Petersburg The Watch

Nikolai Apollonovich accompanied his mother to the hotel; and after that, he turned on to the Moika; there was darkness in the windows of the little flat: the Likhutins were not at home; there was nothing for it: he turned and went off home.

Now he hobbled into his bedroom; for a moment, he stood in the most complete darkness; shadows, shadows and shadows; the lace of the light from the street lamp cut the ceiling; out of habit, he lit a candle; and took off his watch; absentmindedly he looked at it: three o’clock.

Now it all rose up again.

He realized that his fears had not been overcome; the certainty that had endured all that evening had disappeared somewhere; and everything had become – unsteady; he wanted to take a bromide; there was no bromide; he wanted to read ‘Revelation’; there was no ‘Revelation’; just then a distinct, troubling sound flew to his ears: ‘ticky-tock, ticky-tock’ – he heard softly; was it the sardine tin?

And this thought took hold of him.

But it did not torment him; something else did: his old sense of delirium; forgotten by a day; and emerging by night:

‘Pepp Peppovich … Pepp …’

It was he; swelling into a colossus, from the fourth dimension he was penetrating the yellow house; and was rushing about the rooms; sticking with invisible surfaces to his soul; and his soul was becoming a surface: yes, the surface of an enormous and rapidly growing bubble, swollen into Saturn’s orbit … ai-ai-ai: Nikolai Apollonovich felt distinctly cold; winds wafted against his forehead; after that, everything began to burst: became simple.

And – the watch ticked.

Nikolai Apollonovich reached towards the sound that exasperated him; sought the location of the sound; his boots creaking, he softly crept towards the table; the ticking was growing louder; but right by the table – it disappeared.

‘Ticky-tock,’ – he heard softly from the shadowy corner; and he crept back again: from the desk to the corner; shadows, shadows and shadows; the silence of the grave …

Nikolai Apollonovich began to pant, rushing about with candle outstretched amidst the dance of the shadows; he kept trying to detect the fluttering sound (thus do children pursue a little yellow butterfly with nets).

Now he took the right direction; the strange sound revealed itself; the ticking could be heard distinctly: in a moment he would intercept it (this time the butterfly would not get away).

Where, where, where?

And when he began to seek the point from which the sound was spreading, he immediately found that point: in his own stomach; indeed: an enormous heaviness was pulling his stomach.

Nikolai Apollonovich saw that he was standing beside the night table; and at the level of his stomach, on the surface of the little table, ticked … the watch he had taken off; he looked at it absentmindedly: four o’clock.

He returned to his old idea (second lieutenant Likhutin had taken the bomb away); the sense of delirium was disappearing; so too was the heaviness in his stomach; quickly he threw off his frockcoat and trousers; with pleasure unbuttoned his starched linen: collar, shirt; he pulled off his long johns: on his leg, where the knee was, a bloody bruise was conspicuous; and the knee had swollen; now his legs had gone down into the snow-white sheet, but – he reflected, leaning on his arm; the features of the icon-like countenance stood out white upon white.

And – the candle went out.

The watch ticked; complete darkness surrounded him; and in the darkness the ticking began to flutter again like a little butterfly taking off from a flower: now here; now there; and – his thoughts ticked; in different parts of his inflamed body – the thoughts throbbed like pulses: in his neck, in his throat, in his arms, in his head; even in his solar plexus.

The pulses ran across his body, chasing one another.

And, lagging behind his body, they were outside his body, forming a throbbing and conscious contour to every side of him; half an arshin away; and – more; here he quite distinctly realized that it was not he who was thinking, or rather: it was not his brain that was thinking, but this throbbing, conscious contour outlined outside his brain; in this contour all the pulses, or projections of pulses, were instantly transformed into thoughts that concocted themselves; a stormy life was, in its turn, progressing in his eyeballs; the ordinary points that were visible in the light and projected in space – now flared up like sparks; leapt out of their orbits into space; began to dance around him, forming a tiresome tinsel, forming a swarming cocoon – of lights: half an arshin away; and – more; this was what the pulsation was: now it flared up.

This was also what the swarms of thoughts that thought themselves were.

The spider’s web of these thoughts – he realized – did not at all think what the owner of that web would like to think, or rather, not at all what he tried to think with the help of his brain, and that – it ran away from the brain (to tell the truth – the brain’s convolutions merely strained; there were no thoughts in them); only the pulses thought, as they showered diamonds – of sparks and little stars; over this golden swarm ran a kind of photopod, reverberating in it like an affirmation.

