Petersburg Not Good …

It was a strange thing!

Until now, the behaviour of a certain person in relation to Aleksandr Ivanovich had from time immemorial merely borne the character of one continuous string of obligations, and importunate ones at that; for many months, on many occasions, in many different ways, the person had been tracing his ornamental pattern of flattery around Aleksandr Ivanovich; Aleksandr Ivanovich had wanted to believe in that flattery.

And he had believed in it.

He viewed the person with repugnance; he felt a physiological revulsion towards him; more than that: Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin had been avoiding the person all these recent days, when he had been experiencing an agonizing crisis of loss of faith in everything. But the person had overtaken him everywhere; he had often mockingly thrown the person all too open challenges; the person had accepted these challenges stoically – with cynical laughter, and if he had asked the person what was the reason for that laughter, the person would have replied:

‘It concerns you.’

But he knew that the person was guffawing at their common cause.

He kept telling the person that the programme of their Party was unsound, abstract, blind; and the person agreed; but he knew that the person took part in the elaboration of the programme; if he had inquired as to whether provocation had got mixed up in the programme, the person would have replied:

‘No, no: daring …’

In the end he tried to shock him with his mystical credo, with the assertion that the People and the Revolution were not categories of reason, but divine Hypostases of the universe; the person had nothing against mysticism: listened with attention; and – even tried to understand.

But could not understand.

Except – except: the person stood before him; received all his protests and all his extreme conclusions in submissive silence; patted him on the shoulder and dragged him off to a little inn; there, at a table, they sipped cognac; sometimes, to the accompaniment of the tambourines of the machine, the person would say to him:

‘So what? What am I: nothing … I am only a submarine; but you are our battleship, and a great ship must sail …’

None the less, the person had chased him off to the garret: and, having chased him off to the garret, had hidden him there; the battleship had lain in the dockyard without a crew, without guns; all these recent days Aleksandr Ivanovich’s sailing had been confined to sailing from inn to inn; one could even say that during these weeks of protest the person had turned Aleksandr Ivanovich into a drunkard.

Hospitably had the person greeted him; of all the conversations they had had, one indubitable impression had remained: had Aleksandr Ivanovich suddenly needed serious assistance, the person would have been bound to give him that assistance; all that went without saying, of course; but Aleksandr Ivanovich was afraid of receiving good turns or assistance for himself.

Only today an opportunity had presented itself.

He had given Ableukhov his word that he would disentangle it all; and that he was doing: with the help of the person, of course. A fateful confusion of circumstances had simply thrown Ableukhov into some kind of abracadabra; he would describe the abracadabra to the person, and the person would then, he believed, be able to disentangle it all.

His appearance here had been provoked merely by the promise he had given to Ableukhov; and now – here it was, take it or leave it …

The person’s tone towards him had changed, in an offensive manner; he had noticed that from the person’s first appearance at the little dacha; the person’s tone towards him had become unrecognizable – unpleasant, offensive, stiff (with such a tone do the heads of institutions greet petitioners, with such a tone does the editor of a newspaper greet a newspaper reporter, a gatherer of information about fires and thefts; and thus does a guardian speak to a candidate in place of a teacher in … Solvychegodsk, in Sarepta …)

Here it was – take it or leave it …

Yes: after his conversation with the Frenchman (the Frenchman had now withdrawn), the person, contrary to the whole manner in which he had been behaving towards Aleksandr Ivanovich, had not come out of the study but continued to sit – there, at the writing desk; and – the effect was an offensive one: as though he, Aleksandr Ivanovich, were not there at all; as though he were not an acquaintance, but – the devil knows what! – an unknown petitioner, with time at his disposal. Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin was none the less the Elusive One; his Party nickname had made a noise in Russia and abroad; and, above all: he was by origin a hereditary nobleman, while the person, the person – hm-hm: he considered that by appearing in the person’s quarters he was doing the person an honour.

It was getting dark: it was getting dark blue.

