Petersburg Unutterable Meanings

A bush seethed … On the sandy shore here and there small lakes of salt water wrinkled.

From the gulf white-maned stripes came flying; the moon illumined them, stripe after stripe foamed in the distance and thundered there; and then fell, flying right up to the shore in ragged foam; from the gulf the flying stripe spread over the flat shore – submissively, transparently; it licked the sands: it cut the sands – corroded them; like a thin blade of glass, it rushed over the sands; here and there the glassy stripes splashed into a salty lake; filled it with a salt solution.

And then ran back. A new thunder-foaming stripe threw it again.

A bush seethed …

This way – over here, that way – over there, there were hundreds of bushes; at a certain distance from the sea the black and dryish arms of bushes stretched out; these leafless arms rose into space with insane gestures; a rather black little figure with no galoshes or hat was frightenedly running between them; in the summer, sweet and quietly wafting murmurs had come from them; the murmurs had dried up long ago, and now gnashing and groaning rose from this place; the mists came from here; and the dampness came from here; while fallen stumps stretched – out of the mist and the dampness; out of the mist and the dampness a gnarled arm began to wave, covered in bare branches like fur.

Now the little figure bent towards a tree-hollow – into the shroud of black dampness; here it reflected bitterly; and here into its arms it dropped an unsubmissive head:

‘My soul,’ rose up from the heart: ‘my soul, – you have gone away from me … Respond, my soul: I am wretched …’

From the heart arose:

‘Before you I will fall with a life torn apart … Remember me: I am wretched …’

The night, pierced through by a sparkling dot, was coming to a radiant end; and the scarcely perceptible little dot quivered right out on the horizon; apparently a trading schooner was approaching Petersburg; from the hole that had been pierced in the night a spark was ripening, bathed in light, like a ripening ear of grain whiskered with sunbeams.

Now it had turned into a wide, crimson eye, producing behind it the dark hull of a vessel and above it – a forest of rigging.

And above the small black mournful figure, towards the flying ghost, the wooden, many-branched arms flew under the moon; the bushy, gnarled head stretched forth into space, swaying a mesh of small black branches like a cobweb; and – it swayed in the sky; the weightless moon became entangled in that mesh, began to tremble, to flash more dazzlingly: and seemed to melt into tears: the airy intervals between the branches were filled with a phosphorescent glow that made plain inexpressible things, and from them a figure formed; – there it formed, there it began: an enormous body, burning with phosphorus, with a cloak of vitriol hue, flying away into a foggy smoke; an imperious hand, pointing into the future, stretched in the direction of a light that blinked over there from the small garden of a dacha, where the supple branches of the bushes struck at the trellis.

The small figure stopped, and beseechingly it stretched towards the phosphorescent intervals between the branches, that formed the body:

‘But wait, wait; it cannot be like this – by suspicion alone, without explanation …’

Imperiously the hand pointed to the lighted window that shot rays through the black and gnashing boughs.

Here the blackish little figure uttered a cry and ran off into empty space; while after it darted the black, many-boughed outline, forming itself on the sandy shore into that strange whole that could squeeze from itself monstrous, unutterable meanings that did not exist anywhere; the blackish little figure struck its chest against the trellis of some garden, climbed over the fence and now slipped soundlessly, its feet catching in the dewy grasses, – towards that grey little dacha, where it had been so recently, where now everything was not as it ought to be.

Carefully it stole towards the terrace, put its hand on its chest; and soundlessly, in a leap and a bound, it ended up outside the door; there was no curtain on the door; then the little figure pressed itself to the window; there, through the windows, light expanded.

There they sat … –

– On the table stood a samovar; beneath the samovar stood a plate containing the remains of a cold cutlet; and a woman’s nose looked out with an unpleasant, disconcerted, slightly crushed appearance; her nose looked out timidly; and – timidly it hid: a nose – with a short pigtail; this pathetic head hung on a curved neck. Lippanchenko was leaning one elbow on the table; his other hand lay free on the back of the armchair; coarse – the palm of his hand opened and closed; one was struck by its breadth; one was struck by the shortness of its five fingers, that looked as though they had been lopped off, with hangnails and brown dye on the nails themselves … –

– In a leap and a bound, the small figure flew away from the door; and – found itself in the bushes; it was seized by an impulse of indescribable pity; out of the tree-hollow a browless, large-headed lump rushed, beneath two branches, towards the little figure; the winds began to moan in the rotted bell-mouth of the bush.

And the little figure began to whisper desperately near the bush:

‘Why, one cannot simply … How can one … Why, nothing has been proved yet …’