Petersburg I’m Going My Own Way … I’m Not Getting in Anyone’s Way …

‘What am I doing,’ thought Nikolai Apollonovich. ‘This is no time to be day-dreaming …’

There was no time to be lost now … Time was passing, and the sardine tin was ticking away; he must go straight to the desk; carefully wrap the whole thing up in paper, put it in his pocket, and into the Neva with it …

And now he moved his eyes away from that colossus of a house where the stranger was standing under a pile of brick balconies with an open umbrella, because again the ill-famed mass of torsos had begun to flow on its many legs – the mass of human bodies that had been rushing here for springs, summers, winters: of ceaseless bodies.

And lost his resolve, looked again.

The stranger was still there; he was evidently waiting, as Nikolai Apollonovich had been waiting, for the rain to stop; suddenly he moved off, suddenly fell into the human current – into those couples and those foursomes; his three-cornered hat, gleaming with lustre, covered him; his umbrella stuck up helplessly.

‘I ought to turn away, and go my own way! And so, really, ought he, the stranger!’

But no sooner had he thought this than (he noticed) from beneath his gleaming three-cornered hat and out of the shoulders of the people who were rushing past, the small peaked cap again began to show itself; risking ending up under a cab, he ran across the roadway; he was absurdly stretching forth the umbrella, which was being torn away by the wind.

Well, how was he to turn away now? How could he go his own way?

‘What’s he up to?’ thought Nikolai Apollonovich, and was, unexpectedly to himself, astonished:

‘Oh, so that’s what he looks like, is it?’

The stranger had undoubtedly lost by being close to; being in the distance was more advantageous; he appeared more mysterious; more melancholy; his movements were more sluggish.

‘Heh! … But for pity’s sake: he looks like an idiot, doesn’t he? Ai, that little peaked cap! Do you see that cap? He keeps running on those crane’s legs; his little coat is fluttering, his umbrella is torn; and one of his galoshes doesn’t fit …’

‘Phoo!’ a self-respecting citizen would have expressed himself inarticulately at this point and kept on walking, his lips pressed shut offendedly, with an independent air: a self-respecting citizen would have certainly felt something – something of the following kind:

‘Oh, let him be! … I’m going my own way … I’m not getting in anyone’s way … I can give way when the occasion arises. But do you think I’m going to …? No, no, no: I have my own way to go …’

Nikolai Apollonovich, it must be admitted, did not feel himself to be a self-respecting citizen in any way (after all, what kind of respect could there be now?); but the stranger probably did, in spite of his little coat, his wretched little umbrella and the galosh that was falling off his foot.

As though he were saying:

‘Well, see here: I am just a chance passer-by, but a passer-by who respects himself … And I won’t let anyone get in my way … I won’t give way to anyone …’

Now Nikolai Apollonovich felt hostility; and, having already prepared himself to step aside, changed his tactics: did not step aside; thus they nearly collided, nose to nose; Nikolai Apollonovich – astounded; the stranger – without any astonishment; it was remarkable: a large, numb hand (with goose-pimples) was raised to the cap; while a hoarse and wooden tattoo decisively rapped out:

‘Ni-ko-lai A-pol-lo-no-vich!! …’

Only now did Nikolai Apollonovich begin to notice that the individual who had so swiftly flown up (he was an artisan, perhaps) had bandaged up his throat; he probably had a boil on his throat (as is well known, a boil, impeding one’s freedom of movement, may appear in a most inconvenient fashion on one’s Adam’s apple, on one’s backbone (between the shoulder-blades) – may appear … in an indescribable place! …)

But a more detailed reflection on the properties of insidious boils was broken off:

‘You don’t seem to recognize me?’

(Ai, ai, ai!) …

‘With whom do I have the honour,’ Nikolai Apollonovich began, pressing his lips together offendedly, but, on taking a closer look at the stranger, suddenly staggered back, threw off his hat and exclaimed with a wholly contorted mouth:

‘No … is it you? … But what put you here? …’

He had probably intended to exclaim: ‘What brought you here …’

Of course: it was hard to perceive that the chance passer-by, who looked like a beggar, was Sergei Sergeich, because, for one thing, Likhutin was dressed in civilian clothes, and they sat on him like a saddle on a cow; and, for another: Sergei Sergeich Likhutin was – ai, ai, ai! – clean-shaven: that was what it was! Instead of a small, twining blond beard, what protruded was a kind of pimply, awkward void; and – where had his little moustache gone? This place that was free of hair (between his lips and his nose) had turned a familiar physiognomy into an unfamiliar physiognomy – quite simply, into a sort of unpleasant void.

