Petersburg A Glass of Vodka!

There are the dirty rooms of an old, infernal drinking-house; there are its walls; these walls have been painted by a painter’s hand: the foam of the Finnish breakers, from where – out of the distances, penetrating the dank and greenish fog, the tarred rigging of a vessel was once more flying towards Petersburg on great, shadowy sails.

‘You must admit, now … Hey, two glasses of vodka! – you must admit …’ Pavel Yakovlevich Morkovin was shouting – he was white, white: bloated – utterly swollen, run to fat; yet his white, yellowish little face seemed thin, even though it had grown obese, run to fat: here, like a bag; there, like a nipple; here, like a little white wart …

‘I bet I present a riddle to you, over which your mental apparatus is working vainly at this moment …’

There, there was a table: at the table a seaman of forty-five, dressed in black leather (and apparently a Dutchman), leaning his bluish face over his glass.

‘Do you want picon essence in it? …’

The Dutchman’s blood-red lips – for the umpteenth time – drew in the Allasch3 that burned like a flame …

‘So you’ll have picon essence, then?’

And beside the Dutchman a ponderous colossus, who was as if made of stone, sat down heavily at the table.

‘Yes, with picon essence.’

Black-browed, black-haired, the colossus laughed ambiguously in Nikolai Apollonovich’s direction.

‘Well, young man?’ came the stranger’s small tenor above his ear just then.


‘What have you got to say about my behaviour out in the street?’

And it seemed that the colossus now struck his fist on the table – the crash of splitting boards, the chime of shattered glasses filled the restaurant.

‘What has anyone got to say about your behaviour in the street? Ach, why do you go on about the street? I must say I really don’t know.’

Here the colossus produced a pipe from the heavy folds of his caftan, stuck it between his strong lips, and a heavy cloud of stinking baccy began to smoke above the table.

‘Shall we have another glass?’

‘Yes, let’s have another …’

Before him gleamed the astringent poison; and wishing to calm himself, he fished on to his plate some kind of limp leaves or other; and stood there with the full glass in his hand, while Pavel Yakovlevich poked anxiously about, trying to get hold of a slippery saffron milkcap mushroom with his fork; and, having got hold of the slippery mushroom, Pavel Yakovlevich turned round (specks of dust hung on his moustache).

‘Don’t you think it was strange back there?’

Thus had he stood once before (for all this had happened – before) … But the glasses clinked resonantly together; that was how the glasses had clinked … – where had they clinked?


Nikolai Apollonovich made an effort to remember. Nikolai Apollonovich, alas, could not remember.

‘Oh, back there – by the fence … No, landlord, I don’t want the sardines: they’re floating in yellow slime.’

Pavel Yakovlevich made Ableukhov an elucidatory gesture.

‘When I found you back there: you were standing over a puddle and reading a note: well, I thought, a rare occasion, a most r-rare occasion …’

Tables stood all around; at the tables some kind of mongrel breed was carousing; and it thronged, thronged here, this breed: neither human beings nor shadows – striking one with their thievish little tricks and manners; they were all inhabitants of the islands, and the inhabitants of the islands are a strange, mongrel breed: neither human beings nor shadows. Pavel Yakovlevich Morkovin was also from an island: he smiled and giggled, striking one with his thievish little tricks and manners.

‘You know, Pavel Yakovlevich, I must admit I expect an explanation from you …’

‘Of my behaviour?’


‘I will explain it …’

Again the astringent poison gleamed: he was getting drunk – everything spun round; the little drinking house shone more transparently; the Dutchman looked more bluish, and the colossus more enormous; its shadow was broken on the walls and seemed as if crowned with some kind of wreath,

Pavel Yakovlevich was growing shinier and shinier – floating in fat, running to fat: here like a bag; here like a nipple; here like a little white wart; this puffy face evoked in his memory the tip of a floating, pig-fat tallow candle.

‘Shall we have a third?’

‘Yes, a third …’

‘Well, so what have you got to say about our conversation in the gateway?

‘About the domino?’

‘Well, of course! …’

‘All I’ve got to say is what I’ve already said …’

‘You can be perfectly frank with me.’