And in the darkening all, in the semi-gloom of the little study, the person’s jacket showed repulsively yellow; his square head was completely bowed down against the table (above his back only a dyed quiff was visible), presenting the broad, muscular back and a neck that was doubtless unwashed; the back somehow bulged as it presented itself to the gaze; and presented itself wrongly: not decently, but … somehow … mockingly. And from here it seemed to him that from in there, stoopingly bent, out of the semi-twilight of the little study, a shoulder and a back were bursting with insolence; and he mentally undressed them; fatty skin appeared, that could be sliced with the same ease as the skin of sucking-pig with horseradish sauce; a cockroach was crawling by (there were evidently large numbers of them here); he felt revolted: he – spat.

Suddenly a fatty fold of neck bulged out between the back and the nape of the neck in a faceless smile: as though a monster had settled down in the armchair there; and the neck looked like a face; as though what had settled down in the armchair was a monster with a noseless, eyeless mug; and the fold of neck looked like a toothlessly ripped-open mouth.

There, on bandy legs, a clumsy monster had fallen back unnaturally – in the semi-twilight of the room.

Ugh, what filth!

Aleksandr Ivanovich jerked his shoulder away and put his back to the back; he began to pluck his small moustache with an independent air; he would have liked to have looked offended, but looked merely independent; he plucked his small moustache with an air that said that he was one thing, and the back was another. He would have liked to have gone out, slamming the door; but it was impossible to go out: Nikolai Apollonovich’s peace of mind depended on this conversation; and so: to go out, slamming the door, was out of the question; and so he was still dependent on the person.

Aleksandr Ivanovich, we have said, put his back to the back; but the back with the fold of neck was none the less a magnetic back; and he turned round to face it: he could not help doing so … At this point, the person, in his turn, turned sharply in his chair: the inclined, narrow-browed head stared steadily, resembling a wild boar, ready to sink its tusk into any pursuer whatever; turned, and again turned away. The gesture that accompanied this turn cried eloquently aloud – with sheer desire to inflict an insult. But the gesture expressed not only this. The person must have noticed something in the gaze that was fixed on it, because the gaze of the small, blinking eyes said caustically:

‘Ah, ah, ah … So that’s the game, my good chap, is it?’

Aleksandr Ivanovich clenched his fist in his pocket. And again turned away.

The hours were ticking. Aleksandr Ivanovich grunted twice, so that his impatience would touch the person’s hearing (he must both stand up for himself and not insult the person too much; were he to insult the person, after all, Nikolai Apollonovich might suffer because of it) … But Aleksandr Ivanovich’s grunting came out sounding like the timid spasm of a preparatory form pupil before the teacher. What had happened to him? Where had this timidity come from? He was not in the slightest afraid of the person: he was afraid of the hallucination that emerged back there, on the wallpaper – but as for the person …

The person went on writing.

Aleksandr Ivanovich grunted again. And again. This time the person responded.

‘You’ll have to wait …’

What kind of a tone was that? What kind of dryness was that?

At last the person sat up slightly, and turned round; a heavy hand described a gesture of invitation in the air:

‘Now then, what can I do for you …’

Aleksandr Ivanovich seemed completely at a loss; his anger, which had passed all bounds, was expressed in a fidgety forgetting of commonly used words:

‘You see … I’ve … come …’


‘As you know, or rather … What the devil! …’ And suddenly he snapped out briefly:

‘There’s some business …’

But the person, having thrown himself back in his armchair (he was on the point of mercilessly strangling the person in that armchair), drummed a nibbled finger on the table with an annihilating look; and – hollowly boomed:

‘I must warn you … I have no time today to listen to wordy explanations. And so …’

What was this?

‘So I would ask you, my dearest fellow, to express yourself as briefly and precisely as possible …’

And pressing his chin into his Adam’s apple, the person stared out of the windows; and from there space, empty with light, threw rustling handfuls of its falling leaves.

‘But tell me, since when have you had this … tone,’ burst from Aleksandr Ivanovich not merely with irony, but even with a kind of bewilderment.

But the person interrupted him again; interrupted him in a most unpleasant manner:

‘Well, sir?’

And crossed his arms on his chest.

‘My business …’ and he faltered …

‘Well, sir …’

‘Has become very important …’

But the person interrupted a third time:

‘We shall discuss its degree of importance later.’

And screwed up his little eyes.

Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin, inexplicably bewildered, blushed and felt that he could no longer force out a sentence. Aleksandr Ivanovich said nothing.

The person said nothing.

