Petersburg The Sad and Melancholy One Again

Aleksandr Ivanovich rang the doorbell a great number of times.

Aleksandr Ivanovich rang the doorbell outside the gate of his forbidding house; the yardkeeper did not open up for him; when he rang, the only reply from the other side of the gate was the barking of a dog; in the distance a midnight cockerel raised its lonely voice at midnight; and – died away. The Eighteenth Line stretched away – over there: into the depths, into the emptiness.


Aleksandr Ivanovich experienced something that resembled satisfaction, indeed: his arrival within these lamentable walls was being delayed; all night within these lamentable walls there were rustlings, crashes and squeals.

Eventually – and this was the main thing: he would have to surmount twelve cold steps: and, turning, count their familiar number once again.

Aleksandr Ivanovich always did this four times.

In all: ninety-six echoing stone steps; further: he had to stand in front of the felt-covered door; he had with fear to put the half-rusted key in the lock. It was too risky to light a match in this pitch darkness; the light of a match might suddenly illumine the most diverse rubbish; like a mouse; and something else besides …

Thus did Aleksandr Ivanovich reflect.

That was why he always lingered before the gate of his forbidding house.

And – look there, now … –

– Someone sad and tall, whom Aleksandr Ivanovich had several times seen down by the Neva, again appeared in the depths of the Eighteenth Line. This time he quietly stepped into the bright circle of the street lamp; but it looked as though the bright golden light had begun to stream from his brow, from his stiffening fingers …

– Thus did the unknown friend appear on this occasion too.

Aleksandr Ivanovich remembered how one day the charming inhabitant of the Eighteenth Line had been hailed by a little old woman who was passing in a straw hat and bonnet with lilac ribbons.

Misha, she had called him then.

Aleksandr Ivanovich shuddered every time the sad, tall figure, as he walked past, turned on him an inexpressible, all-seeing gaze; and as he did so, his sunken cheeks gleamed white in the same way. After these encounters on the Neva, Aleksandr Ivanovich saw without seeing, and heard without hearing.

‘If only he would stop! …

‘Oh, if only! …

‘And, oh, if only he would hear me out! …’

But the sad, tall figure, without looking, without stopping, had already walked past.

The sound of his footsteps receded distinctly: this distinct sound proceeded from the fact that the feet of this passer-by were not shod, like those of the others, in galoshes. Aleksandr Ivanovich turned round and tried to say something to him softly; he wanted softly to call out to this unknown Misha …

But that place to which Misha had already irrevocably gone – that place stood empty now in a bright, shimmering circle; and there was nothing, no one, except wind and slush.

And from there blinked the fiery yellow tongue of a street lamp.

None the less, he rang the doorbell again. A Petersburg cockerel answered the bell again: the dampish sea wind whistled through the chinks; the wind moaned in the gateway and on the other side of the street struck with all its might against an iron sign that said ‘Cheap Public Dining-Room’; and the iron fell with a crash into the darkness.