Petersburg Tatam: Tam, Tam!22

It was now late.

Sofya Petrovna was returning home quietly, hiding her little nose in her downy muff; at her back, Troitsky Bridge stretched infinitely over to the islands, withdrawing into those silent places; and shadows stretched across the bridge; on the great iron bridge, above the damp, damp railings, above the greenish water that seethed with bacilli, there came behind her in the gusts of Neva wind – bowler, cane, coat, ears, moustache and nose.

Suddenly her eyes stopped, dilated, blinked, crossed: under the damp, damp railings, bow-legged, sat a dark, tiger-like beast, snuffling and slavering on a small silver whip it had in its teeth; the dark, tiger-like beast turned its snub-nosed muzzle away from her; and when she cast a glance at the averted muzzle, she saw: that same waxen face, making its lips protrude above the damp railings, above the greenish water that seethed with bacilli, stretched forth there out of the overcoat; with his lips protruding, he seemed to be thinking some magical thought, one which had echoed within her, too, these past few days, because these past few days the words of a certain homely romance had so tormentingly sung themselves to her:

Gazing at the rays of purple sunset

You stood upon the bank of the Neva.23

And lo and behold: there he was, standing on the bank of the Neva, somehow dully staring into the green, or rather, no – letting his gaze fly away to where the banks cowered, where the buildings of the islands squatted submissively and from where above the white walls of the fortress hopelessly and coldly the sharp, unmerciful, cold spire of Peter and Paul stretched tormentingly towards the sky.

All of her stretched out to him – what use were words, what use were reflections! But again – again he had not noticed her; his lips protruding, his eyes glassily dilated, he looked quite simply like an armless freak; and again without arms into the wind flew the wings of his overcoat above the railings of the bridge.

But when she moved away, Nikolai Apollonovich slowly turned round to face her and went mincing off at a fair pace, stumbling and tripping on the long skirts of his coat; but at the corner of the bridge a likhach was waiting: and the likhach flew off; and when the likhach caught up with Sofya Petrovna Likhutina, Nikolai Apollonovich, leaning out and squeezing the bulldog’s collar in his hands, turned, round-shouldered, to the small, dark figure who had stuck her little nose so forlornly into her muff; looked, and smiled; but the likhach flew past.

Suddenly the first snow began to fall; and with such lively little diamonds did it sparkle in the circle of light from the street lamp as it danced; the light circle just barely illumined now a side of the palace, and the small canal, and the small stone bridge; into the depths ran the canal; all was deserted: a solitary likhach was whistling on the corner, waiting for someone; a grey Nikolayevka lay carelessly tossed on the carriage.

Sofya Petrovna Likhutina stood on the arch of the small bridge and looked dreamily – into the depths, into the small canal that lapped in its shroud of vapour; Sofya Petrovna Likhutina had stopped at this spot before; had stopped with him here, once upon a time; and sighed about Liza, arguing earnestly about the horrors of The Queen of Spades24 – about the divine, charming, wonderful harmonies of a certain opera, and had then sung in a low voice, conducting with her finger:

‘Tatam: tam, tam! … Tatatam: tam, tam, tam!’

Now again she stood here; her lips opened, and a small finger was raised:

‘Tatam, tam, tam! … Tatatam: tam, tam!’

But she heard the sound of running footsteps, looked – and did not even utter a scream: suddenly a red domino almost perplexedly thrust itself from round the side of the palace, rushed hither and thither, as though it were searching for something, and, seeing a woman’s shadow on the arch of the small bridge, threw itself towards it; in its jerky running it stumbled on the stones, stretching forward its mask with narrow slits for the eyes; and behind the mask a stream of icy Neva wind began to play in a thick fan of lace, black of course; and as the mask ran towards the small bridge, Sofya Petrovna Likhutina, without even having time to reflect that the domino was a joker, that some tasteless prankster (and we know who it was) had quite simply decided to play a joke on her, that behind the velvet mask and the black lace beard there quite simply hid a human face; there it was now, staring at her vigilantly through the oblong slits. Sofya Petrovna thought (she had, after all, such a tiny little forehead) that some sort of hole had formed in this world, and from there, from the hole, and not from this world at all, the buffoon had rushed at her: as to who this buffoon was, she would probably not have been able to answer.

But when the black lace beard, stumbling, flew on to the small bridge, the buffoon’s satin blades flew aloft with a rustling in a gust of the Neva’s wind and, gleaming red, fell over there, beyond the railings – into the dark-coloured night; the all too familiar trouser straps were revealed, and the fearsome buffoon became a buffoon who was merely pathetic; at that moment a galosh slipped on a salience in the stone: the pathetic buffoon came crashing down on the stone at full tilt; and above him now there resounded not even laughter at all: simply a loud guffaw.

‘You wretched little frog, you freak – you red buffoon …’

A swift female foot rewarded the buffoon angrily with kicks.

Some kind of bearded men now came running along the canal; and a police whistle sounded from afar; the buffoon leapt to his feet; the buffoon rushed to the likhach, and from afar one could see something red helplessly floundering about in the carriage, trying to pull a Nikolayevka about its shoulders as it flew. Sofya Petrovna began to cry, and fled from this accursed place.

Soon, in pursuit of the likhach, a snub-nosed bulldog ran out from behind the Winter Canal, barking; its short legs flickered in the air, and behind them, behind the short legs, on rubber tyres, in pursuit, sprawling, two agents of the secret police were already hurtling.