two chambermaids in the corridor; a grand piano – from somewhere downstairs (in the room of a visiting woman pianist who was preparing to give her recital); and – for the umpteenth time – she moved her eyes to the window, and the window looked on to the impudently staring wall that was some kind of olive tint; instead of the sky there was smoke, and all one could see, in a window over there, obliquely, through the gleaming of the panes, was …

– (suddenly there was a knocking at the door; in sudden confusion, Anna Petrovna splashed her tea on the ultra-clean napkins of the tray) –

– all one could see, in a window over there, obliquely, was some piles of dirty napkins, a washtub, and the rolled-up sleeves of arms.

The maid came flying in and handed her a visiting card; Anna Petrovna blushed all over; she got up noisily from behind the table; her first gesture was that gesture, the one she had acquired in her girlhood: a swift motion of the hand, adjusting her hair.

‘Where is the gentleman?’

‘He’s waiting in the corridor, miss.’

Blushing, moving her hand from her hair to her chin (a gesture she had acquired only recently and was probably caused by shortness of breath), Anna Petrovna said:

‘Ask him to come in.’

She began to breathe quickly and to blush.

There were heard – the laughter and noise from the next room, the conversation of the two chambermaids in the corridor, and the grand piano from somewhere downstairs; footsteps swiftly-swiftly running to the door were heard; the door opened; Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov, not stepping across the threshold, was vainly making an effort to make something out in the semi-twilight of the little room; and the first thing he caught sight of proved to be a wall that was some kind of olive tint, staring outside the window; and – smoke instead of the sky; all one could see, in a window over there, obliquely, through the gleaming of the panes, was some piles of dirty plates, a washtub, and the rolled-up sleeves of arms that were washing something.

The first thing that rushed at him was the meagre furnishings of the cheap little room (the shadows fell in such a way that Anna Petrovna was somehow pushed into the background); a room like that, and – in a first-class hotel! What of it? There was nothing to be surprised about there; there are little rooms like this in all the first-class hotels – of first-class capital cities: each hotel has one of them, many have two; but there are advertisements for them in all the guidebooks. You read, for example: ‘Savoy Premier ordre. Chambres depuis 3 fr.’ This means: the minimum price for a tolerable room is not less than fifteen francs; but for appearance’s sake, you will unfailingly find in the attic storey an uninhabited corner, untidied, dirty – in all the first-class hotels of first-class capital cities; and it is of it that the guidebooks say: ‘depuis trois francs’; this room is left in neglect; it is impossible to stay in it (instead you will end up in the fifteen-franc room); for the room that is ‘depuis trois francs’ lacks both air and light; even the maid would shun it, never mind you, the barin; furnishings and everything else are also lacking; woe betide you if you stay in it: the numerous staff of chambermaids, waiters and bellboys will view you with contempt.

And you will move to a second-class hotel, where for seven or eight francs you will rest in cleanliness, comfort and honour.

‘Premier ordre – depuis 3 francs’ – the Lord preserve us!

Here are a bed, a table and a chair; scattered in disorder on the bed are a small handbag, straps, a black lace fan, a little cut-glass Venetian vase, wrapped – just fancy – in a long stocking (of the purest silk), a plaid, straps and a clump of loud, lemon-coloured Spanish rags; all this, in Apollon Apollonovich’s opinion, must have been travelling accessories and souvenirs of Granada and Toledo, which had in all probability once been valuable and had now lost all their show, all their lustre, –

– and the three thousand silver roubles that had so recently been sent to Granada must evidently not have been received –

– why, it was simply embarrassing for a lady in her social position to be carrying these old rags around with her; and – his heart was wrung within him.

At this point he caught sight of the table, gleaming with a pair of ultra-clean napkins and gleaming with a thé complet: a hotel accessory, carelessly left here. From the shadows a silhouette emerged: his heart was wrung a second time, because on the chair –

– and yet no, not on the chair! –

– getting up from the chair he saw – was it her? – Anna Petrovna, who had grown sunken, put on weight, and – had a very strong streak of grey in her hair; the first thing he realized was a most deplorable fact: during the two and a half years of her stay in Spain (and – where else, where?) – a double chin more plainly stuck out from beneath her collar, while a rounded stomach more plainly stuck out from beneath her corset; only the two azure-filled eyes of her once handsome and recently beautiful face shone there as they used to; in their depths the most complex emotions now ran high: timidity, fear, anger, sympathy, pride, humiliation at the furnishings of the wretched room, concealed bitterness and … fear.

