Petersburg Mamma

He opened the door to the drawing room.

The first thing he saw was … was … But what can one say: he saw his mother’s face from the armchair, and two arms stretched out: the face had aged, and the arms trembled in the lace of the gold street lamps, which had just been lit – outside the windows.

And he heard a voice:

‘Kolenka: my own, my loved one!’

He could hold out no longer, and rushed to her:

‘Is it you, my boy …’

No, he could hold out no longer: sinking to his knees, he seized her figure in his tenacious arms; he pressed his face against her knees, broke into convulsive sobs – sobs about what, he knew not: unaccountably, shamelessly, uncontrollably his broad shoulders began to heave (for let us remember: Nikolai Apollonovich had experienced no caresses these past three years).

‘Mamma, Mamma …’

She also wept.

Apollon Apollonovich stood there, in the semi-twilight of a niche, fingering a little porcelain doll, a Chinaman; the Chinaman was swaying his head; Apollon Apollonovich came out from the semi-twilight of the niche; and quietly he groaned; with short little footsteps he moved across to that weeping pair; and suddenly he began to boom above the armchair:

‘Calm yourselves, my friends!’

It must be admitted that he could not have expected these feelings from his cold, reserved son – in whose face these past two and a half years he had seen nothing but little grimaces; a mouth torn apart to the ears, and a lowered gaze; and then, turning round, Apollon Apollonovich ran anxiously out of the room – in search of some object or other.

‘Mamma … Mamma …’

The fear, the humiliations of all these days and nights, the sardine tin’s disappearance and, last but not least, the sense of complete insignificance – all this, whirling round, was coming untwisted in momentary thoughts; was drowning in the moisture of the meeting:

‘My darling, my boy.’

The icy touch of fingers on his arm brought him back to his senses again:

‘Here you are, Kolenka: have a little sip of water.’

And when he raised from her knees his tear-stained countenance, he saw again what seemed to be the childlike eyes of an old man of sixty-eight: little Apollon Apollonovich stood there in his jacket with a glass of water; his fingers were dancing; he was more trying to pat Nikolai Apollonovich rather than actually patting him – on the back, the shoulder, the cheeks; suddenly he stroked the flaxen white hair with his hand. Anna Petrovna laughed; quite irrelevantly, she adjusted the collar; she transferred her eyes, which were intoxicated with happiness, from Nikolenka – to Apollon Apollonovich; and back again: from him to Nikolenka.

Nikolai Apollonovich slowly raised himself from his knees:

‘I’m sorry, Mamma: I just …

‘It’s, it’s – the unexpectedness …

‘I’ll be all right in a moment … It’s nothing … Thank you, Papa …’

And he drank some water.


Apollon Apollonovich put his glass on the little mother-of-pearl table; and suddenly – burst into senile laughter at something, the way little boys laugh at the antics of a merry uncle, nudging one another with their little elbows; two old, familiar faces!

‘Indeed, sir …

‘Indeed, sir …

‘Indeed, sir …’

Apollon Apollonovich stood there by a pier-glass, which a golden-cheeked little cupid crowned with his little wing; beneath the cupid laurels and roses were perforated by the heavy flames of torches. But memory cut like lightning: the sardine tin! …

How could it be? What had happened? And a paroxysm broke within him again.

‘Just a moment … I’m coming …’

‘What’s the matter, my dear?’

‘It’s nothing … Let him be, Anna Petrovna … I advise you, Kolenka, to be alone with yourself … for five minutes … Yes, you know … And then – come back again …’

And, the merest bit simulating the paroxysm that he had just had, Nikolai Apollonovich tottered, and somewhat theatrically let his face fall into his fingers again: the cap of flaxen hair looked so strangely pale there, in the semi-twilight of the room.

Tottering, he went out.

The father looked at the happy mother in surprise.

‘To tell you the truth, I didn’t recognize him … These, these … These, so to speak, feelings,’ – Apollon Apollonovich ran over from the mirror to the window-sill … ‘These, these … paroxysms,’ – and patted his side-whiskers.

‘They show,’ – he turned sharply, and raised the toes of his shoes, balancing for a moment on his heels, and then leaning with his whole body on the toes as they fell to the floor –

‘They show,’ – he said, putting his hands behind his back (under his little jacket) and turning them behind his back (making the little jacket begin to wag); and it looked as though Apollon Apollonovich were running about the drawing-room with a little wagging tail:

‘They show that he has a naturalness of feeling and, so to speak’ – here he shrugged his shoulders for a moment – ‘good qualities of character …

‘I never expected it at all …’

A snuffbox that was lying on the little table struck the attention of the renowned statesman; and wishing to impart to it a more symmetrical aspect in relation to the little tray that was lying there, Apollon Apollonovich very quickly walked up to that little table and snatched … from the tray a visiting card, which for some reason he began to turn between his fingers; his absentmindedness proceeded from the fact that he had at that moment been struck by a profound thought, which was unfolding into a receding labyrinth of some kind of subsidiary discoveries. But Anna Petrovna, who was sitting in her armchair with a look of blissful bewilderment, observed with conviction:

‘I always said …’

‘Yes, dear, thou know …’

Apollon Apollonovich rose on tiptoe with his little jacket tail slightly raised; and – ran from the little table to the mirror:

‘You know …’

Apollon Apollonovich ran from the mirror into the corner:

‘Kolenka has surprised me: and I must admit – this behaviour of his has reassured me’ – he creased his forehead – ‘in relation to … in relation to,’ – took his hand from behind his back (the edge of the little jacket was lowered), and drummed his hand on the table:

‘M-yes! …’

Sharply interrupted himself:

‘It’s nothing.’

And fell into reflection: looked at Anna Petrovna; met her gaze; they smiled at each another.