The absence of the customary Likhutin beard and the customary Likhutin moustache gave the second lieutenant the shocking appearance of an idiot:

‘No … Or perhaps my eyes deceive me, but … it seems to me, Sergei Sergeyevich, that … you …’

‘Quite correct: I am in civvies …’

‘No, it’s not that, Sergei Sergeich … not that … That is not what astounds me … No, what astounds me is …’


‘You have somehow been entirely transformed, Sergei Sergeich … You must please excuse me …’

‘That is a trivial matter, sir …’

‘Oh, of course, of course … I didn’t mean anything by it … I just meant that you’ve shaved …’

‘Hey, what is this?’ Likhutin said, taking offence now. ‘What is this about “you’ve shaved”? Why shouldn’t I? Yes, I’ve shaved … I couldn’t sleep last night … Why shouldn’t I have shaved? …’

In the second lieutenant’s voice Nikolai Apollonovich was struck by what was quite simply a kind of fury, some kind of overpowering fraughtness that was quite out of keeping with being shaved.

‘Yes, I’ve shaved …’

‘Of course, of course …’

‘Well, what of it?’ said Likhutin, refusing to calm down. ‘I’m leaving the service …’

‘You’re leaving it? … Why? …’

‘For private reasons, which concern me personally … Those trivial details do not concern you, Nikolai Apollonovich … Our private matters do not concern you.’

Now second lieutenant Likhutin began to draw closer.

‘As a matter of fact, there are matters which …’

Nikolai Apollonovich, pushing into passers-by with his back, began plainly to retreat:

‘There are matters, Sergei Sergeich? …’

‘Matters which, sir …’

Nikolai Apollonovich caught the plainly ominous note in the second lieutenant’s hoarse voice; and it seemed to him that the latter was for some reason distinctly preparing to seize his arms.

‘Have you got a cold?’ he said, abruptly changing the subject, and jumped down off the pavement; in explanation of his comment he touched his own neck, alluding to the bandage round Likhutin’s neck, to some sort of cold in the throat – some quinsy or – influenza.

But Sergei Sergeyevich turned red, and swiftly jumped down off the pavement, continuing his advance in order to … to … Several passers-by stopped and looked:

‘Ni-ko-lai Apollonovich! …’


‘I really haven’t come running after you in order to talk to you about your neck, the devil take it …’

A third, a fifth, a tenth person stopped, doubtless supposing that some pilferer had been caught.

‘It has nothing to do with the matter …’

Ableukhov’s attention grew acute; to himself he whispered:

‘Eh? … What has nothing to do with what matter?’ And, evading Likhutin, he again found himself on the damp pavement.

‘What is the matter, then? …’

Where was his memory?

The matter he had to discuss with the second lieutenant was no joke. Yes – the domino! The devil take it, the domino! Nikolai Apollonovich had completely forgotten about the domino; now he merely remembered:

‘There is a matter, there is …’

Sofya Petrovna Likhutina had without doubt gone and talked to everyone about the incident in the unlit entrance porch; she had also talked about the incident beside the Winter Canal.

It was to this matter that Likhutin was proceeding now.

‘This is all I needed … Oh, the devil take it: how inconvenient it is! … How very inconvenient! …’

And suddenly everything was overcast.

The swarms of bowler hats grew dark; vengefully the top hats began to gleam; from all sides the nose of the ordinary man in the street began once more to hop: noses flowed by in great numbers: aquiline, cockerel-like, hen-like, greenish, grey; and – a nose with a wart on it: absurd, hurried, enormous.

Nikolai Apollonovich, avoiding Likhutin’s gaze, surveyed all this and fixed his eyes on the shop window.

Meanwhile Sergei Sergeich Likhutin, seizing Ableukhov’s arm and, now pressing it, now quite simply squeezing it, gathering around him a crowd of inquisitive gawpers – implacably, indefatigably snapped out in a wooden falsetto: – why, here was the beating of drumsticks! –

‘I … I … I … have the honour to inform you that since this morning I … I … I …’


‘I have been on your trail … And I have been, have been everywhere – to your lodgings, incidentally … I was let into your room … I sat there … Left a note …’

‘Oh, what a pit …’

‘None the less,’ the second lieutenant interrupted (why, here was the beating of drumsticks), ‘having a matter to settle with you: an urgent discussion of business …’

‘Now it’s beginning,’ dashed through Ableukhov’s brain, and he saw his reflection in the large shop window amidst gloves, umbrellas and similar articles.

Meanwhile a cold, whistling pandemonium had broken out along the Nevsky, swooping, rattling and whispering with small, staccato, steady drops against the umbrellas, the sternly bent backs, drenching the hair, drenching the frozen, stringy hands of artisans, students, and workers; meanwhile a cold, whistling pandemonium had broken out along the Nevsky, pouring a poisonous, mocking, metallic highlight on to the street signs, twisting billions of wet grains of dust into funnels, forming tornadoes, driving and driving them through the streets, shattering them against stones; and further, driving the bat’s wing of the clouds out of Petersburg through the vacant lots; and already a cold, whistling pandemonium had broken out above the vacant lots; with a mettlesome, buccaneer whistling it caroused through the expanses – of Samara, Tambov, Saratov – in gullies, sands, thistles, wormwood, tearing the straw from the roofs, tearing down the high-topped haystacks and spreading its sticky rot across the threshing-floors; a heavy, granular sheaf is born from it; the native, spring-water well is blocked up by it; woodlice will appear; and through a series of wet villages typhus goes raging.

The wing of the clouds has been torn; the rain has stopped; the wetness has dried up …