Apollon Apollonovich could not endure this gaze: he lowered his eyes and crumpled his hat in his hand. Yes, the years of her sojourn with the Italian artiste had changed her; and where had her sedateness, her inborn sense of dignity, her love for neatness and order got to? Apollon Apollonovich let his eyes run over the room: scattered in disorder were – small handbag, straps, black lace fan, stockings and clump of lemon-yellow rags, probably Spanish.

Before Anna Petrovna … – but was it he? The two and a half years had changed him, too; two and a half years earlier she had seen before her for the last time a face sharply carved from grey stone, coldly looking at her over the mother-of-pearl table (during their final talk); each little feature had cut into her sharply like an icy frost; but now, in his face – there was a complete absence of features.

(For our own part let us say: features were there not long ago; and we outlined them at the beginning of our narrative …)

Two and a half years ago Apollon Apollonovich, it was true, had already been an old man, but … there had been something ageless about him; and he had looked – like a statesman; but now – where was the man of state? Where the iron will, where the stony gaze, that streamed nothing but whirlwinds, cold, infertile, cerebral (not feelings) – where was the stony gaze? No, it had all retreated before old age; the old man outweighed it all: his position in the world and his will; what struck her was his terrible thinness; what struck her was his stooping posture; what struck her were the trembling of his lower jaw, and his trembling fingers; and above all – the colour of his little coat: never when she had been around had he ordered garments of this colour.

Thus did they stand facing each other: Apollon Apollonovich, – not stepping across the threshold; and Anna Petrovna – over the little table: with a trembling and half-spilled cup of strong tea in her hands (she was spilling the tea on the tablecloth).

At last Apollon Apollonovich raised his head to her; he chewed his lips and said, faltering:

‘Anna Petrovna!’

Now he saw her completely (his eyes had grown accustomed to the semi-darkness); he saw: all her features lit up handsomely for a moment; and then again her features were covered by little wrinkles, puffinesses, fatty little bags: they surrounded the clear beauty of her childlike features with the coarsening of old age; but for an instant all her features lit up handsomely, and precisely – when with a sharp movement she pushed away the tea she had been served; and seemed positively to dart towards him; yet all the same: did not move from the spot; and merely threw to the old man with her lips from behind the little table:

‘Apollon Apollonovich!’

Apollon Apollonovich ran towards her (thus had he run towards her two and a half years earlier, in order to thrust forth two fingers, tug them away and throw cold water); ran towards her, as he was, through the room – in his little coat, with his hat in his hand; her face inclined towards his bald pate; the surface of the enormous cranium, as bare as a knee, and the two protruding ears reminded her of something, and when his cold lips touched her hand, which was wet with the spilt tea, the complex expression of her features was replaced by an unconcealed sense of contentment: imagine, if you will – something childlike flared up, played and hid in her eyes.

And when he straightened up, his small figure stood out before her even with an exceeding distinctness, overhanging the trousers, the little coat (of a colour never seen before) and a large quantity of fresh wrinkles, with two eyes that tore his entire face apart and seemed to be new; these two sticking-out eyes did not seem to her, as they had done before, like two transparent stones; what emerged from them were: an unfamiliar strength and firmness.

But the eyes were lowered. Apollon Apollonovich, his eyes darting, sought for the proper expressions:

‘I, thou …’ he thought, and ended: ‘you know …’


‘Have come to testify to you, Anna Petrovna, my respect …

‘And congratulate you on your arrival …’

And Anna Petrovna caught a confused, bewildered, simply gentle-seeming, sympathetic look – of a dark, cornflower hue, like that of warm spring air.

From the next room were heard: laughter, noise; from behind the door – the conversation of the chambermaids, continuing; and the grand piano – from somewhere downstairs; scattered in disorder were: straps, small handbag, black lace fan, small cut-glass Venetian vase and clump of loud, lemon rags, which turned out to be a blouse; the specks on the wallpaper stared; as did the window that looked on to the impudently staring wall that was some kind of olive tint; instead of the sky there was smoke, and in the smoke was – Petersburg: streets and prospects, pavements and roofs; the sleet was settling on the tin-plated window-sill out there; cold rivulets plunging down from the tin-plated gutters.

‘We have …’

‘Won’t you have some tea? …’

‘A strike beginning …’