The falling leaves beat at the windows: the red leaves, knocking against the panes as they floated down, exchanged whispered secrets; there the branches – dry skeletons – formed a misty, blackish mesh; the wind was blowing in the street: the blackish mesh was beginning to sway; the blackish mesh was beginning to drone. Incoherently, helplessly, getting mixed up in his expressions, Aleksandr Ivanovich gave an account of the Ableukhov incident. But in the degree to which he became inspired by the story, overcoming the potholes in the structure of his discourse, the drier and more stern did the person become: the more impassively did his forehead protrude and then relax its wrinkles; the puffy little lips ceased sucking; and at the point in the story where Morkovin, the agent provocateur, appeared, the person jerked up his eyebrows and twitched his nose: as though until that point he had been trying to act on the narrator’s conscience, as though after that point the narrator had become totally without conscience, so that all the limits of the tolerance of which the person was capable were from that point on transgressed; and his patience finally snapped:

‘Eh? … You see? … And you said? …’

Aleksandr Ivanovich started.

‘Say what?’

‘Nothing: continue.’

Aleksandr Ivanovich screamed in complete despair:

‘But I’ve said it all! What more can I add?’

And, pressing his chin into his Adam’s apple, the person looked down, reddened, sighed, fixed a reproachful gaze on Aleksandr Ivanovich with eyes that were unblinking now (it was a sad gaze); and – whispered barely audibly:

‘Not good … Not good, not good at all … I wonder you are not ashamed! …’

In the adjacent room Zoya Zakharovna appeared with a lamp; the maid, Malanya, was laying the table: and glasses were being set out; Mr Shishnarfiev appeared in the dining-room; his little tenor scattered like small glass beads, but all those beads were crushed by … the accent of a Young Persian; Shishnarfiev himself was concealed from view by a flower vase; all this Aleksandr Ivanovich noticed from afar, and – as if through a dream.

Aleksandr Ivanovich felt a tremor in his heart; and – horror; at the words ‘I wonder you are not ashamed’ he had felt his cheeks blush bright crimson; a manifest threat lurked banefully in the words of his fearsome interlocutor; Aleksandr Ivanovich began to squirm involuntarily in his seat, as he remembered something that he had not done and was not his fault at all.

It was strange: he did not dare to ask again what the hidden threat was in the person’s tone, and what he meant when he had used the word ‘ashamed’ in connection with him. None the less, he swallowed this ‘ashamed’.

‘But what am I to tell Ableukhov about this provocateur’s letter?’

Here the frontal bones approached his forehead.

‘What do you mean – provocateur’s? It wasn’t a provocateur’s letter at all … I must cool you down. The letter to Ableukhov was written by myself.’

This tirade was pronounced with a dignity that had mastered anger, reproach and offence; that had mastered itself, and now condescended to … a disparaging meekness.

‘What? The letter was written by you?’

‘And came – through you: do you remember? … Or have you forgotten?’

The person pronounced the words ‘have you forgotten’ with an air that seemed to indicate that Aleksandr Ivanovich was perfectly well aware of all this, but was for some reason pretending not to be; in general, the person gave him plainly to understand that now he was going to play with his dissembling like a cat with a mouse …

‘Remember: I gave this letter to you back there – at the little inn …’

‘But I assure you that I gave it not to Ableukhov but to Varvara Yevgrafovna …’

‘That will do, Aleksandr Ivanovich, that will do, old chap: you don’t need to try to pull the wool over the eyes of your own people: the letter found its addressee … And the rest is subterfuge …’

‘And are you the author of the letter?’

Aleksandr Ivanovich’s heart was trembling and beating so hard that it seemed it might fall out; like a bull, it began to roar; and – rushed forward.

But the person tapped a finger meaningfully on the table, replacing his air of indifference with a granite-like firmness; the person shouted:

‘What do you find so surprising? That I should have written the letter to Ableukhov? …’

‘Of course …’

‘Forgive me, but I would say that your amazement borders on open dissembling …’

From behind the vase, over there, Shishnarfiev’s black profile thrust itself forward; Zoya Zakharovna began to whisper to the profile, but the profile merely nodded its head; and then stared at Aleksandr Ivanovich. But Aleksandr Ivanovich saw nothing. He only exclaimed, rushing over to the person:

‘Either I have gone mad, or – you have!’

