Petersburg The Red Buffoon15

As a matter of fact, in recent months Sofya Petrovna Likhutina had been behaving extremely provocatively with the object of her affections: in front of the gramophone horn that belched forth ‘The Death of Siegfried’, she had studied body movement (and how!), raising almost to her knees her rustling silk skirt; moreover: from beneath the table her foot had, more than once or twice, touched Ableukhov. It was not surprising that the latter had more than once endeavoured to embrace the Angel; but then the Angel had slipped away, first showering her admirer with cold; and then again resumed her old ways. But when one day, defending Greek art, she proposed to form a nudist circle, Nikolai Apollonovich could hold out no longer: all his hopeless passion of many days rushed to his head (Nikolai Apollonovich dropped her on the sofa in the struggle) … But Sofya Petrovna agonizingly bit to blood the lips that sought her lips, and as Nikolai Apollonovich went out of his mind with pain, a slap to his face resounded in the Japanese room.

‘Ooo … Freak, frog16 … Ooo – red buffoon.’

Nikolai Apollonovich replied calmly and coldly:

‘If I am a red buffoon, then you are a Japanese doll …’

With exceeding dignity did he draw himself erect by the door; at that moment his face took on precisely that remote expression that had once captivated her, and remembering it, she imperceptibly fell in love with him; and when Nikolai Apollonovich left, she crashed to the floor, both scratching, and biting the carpet as she wept; suddenly she leapt to her feet and extended her arms through the doorway:

‘Come to me, come back – god!’

But in reply to her the exit door banged: Nikolai Apollonovich fled to the large St Petersburg Bridge. Later on we shall see him take by the Bridge a certain fateful decision (upon the completion of a certain act, to destroy his own life). The expression ‘Red Buffoon’ had wounded him in the extreme.

Sofya Petrovna Likhutina did not see him any more: in a kind of wild protest against Ableukhov’s passion for ‘revolution-evolution’ Angel Peri involuntarily flew away from the studying youth, flying instead to Baroness R.R. for a spiritualist seance. And Varvara Yevgrafovna began to call more rarely. On the other hand, frequent visits were once again made by: Count Aven, Baron Ommau-Ommergau, Shporyshev, Verhefden, and even … Lippanchenko: and Lippanchenko’s visits were more frequent than those of the others. With Count Aven, Baron Ommau-Ommergau, Shporyshev, Verhefden, and even … Lippanchenko she laughed without growing tired of it; suddenly, breaking off her laughter, she would ask perkily:

‘After all, I’m a doll – am I not?’

And they replied to her with ‘fifis’, poured silver into the little tin box with the inscription ‘Charitable Collection’. And Lippanchenko replied to her: ‘You are a dushkan, a brankukan, a brankukashka.’ And brought her a small yellow-faced doll as a present.

But when she said this same thing to her husband, her husband made her no reply. Sergei Sergeich Likhutin, second lieutenant in the Gregorian Regiment of His Majesty the King of Siam, went off as though he were going to bed: he was in charge, somewhere out there, of provisions; but going into his room, he sat down to write Nikolai Apollonovich a meek little letter: in the letter he made so bold as to inform Ableukhov that he, Sergei Sergeyevich, second lieutenant in the Gregorian Regiment, most humbly requested the following: while not wishing to meddle for reasons of principle in Nikolai Apollonovich’s relations with his preciously beloved spouse, he none the less urgently requested (the word urgently was thrice underlined) to cease visiting their home for ever, as the nerves of his preciously beloved spouse were upset. As far as his behaviour was concerned, Sergei Sergeyevich resorted to concealment; his behaviour did not change one iota; as before, he left very early in the morning; returned towards midnight; said a ‘fifi’ for propriety’s sake if he saw Baron Ommau-Ommergau, frowned ever so slightly if he saw Lippanchenko, nodded his head in most good-humoured fashion at the words ‘evolution-revolution’, drank a cup of tea and quietly disappeared: he was in charge – somewhere out there – of provisions.

Sergei Sergeich was tall of stature, had a blond beard, possessed a nose, a mouth, hair, ears and wonderfully shining eyes: but unfortunately he wore dark blue spectacles, and no one knew either the colour of his eyes or the wonderful expression of those eyes.