Nikolai Apollonovich wanted to turn away from Mr Morkovin’s reeking lips in disgust, but held himself in check; and when he received a smacking kiss on the lips, he involuntarily cast his gaze, full of torment, at the ceiling, sweeping with one hand a lock of his thinning hair away from his high forehead, while his lips stretched in an unnatural smile and, strainedly twitching, began to tremble (in the same unnatural manner as the legs of tormented frogs twitch when those legs are touched by the ends of electrical wires).

‘Well now: that’s better; don’t give any thought to it: never mind about the domino. I simply thought of the domino in order to get to know you …’

‘Excuse me, you’ve spilled sardine oil on yourself,’ Nikolai Apollonovich said, interrupting him, and thinking to himself: ‘He’s still playing a crafty game, trying to search me out: I must be careful …’ We have forgotten to note: Nikolai Apollonovich had removed his domino cape in the hallway of the restaurant.

‘I think you’ll agree: it’s a wild idea that you’re the domino … Hee-hee-hee: where do people get such ideas from, eh? Do you hear me? Hey, Pavlusha, old chap, I tell myself, this is quite simply a curious flash that came to you – by the fence, too, while you were performing, so to speak, a necessary human function … The domino! … As simple as that, just a pretext for getting to know you, you dear man, because you are very, very, very famous: for your intellectual qualities.’

They moved away from the vodka counter, picking their way between the tables. And again from in there the machine, like a dozen clamorous horns, throwing ear-splitting sounds into nowhere – suddenly bellowed; flocks of little bells began to jangle, shattering against one’s ears; from a separate office came someone’s brazen boasting.

‘Waiter: a clean tablecloth …’

‘And vodka …’

‘Well, so there it is, sir: we’ve finished with the domino. And now, dear fellow, about another little point that connects us …’

‘You said something about a point that connects us … What point is that?’

They put their elbows on the table. Nikolai Apollonovich experienced a sensation of drunkenness (from tiredness, probably); all the colours, all the sounds, all the smells struck more outrageously against his white-hot brain.

‘Yes, yes, yes: a most curious, a most interesting little point … Splendid: I shall have kidneys in madeira, and will you … also have kidneys?’

‘What is this point?’

‘Waiter, two portions of kidneys … You were pleased to ask about the most curious little point? Well, so there it is, sir – I will admit: the ties that have bound us are sacred ties …’


‘They are ties of kinship.’


‘Blood ties …’

Just then the kidneys were served.

‘Oh, do not suppose that those ties … Salt, pepper, mustard! – were connected with the shedding of blood:4 but why are you trembling, my little pigeon? Why, I say, you’re blushing, you’re on fire, like a young maiden! Would you like some mustard? Here’s the pepper.’

Nikolai Apollonovich, like Apollon Apollonovich, overpeppered his soup; but he remained with the pepper-pot hanging in the air.

‘What did you say?’

‘I said to you: here’s the pepper …’

‘About blood …’

‘Eh? About ties? By blood ties I mean ties of kinship.’ Here the little table ran about the hall (the vodka was having its effect); the little table expanded without sense or measure; while Pavel Yakovlevich flew away together with the edge of the table, tied a dirty napkin under his chin, fussed about in the napkin and looked like a corpse maggot.

‘All the same, you must forgive me, I must not have understood you at all: tell me – what do you mean by our kinship?’

‘Well, you see, Nikolai Apollonovich, I am your brother.’

‘My brother?’

Nikolai Apollonovich even got up from the table, but his face leaned over the table towards the little gentleman; with nervously quivering nostrils his face now looked white and pink beneath a thatch of hair that had risen on end; his hair was a sort of lustreless colour.

‘Illegitimate, of course, for I, whatever you may say, am the fruit of an unhappy love affair your father had … with the house seamstress …’5

Nikolai Apollonovich sat down again; his dark blue and, moreover, darkened eyes, and the lightest fragrance of White Rose perfume, and his thin fingers that were tearing at the tablecloth expressed the languor of death: the Ableukhovs had always valued the purity of their blood; he too valued that blood; – how could it be, how could it be: his father, then, must have had …

‘Your papa must have had an interesting little r-romance in his youth …’

Nikolai Apollonovich suddenly thought that Morkovin was going to continue his sentence with the words: ‘which ended with my appearance’ (what rubbish, what a crazy idea!)

