Petersburg A Carriage Flew into the Fog

A sleety drizzle was pouring down on the streets and prospects, the pavements and the roofs; it hurled itself down in cold jets from tinplated gutters.

A sleety drizzle was pouring down on the passers-by: rewarding them with grippes; together with the fine dust of rain the influenzas and grippes crawled under the raised collar: of gymnasiast, student, civil servant, officer, ordinary chap; and the ordinary chap (the man in the street, so to speak) looked around him in melancholy fashion; and looked at the prospect with a grey, washed-out face; he was circulating into the infinity of the prospects, crossing infinity, without the slightest murmur – in the infinite stream of others like himself – among the flight, the hubbub, the trembling, the droshkys, hearing from afar the melodic voice of the motor cars’ roulades and the increasing rumble of the yellow-and-red tramcars (a rumble that decreased again), and the incessant cry of the loud-voiced newspaper sellers.

From one infinity he fled into another; and then stumbled against the embankment; here everything came to an end: the melodic voice of the motor car roulade, the yellow-and-red tramcar and the man-in-the-street of every kind; here were both the end of the earth and the end of infinity.

And over there, over there: the depths, the greenish dregs; from far, far away, seemingly further than ought to have been the case, the islands17 frightenedly sank and cowered; the estates cowered; and the buildings cowered; it seemed that the waters were going to descend, and that at that moment over them would rush: the depths, the greenish dregs; while in the fog above these greenish dregs rumbled and trembled, fleeing away over there, the black, black Nikolayevsky Bridge.

On this sullen Petersburg morning the heavy doors of a well-appointed yellow house18 flew open: the windows of the yellow house looked on to the Neva. A clean-shaven lackey with gold braid on his lapels rushed out from the entrance porch to give signals to the coachman. The dappled horses started with a jerk towards the entrance; they drew up a carriage on which an old aristocratic coat of arms was depicted: a unicorn goring a knight.

A dashing non-commissioned officer of the police who was walking past the porchway looked foolish and stood to attention when Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov, in a grey coat and a tall black top hat, with a face of stone that recalled a paperweight, swiftly ran out of the entrance porch and even more swiftly ran on to the footboard of the carriage, putting on a black suede glove as he did so.

Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov threw a momentary, confused glance at the police inspector, at the carriage, at the coachman, at the large black bridge, at the expanse of the Neva, where the foggy, many-chimneyed distances were drawn so fadedly, and from where Vasily Island looked in fright.

The lackey in grey hurriedly slammed the carriage door. The carriage flew swiftly into the fog; and the chance officer of the police, shaken by all he had seen, looked for a long, long time over his shoulder into the grimy fog – there, where the carriage had impetuously flown; and sighed, and walked on; soon this policeman’s shoulder, too, was concealed in the fog, as was every shoulder, every back, every grey face and every black, wet umbrella. In that direction, too, did the respected lackey look, looked to the right, to the left, at the bridge, at the expanse of the Neva, where the foggy, many-chimneyed distances were drawn so fadedly, and from where Vasily Island looked in fright.

Here, right at the outset, I must break the thread of my narrative in order to present to the reader the place of action of a certain drama. As a preliminary, an inaccuracy that has crept in ought to be corrected; the blame for it belongs not to the author, but to the author’s pen: at this time tramcars were not yet running in the city: this was 1905.19