Petersburg To a Mass Meeting

After the dank early October slush, the Petersburg roofs, the Petersburg spires, and the Petersburg domes were at last dazzlingly bathed one day in frosty October sunshine.

That day Angel Peri was left alone; her husband was not at home; he was in charge of provisions – somewhere out there; the uncombed angel fluttered in her pink kimono between the vases of chrysanthemums and Mount Fujiyama; the skirts of the kimono flapped like satin wings, while the owner of that kimono, the afore-mentioned angel, kept biting, under the hypnosis of one and the same idea, now her handkerchief and now the end of her black tress of hair. Nikolai Apollonovich remained, of course, a scoundrel of scoundrels, but that newspaper contributor Neintelpfain – he too! – was also a brute. The angel’s feelings were dishevelled in the extreme.

In order to bring at least some order to her dishevelled feelings, Angel Peri put her feet up on a quilted settee and opened her book: Henri Besançon, Man and His Bodies. The angel had already opened this book many times, but … but: the book kept falling from her hands; Angel Peri’s little eyes kept closing impetuously, and in her tiny nose a stormy life would awake: her nose whistled and snuffled.

No, today she would not fall asleep: Baroness R.R. had already inquired one day about the book; and having learned that the book had been read, one day slyly asked: ‘What can you tell me, ma chère?’ But ma chère said nothing; and Baroness R.R. shook her finger at her: not in vain, after all, did the inscription in the book begin with the words: ‘My devachanic friend’,9 and end: ‘Baroness R.R. – a mortal shell, but with a Buddhic spark.’

But – wait, wait: what are ‘devachanic friend’, ‘shell’ and ‘Buddhic spark’? Well, Henri Besançon will explain that. And this time Sofya Petrovna immerses herself in Henri Besançon; but no sooner does she stick her little nose into Henri Besançon, distinctly detecting in its pages the odour of the baroness herself (the baroness perfumed herself with opoponax),10 than the doorbell rang and in like a storm flew the coursiste Varvara Yevgrafovna: Angel Peri did not have time to hide the precious book properly; and the angel was caught redhanded.

‘What’s that?’ Varvara Yevgrafovna cried sternly, applied her pince-nez to her nose, and bent over the book …

‘What’s this you’ve got? Who gave you it?’

‘Baroness R.R.…’

‘Why, of course … But what is it?’

‘Henri Besançon …’

‘You mean Annie Besant … Man and His Bodies? … What nonsense is this? … And have you read Karl Marx’s Manifesto?’

The little blue eyes blinked timidly, while the crimson lips pouted resentfully.

‘The bourgeoisie, sensing its end, has seized upon mysticism: we shall leave the sky to the sparrows and from the kingdom of necessity create the kingdom of freedom.’11

And Varvara Yevgrafovna triumphantly looked the angel over with a peremptory glance through her pince-nez: and Angel Peri’s little eyes began to blink more helplessly; this angel respected Varvara Yevgrafovna and Baroness R.R. equally. And now she had to choose between them. Fortunately, however, Varvara Yevgrafovna did not make a scene; crossing her legs, she wiped her pince-nez.

‘It’s about this … You will, of course, be going to the Tsukatovs’ ball …’

‘Yes, I will,’ the angel replied, guiltily.

‘It’s about this: according to the rumours that have reached me, our mutual acquaintance Ableukhov will also be going to this ball.’

The angel flushed crimson.

‘Well, then: please give him this letter.’ Varvara Yevgrafovna thrust a letter into the angel’s hands.

‘Give it to him; and that’s all there is to it: you’ll give it to him?’

‘I … will …’

‘Very well then, and I’ve no time to idle away with you here: I’m going to a mass meeting …’

‘Varvara Yevgrafovna, be a dear and take me along with you.’

‘But won’t you be afraid? We may get beaten up …’

‘No, take me, take me – be a darling dear.’

‘Oh well then, all right: let’s go. Only you’re going to change; and the rest of it, powder yourself … So be quick about it …’

‘Oh, instantly: in a flash!’

‘O Lord, quick, quick … My corset, Mavrushka! … My black woollen dress, yes, that one: and shoes – those ones, any ones. Oh, but no: the high-heeled ones.’ And the skirts rustled in falling: the pink kimono flew across the table on to the bed … Mavrushka got into a muddle: Mavrushka knocked a chair over …

‘No, not like that, but tighter: even tighter … those are not hands you have – they’re stumps … Where are the garters – eh, eh? How many times have I told you?’ And the corset crackled its bone; while her trembling hands could still on no account pile up at the nape of her neck the black nights of her tresses …

Sofya Petrovna Likhutina, an ivory hairpin in her teeth, began to squint: she was squinting at a letter; and the letter bore the clear inscription: To Nikolai Apollonovich Ableukhov.

That she would meet ‘him’ tomorrow at the Tsukatovs’ ball, talk to him, give him this letter – that was both frightening and painful: there was something fateful here – no, one must not think of it, must not think of it!

A disobedient black lock sprang out from the nape of her neck.

Yes, a letter. The letter was clearly marked: To Nikolai Apollonovich Ableukhov. Only the strange thing was that this handwriting was the handwriting of Lippanchenko … What nonsense!

Now, in a black woollen dress that fastened at the back, she fluttered forth from the bedroom:

‘Well, let’s go, let’s go, then … By the way, that letter … Who is it from? …’


‘Oh well, never mind, never mind: I’m ready.’

Why was she in such a hurry to be off to the mass meeting? In order, en route, to try to find out what was going on, to ask questions, to try to get what she wanted?

And ask what questions?

Outside the entrance porch they collided with the khokhol-Little Russian Lippanchenko:

‘Well, well, well: where are you going?’

Sofya Petrovna waved in vexation both a plush velvet hand and a muff:

‘I’m going to a mass meeting, a mass meeting.’

But the crafty khokhol was not to be put off so easily:

‘Splendid: I’ll come with you.’

Varvara Yevgrafovna flared up, stopped: and stared fixedly at the khokhol.

‘I think I know you: you rent a room … from the Manpon woman.’

Here the shameless, crafty khokhol was thrown into the most violent embarrassment: he suddenly began to puff and pant, to back away, raised his hat a little and fell behind.

‘Tell me, who is that unpleasant individual?’


‘Well, that’s quite untrue: his name isn’t Lippanchenko, it’s Mavrokordato, a Greek from Odessa; he visits the room through the wall from me: I wouldn’t advise you to receive him in your home.’

But Sofya Petrovna was not listening. Mavrokordato, Lippanchenko – it was all the same … The letter, now, the letter …