‘But it’s ticking, it’s ticking …’

Another one ran past …

What thought itself was an affirmation of the situation that his brain rejected, and with which it obstinately struggled: the sardine tin was here, the sardine tin was here; the hand was running round it; the hand had grown weary of running: it was running to the fateful point (that point was already near) … Now the luminous, fluttering pulses showered frantically, like the sparks of a bonfire if you gave the bonfire a good bang with a cudgel – now they showered: beneath them a kind of blue insubstantiality revealed itself, from which a flashing centre instantly pierced the perspiration-covered head of the person who had lain down here, with its prickly and trembling lights resembling a gigantic spider that had run here from other worlds, and – reflecting itself in his brain: –

– unendurable roars would resound, roars you might not be able to hear, because before they struck your eardrum, you would have a shattered eardrum (and a few other things as well) –

– The blue insubstantiality had disappeared with it – the flashing centre beneath the onrushing luminous tinsel; but with a mad movement Nikolai Apollonovich flew out of bed at this point: the current of thoughts that were not thought by him instantly turned into pulses; the pulses attacked and throbbed: in his temple, his throat, his neck, his arms, and … not outside these organs.

He thudded on bare feet; and ended up in the wrong place: not at the door, but in a corner.

It was getting light.

Quickly he threw on his long johns and thudded into the dark corridor: why, why? Oh, he was simply afraid … He had simply been gripped by an animal instinct for his precious life; but he did not want to go back from the corridor; he did not have the courage to look into his rooms; he had neither the strength nor the time to go searching for the bomb again; everything in his head had got mixed up, and he could remember neither the minute nor the hour when the time would expire: any moment could turn out to be the fatal one. What remained was for him to shiver here in the corridor until it was properly daylight.

And withdrawing into the corner, he squatted down.

Meanwhile the moments were slowly expiring within him; the minutes seemed hours; many hundreds of hours had already flowed by; the corridor turned dark blue; the corridor turned grey: proper daylight was beginning.

Nikolai Apollonovich was more and more convinced of the nonsensicality of the thoughts that thought themselves; these thoughts were now inside his brain; and his brain coped with them; and when he decided that the time had long ago expired, the version of the sardine tin’s having been taken away by the second lieutenant somehow diffused itself of its own accord around him in the vapours of the most blissful images, and Nikolai Apollonovich, squatting down in the corridor – whether out of a sense of safety, or out of tiredness – well, well: he took a nap.

He came to when something slippery touched him on the forehead; and, opening his eyes, he saw – the slavering muzzle of the bulldog: in front of him the bulldog was snorting, and wagging its tail; indifferently he fended off the bulldog with his hand and was about to resume what he had been doing before: to continue something over there; twirl some vortices to the end, in order to make a discovery. And – suddenly realized: why was he on the floor?

Why was he in the corridor?

Half asleep, he trudged off back to his room: as he approached his bed, he was still twirling his sleepy vortices to an end …

– There was a roar: he understood everything.

– Afterwards, on long winter evenings, Nikolai Apollonovich often returned to the heavy roar; it was a peculiar roar, not comparable with anything else; deafening and – not sharp in the slightest; deafening and – hollow: with a metallic, bass, oppressive quality; and after it, everything died away.

Soon voices were heard, the uneven thud of bare feet and the quiet howling of the bulldog; the telephone began to rattle: at last he opened the door of his room; a jet of cold wind burst against his chest; and the room was filled with lemon-yellow smoke; in the jet of wind and the smoke, he stumbled quite incongruously over some kind of splintered thing; and he more sensed than understood that it was a piece of the shattered door. There was the pile of cold bricks, there were the shadows, running: out of the smoke; singed shreds of rugs – how had they got there? Now one of the shadows, thrusting itself through the pall of smoke, barked rudely at him.

‘Hey, what are you doing here: can’t you see there’s been a disaster in the house?’

And another voice rang out there; and – one heard:

‘The scoundrels, they all ought to be …’

‘It’s me,’ he ventured.

He was interrupted.

