Petersburg He Was Dancing to a Close

As usual, from time to time drawing-room visitors made their way through the ballroom – indulgently they advanced into the ballroom along the walls; insolent fans splashed their fronts, they were lashed by beaded skirts, their faces were dusted clean by a hot wind of hurtling couples; but they made their way noiselessly along the walls.

A rather fat man whose face was unpleasantly pitted with smallpox scars was the first to traverse this hall; the lapels of his frockcoat stuck out impossibly, because he had pulled his frockcoat tight over his belly, which was of respectable proportions; he was the editor of a conservative newspaper, the liberal son of a priest.11 In the drawing-room he kissed the plump hand of Lyubov’ Alekseyevna, a lady of forty-five with a puffy face that fell on to her corset-supported bosom in a double chin. If one looked out of the ballroom through the two intermediate rooms, one could observe from afar his standing sojourn in the drawing-room. There in the distance burned the azure globe of an electric chandelier; there in the shimmering azure light, rather heavily, stood the editor of the conservative newspaper on his elephant legs, showing mistily through suspended flocks of bluish tobacco smoke.

And as soon as Lyubov’ Alekseyevna asked him some innocent question, the enormously fat editor turned it into a question of great significance:

‘No need to tell me – no, madam! Well, you see, they think like that because they’re all idiots. I can undertake to prove it with exactitude.’

‘But after all, my dear man, Coco …’

‘It’s all a Jewish Freemason swindle, madam: the organization, the centralization …’

‘All the same, there are very nice well-bred people among them and people who are, moreover, from our social circle,’ the hostess interjected timidly.

‘Yes, but our social circle doesn’t know where sedition gets its power.’

‘And in your opinion?’

‘The power of sedition is in Charleston …’12

‘Why in Charleston?’

‘Because that is where the head of all sedition lives.’

‘Who is this head?’

‘The antipope …’ the editor bellowed.

‘And what is the antipope?’

‘Ah well, one can see you haven’t read anything.’

‘Oh, how interesting all this is: tell me, please.’

Thus did Lyubov’ Alekseyevna exclaim with surprise, inviting the pockmarked editor to sink into a soft armchair; and as he sank, he said:

‘Yes, yes, my good friends!’

From afar, from the drawing-room, through the two intermediate rooms they could see the glittering and shimmering that were coming out of the open door of the ballroom. There resounded a thunderous:

‘Rrreculez! …’

‘Balancez, vos dames! …’

And again.

‘Rrreculez! …’

Nikolai Petrovich Tsukatov had danced his life away; now Nikolai Petrovich was dancing his life to a close; doing so lightly, inoffensively, without vulgarity; not a single small cloud darkened his soul; his soul was pure and innocent, like this bald patch that burned like the sun or like this smoothly shaven chin between side-whiskers, like the moon looking out through the clouds.

Everything went dancingly for him.

He had begun to dance when he was a small boy; had danced better than any of the others; and he had been invited to people’s homes as an experienced dancer; towards the end of his course at the high school acquaintances had danced into his life; towards the end of his days at the Law Faculty a circle of influential patrons had danced itself of its own accord out of an enormous circle of acquaintances; and Nikolai Petrovich Tsukatov set about dancing a career in the civil service. By that time he had danced away an estate; having danced away the estate, with frivolous simple-heartedness he started going to balls; and from those balls brought to himself with remarkable ease his companion in life, Lyubov’ Alekseyevna: this completely accidental companion turned out to have an enormous dowry: and ever since then Nikolai Petrovich had danced in his own home; children were danced out; then the children’s education was danced out – it was all danced easily, unpretentiously, joyfully.

Now he was dancing himself to a close.