Petersburg Our Role

Petersburg streets possess an indubitable quality: they turn passers-by into shadows; while Petersburg streets turn shadows into people.

We have seen this in the example of the mysterious stranger.

He, having arisen like a thought in the senatorial head, was for some reason also connected with the senator’s own house; there he had surfaced in the memory; but most of all he assumed substantial form on the prospect, immediately following the senator in our modest story.

From the crossroads to the little restaurant on Millionnaya Street we have described the stranger’s route; we have described, further, his sitting in the little restaurant until the notorious word ‘suddenly’, which interrupted everything; suddenly something happened to the stranger there; some unpleasant sensation visited him.

Let us now investigate his soul; but first let us investigate the little restaurant; we have a reason for doing so; after all, if we, the author, mark out with pedantic exactitude the route of the first person who comes along, the reader will believe us: our action is justified in the future. In the natural investigation we have undertaken we have merely anticipated Senator Ableukhov’s wish that an agent of the Secret Political Police Department should steadfastly follow the stranger’s steps; the good senator would himself take up the telephone receiver in order by means of it to convey his thought to the proper quarters; fortunately for him, he did not know the stranger’s abode (while we do know that abode). We shall go and meet the senator; and for the time being let the lightminded agent kick his heels in his Department – we shall be the agent.

But wait, wait …

Have we not gone and put our foot in it? I mean to say, what kind of agent are we? There is an agent already. And he is not asleep, my goodness, no, he is not asleep. Our role has proved to be an idle role.

When the stranger vanished through the doors of the little restaurant and we were seized by a desire to follow there too, we turned round and caught sight of two silhouettes that were slowly cutting through the fog; one of the two silhouettes was rather fat and tall, clearly standing out by his build; but we could not discern the face of the silhouette (silhouettes do not have faces); all the same, we did make out: a new, opened, silk umbrella, dazzlingly shining galoshes and a semi-sealskin hat with earflaps.

The mangy little figure of a short-statured little gentleman constituted the principal content of the second silhouette: the silhouette’s face was visible enough: but we did not manage to see this face either, for we were astonished by the hugeness of the wart on it: thus did facial substantia screen from us the insolent accidentia (as it is fitting that it should act in this world of shadows).

Making it appear as though we are looking into the clouds, we have let slip the dark couple, in front of the restaurant door that dark couple stopped and said a few words in human language:


‘Here …’

‘Just as I thought: precautions have been taken: that’s in case you didn’t show it to me by the bridge.’

‘And what precautions have you taken?’

‘Well, I’ve placed a man there, in the little restaurant.’

‘Oh, you’ve no business to go taking precautions! Why, I’ve told you, told you: told you a hundred times …’

‘Forgive me, I did it out of zeal …’

‘You ought to have consulted me first … Your precautions are fine …’

‘You say so yourself …’

‘Yes, but your fine precautions …’

‘Hm …’

‘What? … Your fine precautions will make a mess of it all …’

The couple went five paces, stopped; and again said a few words in human language.

‘Hm! … I’ll have to … Hm! … Wish you success now …’

‘Well what doubt can there be of it: the undertaking has been set like the mechanism of a clock; unless I stop this deed now, then, believe me as a friend: the deed is in the bag!’


‘What are you saying?’

‘Damned head cold …’

‘But I’m talking about the deed …’

‘Hm …’

‘The souls are tuned like instruments: and make up the concert – what are you saying? It remains for the conductor to brandish his baton from the wings. Senator Ableukhov must issue a circular, while the Elusive One is in for …’

‘Damned head cold.’

‘Nikolai Apollonovich is in for … In a word: a concert trio, where Russia is the pit. Do you understand me? Do you understand? But why do you still say nothing?’

‘Listen: you ought to take a salary …’

‘No, you won’t understand me!’

‘I will: hm-hm-hm – you definitely don’t have enough handkerchiefs.’


‘But your cold! … And the wild beast – hm-hm-hm – won’t go away?’

‘Well, where is there for him to …’

‘Well then, you should draw a salary …’

‘A salary! I don’t work for a salary: I’m an artist, do you understand – an artist!’

‘Of a sort …’


‘Nothing: I’m curing myself with a tallow candle.’

The small figure took out its snot-covered handkerchief and again made a squelching sound with its nose.

‘But I’m talking about the deed! Make sure you tell them that Nikolai Apollonovich has given a promise …’

‘A tallow candle is a marvellous remedy for a cold …’

‘Tell them all that you heard it from me: this deed has been set …’

‘In the evening you smear it on your nostrils, in the morning you’re as right as rain …’

‘The deed has been set, I tell you again, like the mech …’

‘Your nose is cleared, you breathe freely …’

‘Like the mechanism of a clock!’


‘The mechanism, the devil take it, of a clock.’

‘My ear’s blocked: I can’t hear.’

‘The-me-chanism-of-a …’

‘Achoo! …’

Under the wart the handkerchief again began to ply: the two shadows were slowly flowing away into the dank murk. Soon the shadow of the fat man in the semi-sealskin hat with the earflaps appeared again out of the fog and looked absent-mindedly at the spire of Peter and Paul.

And went into the little restaurant.