Petersburg He Calls for Me, My Delvig Dear

As he walked up the red staircase of the Institution, his hand resting on the cold marble of the banister, Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov caught the toe of his shoe on the broadcloth and – stumbled; involuntarily his step became slower; consequently: it was perfectly natural that his eyes (without any preconceived bias) should linger on the enormous portrait of the minister, who was directing before him a sad and compassionate gaze.

Along Apollon Apollonovich’s backbone gooseflesh ran: the Institution was poorly heated. To Apollon Apollonovich this white room seemed like a plain.

He feared spatial expanses.

He feared them more than zigzags, than broken lines and sectors; country landscape simply scared him: beyond the wastes of snow and ice there, beyond the jagged line of the forests the blizzard raised an intersectedness of aerial currents; there, by a stupid chance, he had very nearly frozen to death.

This had been some fifty years ago.

At this hour of his lonely freezing it had seemed as though someone’s cold fingers, heartlessly stuck into his chest, had stiffly stroked his heart: the icy hand had drawn him on; following the icy hand he had climbed the steps of his career, ever keeping before his eyes that same fateful, improbable expanse; there, from there – the icy hand had beckoned; and measurelessness flew: the Russian Empire.

Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov sat tight behind the city wall for many years, hating with all his soul the lonely rural district distances, the smoke of the hamlets and the jackdaw that sat upon the scarecrow; only once did he dare to cross those distances by express train, travelling on an official errand from Petersburg to Tokyo.

About his stay in Tokyo Apollon Apollonovich said nothing to anyone. Yes – apropos of the portrait of the minister … He would say to the minister:

‘Russia is an icy plain, over which wolves have roamed for many hundreds of years …’

The minister would look at him with a velvety gaze that caressed the soul, smoothing with a white hand his grey, sleek moustache; and say nothing, and sigh. The minister accepted the large number of departments under his direction as an agonizing, sacrificial, crucifying cross; upon the completion of his service he had intended to …

But he died.

Now he was resting in his coffin; Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov was now completely alone – into the immeasurable spaces the ages fled away; ahead – an icy hand revealed: immeasurabilities.

Immeasurabilities flew towards him.

Rus, Rus! He saw – you, you!

It was you who raised a howl with winds, with blizzards, with snow, with rain, with black ice – you raised a howl with millions of living, conjuring voices! At that moment it seemed to the senator as though a certain voice in the expanses were summoning him from a lonely grave mound; a lonely cross did not sway there; no lamp winked at the snowy whirlwinds; only the hungry wolves, gathering into packs, pitifully echoed the winds.

Beyond doubt, with the passage of the years there had developed in the senator a fear of space.

The illness had grown more acute: since the time of that tragic death; true, the image of the departed friend visited him at nights, stroking him with a velvety gaze in the long nights, stroking with a white hand his grey, sleek moustache, because the image of his departed friend was forever united in his consciousness now with a fragment of verse:

And he is not – and Rus he has abandoned,

The land he raised …

In Apollon Apollonovich’s consciousness that fragment arose whenever he, Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov, crossed the reception room.

After the quoted fragment of verse there would arise another fragment of verse:

And it seems my turn has come,

He calls for me, my Delvig dear,

Companion of my lively youth,

Companion of my mournful youth,

Companion of our youthful songs,

Our feasts and pure intentions’ way.

Thither, to the crowd of familiar shades

A genius gone from our midst for aye.

The series of verse fragments was angrily interrupted:

And o’er the earth new thunderclouds have gathered

And the hurricane them …

As he remembered the fragments, Apollon Apollonovich became particularly frosty; and with particular precision did he run out to present his fingers to the petitioners.