Petersburg Cold Fingers

In a grey coat and a tall black top hat Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov, with a stony face that recalled a paperweight, quickly ran from the carriage and ran up the steps of the entrance, taking off a suede glove on his way.

Quickly he entered the vestibule. The top hat was with caution entrusted to the lackey. With the same caution were surrendered: coat, briefcase and muffler.

Apollon Apollonovich stood before the lackey in meditation; suddenly Apollon Apollonovich turned to him with the question:

‘Please be so kind as to tell me: does a young man often come here – yes: a young man?’

‘A young man, sir?’

An awkward silence ensued. Apollon Apollonovich was unable to formulate his thought differently. And the lackey could not, of course, guess what young man the barin was asking about.

‘Young men come seldom, your exc’cy, sir …’

‘Well, but what about … young men with small moustaches?’

‘Small moustaches, sir?’

‘Black ones.’

‘Black ones, sir?’

‘Well yes, and … wearing a coat …’

‘They all arrive in coats, sir …’

‘Yes, but with a turned-up collar …’

Something suddenly dawned on the doorman.

‘Oh, you mean the one that …’

‘That’s right, yes: him …’

‘A man like that did come one day, sir … he was visiting the young barin: only it was quite a long time ago; you know how it is, sir … they come and pay a call …’

‘What did he look like?’

‘How do you mean, sir?’

‘Did he have a small moustache?’

‘That’s exactly right, sir!’

‘A black one?’

‘He had a small black moustache …’

‘And a coat with a turned-up collar?’

‘That’s the very man, sir …’

Apollon Apollonovich stood for a moment as though rooted to the spot and suddenly: Apollon Apollonovich walked past.

The staircase was covered by a grey velvet carpet; the staircase was, of course, framed by heavy walls; a grey velvet carpet covered those walls. On the walls gleamed an ornamental display of ancient weapons; and beneath a rusty green shield shone a Lithuanian helmet with its spike; the cross-shaped handle of a knight’s sword sparkled; here swords were rusting; there – heavily inclined halberds; a many-ringed coat of mail lustrelessly enlivened the walls; and there bowed: a pistol and a six-pointed mace.

The top of the staircase led on to a balustrade; here from a lustreless pedestal of white alabaster a white Niobe raised her alabaster eyes to heaven.

Apollon Apollonovich sharply flung open the door before him, resting his bony hand on its faceted handle: through the enormous hall that stretched excessively in length, resounded the cold step of a heavy tread.