‘Which ended with my appearance in the world.’


This had happened once before somewhere.

‘And so on this occasion of our kindred meeting let us both have another drink.’

Embitteredly, tormentedly inside the wild machine, roaring and beating tambourines, the terrible times of old, like a cry rushing at us out of the depths, grew in volume, spread and wept into the restaurant hall out of golden pipes.

‘You were going to say that my father …’

‘Our mutual father.’

‘Very well then, our mutual father,’ said Nikolai Apollonovich, shrugging his shoulders.

‘Ah-ha-a: your shoulder! How it shrugged!’ Pavel Yakovlevich interrupted him. ‘It shrugged – do you know why?’


‘Because for you, Nikolai Apollonovich, kinship with a fellow like me, is, whatever you may say, offensive … And then, you know, you’ve grown brave.’

‘Grown brave? Why should I be cowardly?’

‘Ha-ha-ha!’ laughed Pavel Yakovlevich, not listening to him. ‘You’ve grown brave because in your opinion … Have some more kidneys …’

‘Most grateful, I’m sure …’

‘My excellent curiosity and our conversation by the fence have been explained … And some sauce … You must forgive me, please, my little pigeon, for applying to you the psychological method of, so to speak, torture – by waiting, of course; I am probing you, my dear fellow, from this side, from that side: I’ll run this way and that; I’ll lie in ambush. And then I’ll jump out …’

Nikolai Apollonovich screwed up his eyes, and from his dark, very long eyelashes his eyes gleamed blue with a wild and astringent determination not to ask for mercy, as his fingers drummed on the table.

‘The same thing is true of what I said about our kinship with each other; that too was probing: to see how you’d react … And now I must at one and the same time please you and vex you, sir … No, you must forgive me – I always act in a manner like this when I make a new acquaintance: it remains for me to observe to you that we are brothers, but … by different fathers.’

‘? …’

‘I was of course joking about Apollon Apollonovich: there was no little romance with a seamstress; none at all – heh-heh-heh-heh – no romance at all … An exceptionally moral man in our immoral time …’

‘Then why are we – brothers?’

‘By conviction.’

‘How can you know what my convictions are?’

‘You’re a died-in-the-wool terrorist, Nikolai Apollonovich.’

(Everything, everything, everything in Nikolai Apollonovich had fused into a continuous state of languor; everything, everything, everything had fused into a single torture).

‘I also am a confirmed terrorist: be so good as to notice that I had a hidden purpose in throwing you some surnames that are not entirely unknown: Butishchenko, Shishiganov and PeppĆ³vich … Do you remember, I mentioned them earlier? There was a subtle hint there, one might say, if you like … Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin, the Elusive One! … Eh? Eh? … You understand, you understand? But don’t get upset: you do understand, for you’re a man who’s read a bit, one of our theoreticians, a most clever rogue: ah, my scoundrel, let me kiss you …’

‘Ha-ha-ha,’ Nikolai Apollonovich laughed, throwing himself against the back of his wretched chair, ‘ha-ha-ha-ha-ha …’

‘Ee-hee-hee,’ Pavel Yakovlevich chimed in, ‘ee-hee-hee …’

‘Ha-ha-ha,’ Nikolai Apollonovich continued to roar.

‘Ee-hee-hee,’ Morkovin giggled in concert.

The colossus at the next table turned angrily towards them and stared closely.

‘What do you want?’

Nikolai Apollonovich lost his temper.

‘You’d better watch out.’

‘Well, I’ll tell you this,’ Nikolai Apollonovich said with complete earnestness, making it look as though he had mastered a frenzied bout of laughter (he had been laughing forcedly) – ‘you are mistaken, because my attitude towards terrorism is a negative one; and, quite apart from anything else: tell me what you base your conclusion on?’

‘For heaven’s sake, Nikolai Apollonovich! Why, I know all about you: about the little bundle, about Aleksandr Ivanych Dudkin and about Sofya Petrovna …’

‘I know it all from personal curiosity and also: as part of my duties in government service …’

‘Ah, so you’re in government service?’

‘Yes: in the secret police.’

‘The secret police?’

‘Come, my dear fellow, why do you clutch at your chest with an expression as though you had a most dangerous and secret document there … A glass of vodka! …’