‘A bomb …’


‘Yes, a bomb … it exploded …’


‘In Apollon Apollonovich’s room … in his study …’


‘Thank God, he’s unharmed and all right …’

Let us remind the reader: Apollon Apollonovich had absentmindedly taken the sardine tin out of his son’s room into his study; and had forgotten about it altogether; he was, of course, in ignorance as to the sardine tin’s contents.

Nikolai Apollonovich ran over to the place where the door had been only a moment before; and where – there was now no door: there was an enormous gaping hole, from which clouds of smoke were coming; if you had looked into the street, you would have seen: a crowd was gathering; a policeman was pushing it back off the pavement; and gawpers gaped, their heads thrown back, as from the black holes of the windows and from the crack that had been cut across the house, yellowish-lemon clouds ominously gushed out.

Nikolai Apollonovich, himself not knowing why, went running back away from the gaping hole; and ended up he knew not where –

– on the snow-white bed (right on the pillow!) sat Apollon Apollonovich, pressing his bare legs against his hairy chest; and he was in his undershirt; embracing his knees in his arms, he was unrestrainedly – not sobbing, but roaring; in the general hubbub he had been forgotten; with him there was no lackey … not even Semyonych; there was no one to comfort him; and there, all on his own … to the point of strain, of hoarseness … –

– Nikolai Apollonovich rushed towards this helpless little body as a nurse rushes in the middle of the roadway towards the three-year-old mite that has been entrusted to her, and which she has forgotten in the middle of the roadway; but this helpless little body – the mite – at the sight of the son running towards it – leapt up from the pillow and – waved its arms: with indescribable horror and with an unchildlike sprightliness.

And – how he launched himself into flight, leaping into the corridor!

With a cry of ‘Stop him!’, Nikolai Apollonovich ran after him: after this mad little figure (though actually, which of them was mad?); they both rushed into the depths of the corridor past the smoke and the rags and the gestures of thundering persons (some fire or other was being put out); the flickering of these strangely bawling little figures was eerie – in the depths of the corridor; the undershirt fluttered in flight; their heels thudded, fleeted; Nikolai Apollonovich launched himself in pursuit, hopping, limping on his right leg; he gripped his falling long johns in one hand; while with his other hand he strove to grasp hold of the fluttering hem of his father’s undershirt.

He ran, shouting:

‘Wait …

‘Where are you going?’

‘But stop!’

Having run all the way to the door that led to the place that had no comparison, Apollon Apollonvich caught hold of the door with a cunning inaccessible to the mind; and in a most rapid fashion found himself in that place: bolted into that place.

For a moment, Nikolai Apollonovich shrank back from the door; for a moment, distinctly engraved were: the turn of the head, the sweaty brow, the lips, the side-whiskers and the eyes that shone like molten stone; the door slammed shut; everything vanished; the door catch clicked; he had bolted into that place.

Nikolai Apollonovich hammered desperately at the door; and beseeched – to the point of strain, of hoarseness:

‘Open up …

‘Let me in …’

– And –

‘Aaa … aaa … aaa …’

He collapsed in front of the door.

He dropped his arms to his knees; threw his head into his hands; at this point he lost consciousness; with a thudding of feet, the lackeys came running towards him. They dragged him into his room.

Here we shall place a full stop.

We shall not enter into describing how the fire was put out, how the senator, in a most violent fit of palpitations, explained himself to the police: after this explanation there was a conference of specialist doctors: the doctors found him to be suffering from a dilation of the aorta. And yet: during all the days of the strike, in the chanceries, offices, ministerial chambers he made his appearance – exhausted and thin; his powerful little bass voice rumbled persuasively – in the chanceries, offices, ministerial chambers – with a hollow, oppressive quality. We shall merely observe: he succeeded in proving something. Someone out there was arrested; and then – was released because of insufficient evidence; connections were brought into play; and the case was dropped. No one else was apprehended. Throughout all these days his son lay in attacks of nervous fever, never once recovering consciousness; and when he came to, he saw that he was alone with his mother; there was no longer anyone else in the lacquered house. Apollon Apollonovich had moved to the country estate and stayed there all that winter amidst the snow, taking an indefinite vacation; and from that vacation went into retirement. Before doing so, he prepared for his son: a passport for foreign travel, and money. Ableukhova, Anna Petrovna, accompanied Nikolenka. She did not return until the summer: Nikolai Apollonovich did not return to Russia until his father’s decease.