The person winked at him:


While his air said:

‘Ah, ah, ah, my good chap: I saw you watching us earlier … Do you think you can fool me? …’

Something happened: cheerfully, even somehow merrily, even with a kind of half-baked ardour, the person clicked his tongue, as though he wanted to exclaim:

‘But my good chap, the baseness really is with you – only with you; not with me.’

But all he said was:

‘Eh? … Eh? …’

Then, making it look as though he had with difficulty suppressed his sardonic laughter, the person sternly, imposingly, condescendingly placed his heavy hand on Aleksandr Ivanovich’s shoulder. Reflected, and added:

‘Not good … Not good, not good at all.’

And that same strange, oppressive and familiar state of mind seized hold of Aleksandr Ivanovich: a sense of doom before a piece of dark yellow wallpaper on which – in a moment – something fateful would appear. At this point Aleksandr Ivanovich felt the ineffable sense of guilt behind him; he looked, and it was as if a cloud were hanging over him, smoking around him from where the person was sitting, and smoking out of the person.

But the person was staring at him with his narrow-browed head; sitting there, and repeating:

‘Not good …’

A painful silence ensued.

‘Actually, of course, I am still waiting for the proper evidence; one cannot proceed without evidence … But actually: the accusation is a serious one; the accusation, I shall tell you plainly, is so serious that …’ – here the person sighed.

‘But what evidence?’

‘I do not want to judge you personally for the time being … We in the Party act, as you know, on the basis of facts … And the facts, the facts …’

‘But what facts?’

‘Facts about you are being gathered …’

That was all he needed!

Getting up from the armchair, the person cut off the tip of a Havana cigar and began ambiguously to hum a little tune; now he was imperviously enclosed in his fragrance; strode into the dining-room, and amiably gripped Shishnarfiev by the shoulder.

Shouted in the direction of the kitchen, from where there was such a tasty smell of roast meat.

‘I’m dying for a bite to eat …’

Surveyed the table and observed:

‘I’d like a liqueur …’

Then he strode back into the little study.

‘Your visits to the yardkeeper’s lodge … Your friendship with the house police, with the yardkeeper … And finally: your drinking bouts with the police clerk Voronkov …’

And in response to a questioning, bewildered gaze – a gaze full of horror – Lippanchenko, the person, that is, continued a caustic, many-meaninged whisper, placing his hand on Aleksandr Ivanovich’s shoulder.

‘As if you yourself didn’t know! Looking surprised like that! You mean you know who Voronkov is?’

‘Voronkov? Voronkov?! … Wait … what about it … What’s going on here? …’

But the person, Lippanchenko, roared with laughter, holding his sides:

‘You don’t know? …’

‘I won’t assert that: I know …’

‘Splendid! …’

‘Voronkov is a clerk from the police station: he visits the house of yardkeeper Matvei Morzhov …’

‘You are pleased to keep a rendezvous with a police investigator, you are pleased to go drinking with a police investigator, like I do not know what, like the latest little sleuth …’

‘Wait! …’

‘Not a word, not a word,’ said the person, beginning to wave his hand as he saw that Aleksandr Ivanovich, who was frightened now in good earnest, was trying to say something.

‘I repeat: the fact of your obvious part in a provocation has not yet been established, but … I warn you – I warn you out of friendship: Aleksandr Ivanovich, my dear fellow, you have been doing something wrong …’


‘Step back: it is not too late …’

For a moment Aleksandr Ivanovich had a plain impression that the words ‘step back, it is not too late’ were a kind of condition set by a certain person: he was not to insist on an explanation of the incident with Nikolai Apollonovich; something else seemed to be there, too – the person (he remembered) had himself received a very bad name here; something of the kind was happening here – that was plain: Zoya Zakharovna Fleisch’s hints just now – at what else besides?

But no sooner had Aleksandr Ivanovich reflected and, having reflected, plucked up his courage somewhat, than the familiar, malevolent expression – the expression of that same hallucination – passed fleetingly over the fat man’s face; and the frontal bones were tensed in a single violent act of stubbornness – to break his will: whatever happened, at whatever cost – to break it, or … explode into pieces.

And the frontal bones broke it.

