Petersburg She Forgot What Had Happened

Sofya Petrovna forgot what had happened. Her future sank away into the blackish night. The irremediable came crawling towards her; the irremediable embraced her; and at this point receded: house, flat and husband. And she did not know where the cab driver was taking her. Into the blackish-grey night behind her a piece of the recent past fell away: the masked ball, the harlequins; and even (imagine!) – even the tall, sad figure. She did not know where the cab driver was taking her away from.

After the piece of the recent past, the whole of that day fell away, too: the scrape she had got into with her husband and the scrapes she had got into with Madame Farnois on account of ‘Maison Tricotons’. Scarcely had she moved on, seeking a support for her consciousness, than she wanted to summon up the impressions of yesterday, – and yesterday also fell away, like a piece of an enormous road that was paved with granite; it fell away and struck against some utterly dark bottom. And somewhere the impact resounded, shattering the stones.

Before her fleeted the love of this unhappy summer; and the love of the unhappy summer, like everything else, fell away from her memory; and again an impact resounded, shattering the stones. Having fleeted past, they sank away: her springtime conversations with Nicolas Ableukhov; having fleeted past, they sank away: the years of her marriage, her wedding: some kind of void tore them off and devoured them, piece by piece. And she could hear the blow of the metal, shattering the stones. Her whole life fleeted past, and her whole life sank away, as though her life had never been, and as though she herself were a soul that had not been born into life. Some kind of void began directly behind her back (for everything was falling into it, striking against some bottom); the void extended into the ages, and in the ages all one could hear was impact upon impact; those were the pieces of her lives falling as they plunged towards some bottom. As though some metal horse, clopping resonantly on the stone, were trampling the past behind her back; as though there behind her back, clopping resonantly on the stone, a metal horseman was pursuing her.

And when she turned round, she was presented with a spectacle: the outline of the Mighty Horseman … There – two equine nostrils penetrated the fog, flaming, like a white-hot column.

Bronze-wreathed Death was overtaking her.

At this point Sofya Petrovna came to her senses: overtaking the carriage, an orderly flew past, holding a torch into the fog. For an instant his heavy bronze helmet flashed by; and after him, rumbling, flaming, a fire brigade went hurtling into the fog.

‘What’s that over there – a fire?’ Sofya Petrovna asked, turning to the cab driver.

‘It seems to be: they were saying the islands are on fire.’

The cab driver announced this to her out of the fog: the carriage stood outside her entrance porch on the Moika.

Sofya Petrovna remembered everything: everything came floating out before her with a horribly prosaic quality; as though this hell, these dancing maskers and the Horseman had not existed. Now the maskers seemed to her mere pranksters, who were probably acquaintances who visited their house, too; and the tall, sad figure – he was probably one of the comrades (she thanked him for seeing her to her cab). Only now Sofya Petrovna bit her plump little lip in vexation: how could she have made a mistake and mixed up an acquaintance with her husband? And whispered into his ears confessions about some quite nonsensical guilt? Why, now the unknown acquaintance (and she thanked him for seeing her to her cab) would tell everyone utter rubbish, saying she was afraid of her husband. And gossip would start going round the town … Oh, Sergei Sergeich Likhutin: soon you will recompense me for this unnecessary disgrace!

She struck the entrance-porch door with her little foot in indignation; in indignation the entrance-porch door banged behind her lowered little head. Darkness engulfed her, for a moment the inexpressible seized hold of her (thus it is, probably, in the first instant after death); but Sofya Petrovna Likhutina was not thinking about death at all: on the contrary – she was thinking about something very simple. She was thinking about how in a moment she was going to tell Mavrushka to get the samovar ready for her; while the samovar was being got ready she would nag and lecture her husband (she was, after all, able to nag for more than four hours at a stretch); and when Mavrushka brought her the samovar, she and her husband would have a reconciliation.

Now Sofya Petrovna Likhutina rang the doorbell. The loud ringing informed the nocturnal flat of her return. In a moment or two she would hear Mavrushka’s hurried step near the vestibule. But the hurried step was not heard. Sofya Petrovna felt offended, and rang again.

Mavrushka was evidently asleep: she had only to go out of the house, and that silly woman fell on her bed … But her husband, Sergei Sergeich, was a fine one, too: he had, of course, been waiting for her with impatience for more than hour or two; and, of course, he had heard the doorbell, and had, of course, realized that the maid had fallen asleep. And – he didn’t budge! Oh! Tell me, if you please! He was still offended!

Well, then let him do without tea and reconciliation! …

Sofya Petrovna began to ring the doorbell again: the doorbell tinkled – again and again … No one, nothing! And she lowered her little head right down to the keyhole; and when she lowered her little head right down to the keyhole, then on the other side of the keyhole, just an inch or so away from her ear, she plainly heard: someone jerkily, heavily and noisily breathing through their nose, and the striking of a match. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, who could be breathing like that in there? And Sofya Petrovna stepped back from the door in amazement, having stretched forth her little head.

Was it Mavrushka? No, it was not Mavrushka … Was it Sergei Sergeich Likhutin? Yes, it was he. But why was he so silent in there, why did he not open the door, why had he put his head to the keyhole, breathing so jerkily?

In anticipation of something unpleasant, Sofya Petrovna began to hammer desperately at the prickly felt of the door. In anticipation of something unpleasant Sofya Petrovna exclaimed:

‘Open up, I say!’

But whoever it was went on standing behind the door, saying nothing and breathing so frightenedly, so horribly jerkily.

‘Sergei Sergeich! That’s enough of this …’


‘Is that you? What’s wrong with you in there?’

Tap, tap, tap – whoever it was stepped away from the door.

‘But what is this? Oh, Lord: I’m afraid, I’m afraid … Open up, dear!’

Something began to howl loudly behind the door and then ran as fast as its legs would carry it into the rooms at the back, first with a scuffling and then with a moving of chairs; it seemed to her that a lamp tinkled loudly in the drawing-room; from somewhere in the distance a table thundered as it was moved. Then all was quiet for a moment.

And then there was a horrific rumbling, as though the ceiling had fallen in and as though slaked lime were showering down from above; in this rumbling Sofya Petrovna Likhutina was struck by one sound only: the muffled falling from somewhere above of a heavy human body.