Petersburg Noble, Slender, Pale …

They were walking along the Moika.

To their left the last gold and the last crimson of the garden trembled in the leaves; and, approaching more closely, one could have seen the blue tit as well; while from the garden on to the stones obediently stretched a rustling thread, in order to twine and chase at the feet of the passing pedestrian and to whisper, weaving from the leaves yellow and red alluvial deposits of words.

‘Ooo-ooo-ooo …’ – thus did space resound.

‘Do you hear?’

‘What is it?’


‘I don’t hear anything.’

But that sound was heard softly in towns, woodlands and fields, in the suburban expanses of Moscow, Petersburg, Saratov. Have you heard this October song of the year nineteen hundred and five? This song did not exist earlier; this song will not exist …

‘It must be a factory siren: there’s a strike at a factory somewhere.’

But no factory siren was sounding, there was no wind; and the dog was silent.

To the right, below their feet, was the blue of the Moika canal, while behind it above the water rose the reddish line of the embankment’s stones, crowned by trellised iron lace: that same bright building of the Alexandrine era rested on its five stone columns; and the entrance showed gloomy between the columns; above the second storey still passed the same stripe of ornamental stucco: ring upon ring – the same stucco rings.

Between the canal and the building, drawn by its own private horses, an overcoat flew past, concealing in its beaver fur the freezing tip of a haughty nose; and a bright yellow cap-band swayed, and the pink cushion of the driver’s hat flickered ever so slightly. Drawing even with Likhutina, high above his bald spot flew the bright yellow cap-band of one of Her Majesty’s Cuirassiers: it was Baron Ommau-Ommergau.

Ahead, where the canal curved, rose the red walls of the church, tapering to a high tower and a green steeple; while more to the left, above a ledge of houses and stone, the dazzling cupola of St Isaac’s rose sternly in a glassy turquoise.

Here too was the embankment: depth, a greenish blue. There far away, far away, almost further than was proper, the islands fell and cowered: the buildings also cowered; at any moment the depths might come washing, surging over them, the greenish blue. And above this greenish blue an unmerciful sunset sent here and there its radiant crimson blow: and the Troitsky Bridge shone crimson; and so did the Palace.

Suddenly under this depth and greenish blue a clear silhouette appeared against the crimson background of the sunset: in the wind a grey Nikolayevka beat its wings; and a waxen face with protruding lips nonchalantly threw itself back: in the bluish expanses of the Neva its eyes constantly looked for something, could not find it, flew past above her modest little fur hat; did not see the hat: did not see anything – either her, or Varvara Yevgrafovna: saw only the depth, and the greenish blue; rose and fell – there fell the eyes, on the other side of the Neva, where the banks cowered and the buildings of the islands showed crimson. While ahead, snuffling, ran a dark, striped bulldog, carrying a small silver whip in its teeth.

Drawing level, he came to his senses, screwed up his eyes slightly, touched his cap-band slightly with his hand; said nothing – and walked off there: there only the buildings showed crimson.

With completely squinting eyes, hiding her little face in her muff (she was now redder than a peony), Sofya Petrovna helplessly nodded her little head somewhere to the side: not to him, but to the bulldog. While Varvara Yevgrafovna fairly stared, breathed heavily, fastened her eyes.


‘Yes … apparently.’

And, hearing an affirmative reply (she was short-sighted), Varvara Yevgrafovna began to whisper to herself excitedly:

Noble, slender, pale,

Hair like flax has he;

Rich in thought, in feeling poor

N.A.A. – who can he be?12

There, there he was:

Famous revolutionary,

Though aristocrat.

But better than his shameful folks

A hundred times, mark that.

There he was, the regenerator of the rotten order, to whom she (soon, soon!) was going to propose a citizens’ marriage upon the accomplishment of the mission that had been appointed to him, upon which there would follow a universal, world-wide explosion: here she choked (Varvara Yevgrafovna was in the habit of swallowing her saliva too loudly).

‘What is it?’

‘Nothing: a lofty motif came into my head.’

But Sofya Petrovna was not listening any more: unexpectedly to herself, she turned and saw that there, there on the front square of the palace in the light purple thrust of the Neva’s last rays, somehow strangely turned towards her, stooping, and hiding his face in his collar, which caused his student’s peaked cap to slip down, stood Nikolai Apollonovich; it seemed to her that he was smiling in a most unpleasant manner and in any case cut a rather ridiculous figure: wrapped tightly in his overcoat, he looked both round-shouldered and somehow lacking arms, with the wing of the overcoat dancing most preposterously in the wind; and, seeing all that, she swiftly turned her little head.

Long yet did he stand, bent, smiling in an unpleasant manner and in any case cutting the rather ridiculous figure of a man without arms, the wing of his overcoat dancing so preposterously in the wind against the crimson stain of the sunset’s wedge. But in any case he was not looking at her: was it indeed possible for him, with his awkwardness, to study retreating figures; he was laughing to himself and staring far, far away, almost further than was proper – there, where the island buildings sank, where they barely glimmered through the mist in the crimson smoke.

While she – she wanted to cry; she wanted her husband, Sergei Sergeich Likhutin, to go up to that scoundrel, suddenly strike him in the face with a cypress fist and say, apropos of this, his honourable, officer’s word.

The unmerciful sunset sent blow upon blow from the very horizon itself; higher rose the immensity of the rosy ripples; yet higher the small white clouds (now rosy) like fine impressions of broken mother-of-pearl were disappearing in a turquoise all; that turquoise all poured evenly between the splinters of rosy mother-of-pearl: soon the mother-of-pearl, drowning in the heights, as if retreating into an oceanic depth – would extinguish in the turquoise the most delicate reflections: the dark blue, the bluish-green depth would surge everywhere: over houses, granite and water.

And there would be no sunset.