Aleksandr Ivanovich, sleepily and in a state of depression, somehow drooped, and the person, in revenge for the moment of resistance to his will that had just taken place, once again advanced; the square head inclined low.

The little eyes – the little eyes were trying to say:

‘Ah, ah, ah, my good chap … So that’s your game?’

And the mouth sprayed spittle:

‘Don’t pretend to be such a simpleton …’

‘I’m not pretending …’

‘All Petersburg knows it …’

‘Knows what?’

‘About the exposure of T … T …’


‘Yes, yes …’

If the person had deliberately wanted to distract Aleksandr Ivanovich’s thought from anything that would enable him to discover the true motives of the person’s behaviour, he had completely succeeded, because the news of the exposure of T … T … shook the feeble Aleksandr Ivanovich as if by thunder.

‘Oh Lord Jesus Christ! …’

‘Jesus Christ!’ the person mocked. ‘You knew about it before any of us … Until the experts give their testimony, let us assume that it is so … Only: do not redouble the suspicion you attract to yourself: and not a word about Ableukhov.’

Aleksandr Ivanovich must at that moment have had an extremely idiotic air, because the person continued to roar with laughter and teased him with the black grin of his wide open mouth: with the same grin does a beast’s bloody carcass with flayed hide stare at us from a butcher’s shop.

‘Don’t pretend, my dear fellow, that you know nothing about Ableukhov’s role in all this; or that you know nothing about the reasons that forced me to punish Ableukhov by means of the commission I gave him; that you know nothing about how that mangy little worm played his role: the role, observe, has been played skilfully; and my little calculation was correct – my calculation that he would be sentimental, dithering, like you’ – the person had softened: with the admission that Aleksandr Ivanovich, too, suffered from dithering he generously removed the accusation he had a moment earlier made against Aleksandr Ivanovich; that was no doubt why at the word ‘dithering’ something fell from Aleksandr Ivanovich’s soul; he was already vaguely, vaguely trying to persuade himself that he had been wrong with regard to the person.

‘Yes, my calculation was correct: it would appear that the noble son hates his father, is preparing to bump him off, while at the same time he pokes about among us with little talks and other balderdash; he’s collecting pieces of paper, and when his collection of them is complete, he is going to present it to his dear papa … Yet you are all somehow inexplicably drawn to this loathsome creature …’

‘But Nikolai Stepanych, he was – weeping …’

‘So what, did his tears surprise you … Why, you are a strange fellow: tears are the usual condition of an educated investigator; why, when the educated investigator bursts into tears he thinks that he is doing so sincerely: and he possibly even regrets that he is an investigator; only those educated tears don’t make us feel any easier in the slightest … You too, Aleksandr Ivanovich, you also weep … But by that I don’t at all mean to infer that you are guilty’ (this was not true: the person had only just now repeatedly mentioned the subject of guilt; and for a moment this not true filled Aleksandr Ivanovich with horror; subconsciously in his soul, like lightning, one thing had flashed: ‘A bargain is being struck: I am being asked to believe a repulsive slander, or, more precisely, since I don’t believe it, I’m being asked to go along with it at the price of having the slander removed from myself …’ All this flashed beyond the threshold of his consciousness, because the terrible truth had been locked up beyond that threshold above his eyes by the frontal bones of the person and the oppressive atmosphere of the storm and the glitter of the little eyes with their ‘aha, my good chap’ … And he thought that he was starting to believe that slander).

‘I am sure that you, Aleksandr Ivanych, are clean, but as for. Ableukhov: right here in this drawer I have a dossier for safekeeping: later on I shall submit it to the judgement of the Party.’ Here the person began desperately to stamp about the little study – from corner to corner – clumsily beating his hand against his starched chest. But in his tone one could hear an unfeigned vexation, a desperation – quite simply, a kind of nobility (the bargain had evidently been struck successfully).

‘Later on, believe me, I shall be understood: but now the situation makes it necessary for the contagion to be torn out swiftly by the roots … Yes … I am acting like a dictator, by my will alone … But – believe me – I regret it: I regretted signing his sentence, but … dozens are perishing … because of your … senator’s dear son … Remember, you yourself once nearly perished (Aleksandr Ivanovich thought that he had already perished) … Had I not … Remember the Yakutsk region! … Yet you intercede for him, condole with him … Weep, then, weep! There is something to weep about: dozens are perishing!!! …’

Here the person rolled his swift little eyes and walked out of the study.

