Petersburg The Diary of Events

Our respectable citizens do not read the newspapers’ ‘Diary of Events’; in October of the year 1905 the ‘Diary of Events’ was not even read at all; our respectable citizens were probably reading the leading articles in the Comrade,2 unless, that is, they were subscribers to the most recent, thunder-bearing newspapers; these latter kept a diary of rather different events.

However, all the other real Russian men-in-the-street, as though it were natural, rushed to the ‘Diary of Events’; I too rushed to the ‘Diary’; and reading this ‘Diary’, am splendidly informed. Well, who, in fact, actually read all the reports of robberies, witches and spirits in the year 1905? Everyone read the leaders, of course. The reports quoted here will probably be recalled by no one.

It is a true story … Here are some newspaper cuttings from that time (the author will be silent): alongside notification of robberies, rape, the theft of diamonds and the disappearance from a small provincial town of some literary man or other (Daryalsky,3 I believe) together with diamonds worth a respectable sum, we have a series of interesting news items – sheer fantasy, perhaps, that would make the head of any reader of Conan Doyle spin. In a word – here are some newspaper cuttings.

‘The Diary of Events’.

‘First of October. According to the account of a coursiste of the higher medical assistant courses, N.N., we publish a report concerning a certain exceedingly mysterious event. Late on the evening of the first of October, the coursiste N.N. was walking near the Chernyshev Bridge.4 There, near the bridge, the coursiste observed a very strange sight: above the canal, in the middle of the night, against the railings of the bridge a red satin domino was dancing; on the red domino’s face was a black lace mask.’

‘Second of October. According to the account of the schoolmistress M.M. we notify the respected public of a mysterious event near one of our suburban schools. The schoolmistress M.M. was giving her morning lesson in O.O. municipal school; the windows of the school looked on to the street; suddenly outside the window a pillar of dust began to swirl with violent force, and the schoolmistress M. M., together with her sprightly youngsters, naturally rushed to the windows of O.O. municipal school; but great was the confusion of class and class preceptress when a red domino, situated in the centre of the dust he had raised, ran up to the windows of O.O. municipal school and pressed a black lace mask to the window! In O.O. municipal school lessons ceased …’

‘Third of October. At a spiritualist seance that took place in the flat of the respected Baroness R.R. the amicably assembled spiritualists formed a spiritualistic chain; but hardly had they formed the chain, when in the midst of it a domino was discovered who, while dancing, touched with the folds of his cape the tip of titular councillor S.’s nose. A physician at the G. Hospital has ascertained that there is a most violent burn on titular councillor S.’s nose: the tip of the nose is, according to rumour, covered with purple spots. In a word, the red domino is everywhere.’

And finally: ‘Fourth of October. The inhabitants of the suburb of I. have unanimously fled in the face of the domino’s appearance: a number of protests are being drawn up; the U. Cossack Hundred has been called to the suburb.’

This domino, this domino – what can it mean? Who is the coursiste N.N., who are M.M., the class’s preceptress, the Baroness R.R., and so on? … In the year 1905, reader, you did not of course read the ‘Diary of Events’. Then blame yourself, and not the author: but the ‘Diary of Events’, believe me, ran all the way to the library.

What is a newspaper contributor? He is, in the first place, a functionary of the periodical press; and as a functionary of the press (of a sixth of the world) he receives for a line – five copecks, seven copecks, ten copecks, fifteen copecks, twenty copecks, reporting in a line all that is and all that never was. If one were to put together the newspaper lines of any newspaper contributor, the single line formed of their lines would entwine the terrestrial globe with that which took place and that which did not.

Such are the respected characteristics of the majority of contributors to extreme right-wing, right-wing, centrist, moderate liberal and, last but not least, revolutionary newspapers and, combined with a calculation of their quantity and quality, these respected characteristics are simply the key that opens the truth of the year 1905 – the truth of the ‘Diary of Events’ under the headline ‘The Red Domino’. This is what it was all about: a certain respected contributor to an indubitably respected newspaper, receiving five copecks, suddenly decided to make use of a certain fact that was told to him in a certain house; in that house a lady was the mistress. What it was all about, then, was not the respected contributor who was paid by the line; what it was all about was the lady …

But who is the lady?

Very well, we shall start with her.

A lady: hm! And a pretty one … What is a lady?

The chiromancer has not revealed the properties of the lady: lonely stands the chiromancer before the riddle that is headed ‘lady’: how, in that case, is the psychologist – or – pah! – the writer – to tackle the enigma? The enigma will be doubly enigmatic if the lady is a young one, if it be said of her that she is pretty.

So it was like this: there was a certain lady; and out of boredom she attended the courses for women; and again out of boredom sometimes in the mornings she substituted for a schoolmistress at the O.O. municipal school, provided that in the evening she was not at a spiritualist seance on days that were vacant of balls; it goes without saying that the coursiste N.N., M.M. (the class preceptress), and R.R. (the spiritualist baroness) were simply a lady: and a pretty lady. The respected newspaper contributor spent evenings at her home.

One day this lady laughingly told him that she had just encountered a red domino in an unlighted entrance porch. Thus did the pretty lady’s innocent confession end up in the columns of the newspapers under the heading ‘Diary of Events’. And having ended up in the ‘Diary of Events’, it unravelled into a series of occurrences that never were, and that threatened the peace.

What actually did happen, then? Even rumoured smoke rises from a fire. What then was the fire from which this smoke of a respected newspaper proceeded, smoke about which all Russia read and which, to your shame, you probably have not read?