Petersburg Matvei Morzhov

At last the gate began to creak.

The bearded yardkeeper, Matvei Morzhov, Aleksandr Ivanovich’s friend of long standing, admitted him over the house’s threshold: retreat was cut off; and the gate closed.

‘Why so late?’

‘I had business …’

‘Is his honour still out looking for a job?’

‘Yes, that’s right, I am …’

‘Of course you are: there aren’t any jobs now … Except maybe, if there’s a vacancy at the police station …’

‘But they won’t have me at the police station, Matvei …’

‘Of course: why should you go to the police station …’

‘So you see?’

‘And there aren’t any jobs now …’

The bearded yardkeeper, Matvei Morzhov, sometimes sent his plump wife, who suffered permanently from an illness of the ear, to Aleksandr Ivanovich, now with a piece of pie, now with an invitation to visit; thus, they drank together on holidays, in the yardkeeper’s lodge: as a man who had gone underground, it was proper for Aleksandr Ivanovich to maintain the closest friendship with the house police.

And besides.

It was simply a good opportunity to come down from his cold garret without danger (as we have seen, Aleksandr Ivanovich hated his garret, and used to stay in it for weeks on end without going out, when to do so seemed risky).

Sometimes to their company were added: Voronkov the police clerk and Bessmertny the shoemaker. And of late Styopka had been spending all his time in the yardkeeper’s lodge: Styopka was out of work.

Aleksandr Ivanovich, finding himself in the little courtyard, distinctly heard the same old song floating to his ears from the yardkeeper’s lodge:

Some girls

Don’t like a clerk, –

But I’d love one

Any day …




Just what to say …11

‘Got visitors again?’

Matvei Morzhov scratched the nape of his neck with ferocious reflectiveness:

‘We’re having a bit of fun …’

Aleksandr Ivanovich smiled:

‘That’s the clerk from the police station, isn’t it? …’

‘Who do you mean … Yes, that’s him …’

Suddenly Aleksandr Ivanovich remembered that the name of Voronkov the clerk had been pressingly mentioned – back there, by the person; how did the person know Voronkov the clerk, and about Voronkov the clerk, and about their meetings? At the time, he was surprised, and had forgotten to ask.

Mamma buy me

For a dress

Some silk

That’s grey;

Now I shall



Son of Aleksei! …

Morzhov the yardkeeper, perceiving that Aleksandr Ivanovich was undecided about something, snuffled with his nose, and gloomily snapped out:

‘Well, then … Into the lodge … Come on in …’

And Aleksandr Ivanovich would have gone: in the yardkeeper’s lodge it was warm and crowded and intoxicating; while in his garret it was lonely and cold. And yet – no, no: Voronkov the police clerk was there; the person had spoken ambiguously about Voronkov the police clerk; and – the devil knew what he was! But the main thing was: that to go into the lodge would have been a decided act of cowardice; would have been to run away from his own walls.

With a sigh, Aleksandr Ivanovich replied:

‘No, Matvei: it’s time I went to bed …’

‘Of course: as you think best! …’

But how they were singing in there:

Mamma buy me

For a dress

Some silk

That’s blue:

Now it is

Vasilyev’s son

To whom I’ll be true!

‘Or wouldn’t you like a drink of vodka?’

And simply with a kind of despair, simply with a kind of fury he shouted out:

‘No, no, no!’

And hurled himself into flight towards the silvery cords of firewood.

Then Matvei Morzhov, walking away, threw open the door of the lodge for a moment: white vapour, a pencil of rays, a hubbub of voices, and a smell of warmed-up dirt that had been brought in from the street on boots came out from there in a sharp rush for an instant; and then – bang: the door slammed shut behind Matvei Morzhov.

Retreat was cut off a second time.

Again the moon lit up the distinct outlines of the little square courtyard and the silvery cords of aspen wood, between which Aleksandr Ivanovich flitted as he steered a course towards the black entrance porch. At his back, words came floating across to him from the yardkeeper’s lodge; that was probably Bessmertny the shoemaker singing.

The rails of the long railway line! …

The embankment! … The signal’s hand!

As the train into washed-away clay

Flew plunging from sleepers to land.

A scene of shattered rail coaches!

A scene of unfortunate folk! …

The rest was not audible.

Aleksandr Ivanovich stopped: yes, yes, yes: it was starting; he had not yet managed to shut himself up in his dark yellow cube, yet already: it was starting, emerging – his inevitable, nightly torture. And this time it had started outside the rear entrance door.

The same thing was still going on: they were keeping an eye on Aleksandr Ivanovich … It had started like this: once, as he returned home, he had seen a man whom he did not know coming down the staircase, and the man had said to him:

‘You are connected with Him …’

Who the man coming down the staircase was, and who He (with a capital letter) was, Who connected people to Himself, Aleksandr Ivanovich had not waited to find out, and had instead rushed up the staircase away from the stranger. The stranger had not pursued him.

And – it had happened to Dudkin a second time: he had encountered in the street a man in a peaked cap pulled deep down over his eyes, and with a face so dreadful (inexpressibly dreadful) that a lady whom he did not know and who happened to be passing at the time had seized Aleksandr Ivanovich by the coat-sleeve in alarm:

‘Did you see? That is horrible, why, it is horrible … That does not happen! … Oh, what is it? …’

Meanwhile, the man had passed by.

But in the evening, on the third-floor landing, Aleksandr Ivanovich had been seized by some kind of arms and shoved against the railings, in a manifest attempt to push him – there, down there … Aleksandr Ivanovich had defended himself, struck a match, and … there was no one on the staircase: footsteps neither descending nor ascending. It was deserted.

Finally at night of late Aleksandr Ivanovich had heard inhuman shrieking … from the staircase: how someone shrieked! … Shrieked, and then cried out no more.

But the tenants did not hear the shrieking.

Only once had he heard that shrieking – there, by the Bronze Horseman: that was exactly what the shrieking sounded like. But that had been a motor car, lit up by reflectors. Only once had Stepan, who was out of work, and sometimes whiled away the nights with him, heard … the shrieking. But in response to all Aleksandr Ivanovich’s pestering, all he would say, morosely, was:

‘That’s them looking for you …’

As to who they were, about that Styopka kept mum. And said not another word. Only this Styopka began to avoid Aleksandr Ivanovich’s company, and came to see him less frequently; and as for spending the night – not on your life … And neither to the yardkeeper, nor to Voronkov the police clerk, nor to the shoemaker did Styopka say a word. And neither did Aleksandr Ivanovich …

But to be forcibly dragooned into all this, and not to be able to tell anyone about it!

‘That’s them looking for you …’

Who were they, and why were they looking? …

There, right now, for example.

Aleksandr Ivanovich involuntarily cast his gaze aloft: to a small window on the fifth, attic floor; and there was light in the window: one could see some kind of angular shadow restlessly slouching about in the window. In an instant he felt about in his pocket for the key to his room: he had the key with him. Then who was up there in his locked room?

Was it perhaps a search? Oh, if only that were all it were: he would fly to the search, like the happiest of men; even if they were to arrest him and put him in … the Peter and Paul Fortress, they would at least be human beings – not them.

‘That’s them looking for you …’

Aleksandr Ivanovich drew a deep breath and vowed to himself in advance not to be excessively frightened, because the events in which he might now be involved were simply an idle, cerebral game.

Aleksandr Ivanovich went in through the back entrance.