It had got dark: there was blackness.

Darkness had fallen; and it had risen between all the objects in the room; tables, cupboards, armchairs – everything had receded into profound darkness; Aleksandr Ivanovich went on sitting in the darkness – all on his own; the darkness entered his soul: he – wept.

Aleksandr Ivanovich remembered all the nuances of the person’s discourse and considered that all those nuances had been sincere ones; the person had probably not been lying; and the suspicions, the hatred – all that could be explained by Aleksandr Ivanovich’s morbid condition: some chance midnight nightmare, in which the principal role was played by the person, might by chance become connected with some chance ambiguous remark of the person’s; and the food for a mental illness on a basis of alcoholism was ready; while the hallucination of the Mongol and the meaningless whisper of ‘Enfranshish’ that he had heard in the night – all that had done the rest. Well, what was the Mongol on the wall? Delirium. And that nefarious word.

‘Enfranshish, enfranshish …’ – what was it?

An abracadabra, an association of sounds – no more.

True, he had harboured uncharitable feelings towards the certain person previously, too; but this was also true: he was obligated to the person; – the person had got him out of trouble; his revulsion and horror were not justified by anything except … delirium: the stain on the wallpaper.

Oh, then he was ill, he was ill …

Darkness was falling: had fallen, was all around; with a kind of serious menace emerged – table, armchair, cupboard; the darkness entered his soul – he wept: Nikolai Apollonovich’s moral profile now arose for the first time in its true light. How could he not have understood it?

He remembered his first meeting with him (Nikolai Apollonovich had given a little talk at the home of some mutual acquaintances in which all values were overthrown): the impression was not a pleasant one; and – further: Nikolai Apollonovich had, to tell the truth, displayed an especial curiosity about all the Party’s secrets; with the absent-minded air of an awkward degenerate, he had poked his nose into everything: after all, that absent-mindedness could be affected. Aleksandr Ivanovich thought for a bit: an agent provocateur of superior type could of course easily possess an outward appearance like that of Ableukhov – that sadly reflective air (avoiding the gaze of the person he was talking to) and the froglike expression of those pursed lips; Aleksandr Ivanovich was slowly becoming convinced: Nikolai Apollonovich had behaved strangely throughout this whole business: and dozens were perishing …

To the degree in which he became persuaded of Ableukhov’s involvement in the matter concerning the exposure of T.T., so did the terror-laden, oppressive feeling that had gripped him during his conversation with the person die away; something light, almost carefree entered his soul. Aleksandr Ivanovich had for some reason long had an especial hatred of the senator: Apollon Apollonovich inspired him with an especial revulsion, similar to the revulsion inspired in us by a phalanx, or even a tarantula; on the other hand, at times he liked Nikolai Apollonovich; but now the senator’s son had united for him with the senator in a single spasm of revulsion and in a desire to root out, exterminate this tarantula-like breed.

‘O, filth! … Dozens are perishing … O, filth …’

Better even the woodlice, the piece of dark yellow wallpaper, better even the person: in the person there was at least the grandeur of hatred; with the person one could at any rate unite in the desire to exterminate spiders:

‘O, filth! …’

Across the room from him the table was already gleaming hospitably; on the table ‘savouries’ had been laid out: sausage, sig and cold veal cutlets; from afar came the contented humming of the person, who had at last grown tired, and Shishnarfiev’s voice; this latter was taking his leave; at last he left.

Soon the person came barging into the room, walked up to Aleksandr Ivanovich, and placed a heavy hand on his shoulders:

‘Right, then! It’s better if we don’t quarrel, Aleksandr Ivanovich; if our own people are at odds with one another … then how will we ever …’

‘Well, let’s go and have something to eat … Eat with us … Only let us not hear a word of all this over supper … It’s all so depressing … And there’s no reason for Zoya Zakharovna to know about it, either: she’s tired of me … And I’m pretty tired, too … We’re all pretty tired … And it’s all just – nerves … You and I are nervous people … Well – to supper, to supper …’

The table gleamed hospitably.