Petersburg The Caryatid

There, opposite, the crossroads showed black; and there was the street; the caryatid of the entrance porch hung there stonily.

The Institution towered up from there; the Institution, where the person who dominated everything was Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov.

There is a limit to the autumn; to winter, too, there is a limit: the very periods of time themselves flow by in cyclic fashion. And above these cycles hung the bearded caryatid of the entrance porch; giddily its stone hoof is crushed into the wall; it looks as though it might break loose in its entirety and spill into the street as stone.

And yet – it does not break away.

What it sees above it is, like life, mutable, inexplicable, inarticulate: clouds float there; a white, mackerel sky twines in inexplicability; or it drizzles; drizzles, as now: as it did yesterday, and the day before yesterday.

What it sees beneath its feet is, like itself, immutable: immutable is the flow of the human myriapod along the illumined paving; or: as now – in the gloomy dampness; the deathly pale rustling of moving legs; and the faces, eternally green; no, from them one cannot tell that events are already rumbling.

Observing the passage of the bowler hats, you would never say that events were rumbling, for example, in the little town of AkTyuk, where a workman at the railway station who had had an argument with a railway policeman, appropriated a credit bill5 from the policeman, introducing it into his stomach with the aid of his oral orifice, for which reason the railway doctor introduced an emetic into that stomach; observing the passage of the bowler hats, no one would say that already in the theatre at Kutais the audience had exclaimed: ‘Citizens! …’ No one would have said that a police superintendent in Tiflis had uncovered the manufacture of bombs, that the library in Odessa had been closed and that in ten of Russia’s universities mass meetings had been held, attended by many thousands of people – on the same day, at the same time; no one would have said that at that very same time thousands of staunch Bundists came flocking to a gathering, that the workers of Perm had shown themselves obstinate and that at that very same time, surrounded by Cossacks, the Reval iron foundry began to unfurl its red flags.

Observing the passage of the bowler hats, no one would have said that ‘the new life’ was welling up, that Potapenko6 was finishing the play that bore that same title, that the strike on the Moscow – Kazan railway had already begun; panes of glass had been smashed at the stations, warehouses had been broken into, work had been stopped on the Kursk, Windau, Nizhny Novgorod and Murom railways; and tens of thousands of coaches and wagons, stunned, came to a standstill in the multivarious expanses; communication froze dead. Observing the passage of the bowler hats, no one would have said that in Petersburg events were already rumbling, that the typesetters from almost every printing works had elected delegates and gathered in swarms; and – factories were on strike: the ship-yards, the Aleksandrovsky Factory, and others; that the suburbs of Petersburg were teeming with Manchurian hats; observing the passage of the bowler hats, no one would have said that the passers-by were those people, and not those people; that they did not simply stride along, but strode, concealing an unease within themselves, feeling that their heads were the heads of idiots, with sinciputs that had not grown together, cut by sabres, smashed by plain old wooden stakes; if they had put their ears to the ground, they would have heard someone’s kindly rustling: the rustling of incessant revolver fire – from Arkhangelsk to Kolkhida and from Libava to Blagoveshchensk.

But the circulation was not broken: monotonous, sluggish, deathly, the bowler hats still flowed beneath the feet of the caryatid.

The grey caryatid leaned over and looked beneath its feet: at the same crowd; there was no limit to the contempt in the old stone of its eyes; there was no limit to its satiety; and no limit to its despair.

And oh, if only it had the strength!

Its muscular arms would straighten on elbows that flew up above its stone head; and its chiselled sinciput would jerk frenziedly; its mouth would tear open in a thunderous roar, in a protracted, desperate roar; you would say: ‘That is the roar of a hurricane’ (thus did the black thousands of peaked caps of the city thugs roar in the pogroms); as from the whistle of a locomotive, steam would pour over the street; the cornice of the balcony itself would leap up above the street, broken away from the wall; and disintegrate into heavy, loudly rumbling stones (very soon afterwards the windows of the zemstvo councils and the provincial zemstvo assemblies were smashed with stones); this old statue would break off into the street in a hail of stone, describing a swift and blinding arc in the darkening air; and, growing bloody with the splinters, it would settle on top of the frightened bowler hats that were passing here – deathly, monotonous, sluggish …

On this rather grey little Petersburg day a heavy, sumptuous door flew open; a clean-shaven lackey in grey with gold braid on his lapels rushed out from the vestibule to give directions to the coachman; the horses hurled themselves to the entrance porch and pulled up the lacquered carriage; the clean-shaven lackey in grey looked stupid and drew himself straight to attention, as Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov, somewhat stooped, bent, unshaven, with a painfully swollen face and a drooping lip touched the edge of his top hat (the colour of a raven’s wing) with his gloves (the colour of a raven’s wing).

Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov cast a momentary glance filled with indifference at the erect lackey, at the carriage, the coachman, the great black bridge, the indifferent expanses of the Neva, where the misty, many-chimneyed distances were so wanly outlined, and where ashen rose the indistinct Vasily Island with its striking tens of thousands.

The erect lackey slammed the carriage door, on which an old aristocratic coat of arms was depicted: a unicorn goring a knight; the carriage swiftly flew into the grimy fog – past the lustrelessly looming blackish cathedral, St Isaac’s, past the equestrian monument to the Emperor Nicholas – to the Nevsky, where a crowd was swarming, where, breaking loose from the wooden pole, tearing the air with their crests, where they fluttered and snatched, flew the gently whistling blades of a red calico banner; the black outline of the carriage, the silhouette of the lackey’s three-cornered hat and the wings of his overcoat flying in the wind suddenly cut into the thick, shaggy mass, where Manchurian hats, cap bands, and service caps, swarming together, broke against the panes of the carriage in a distinct singing.

The carriage came to a standstill in the crowd.