Petersburg What Costumier?

Nikolai Apollonovich’s lodging consisted of the rooms: bedroom, working study, reception room.

The bedroom: the bedroom was taken up by an enormous bed; it was covered by a red satin spread – with lace covers on the fluffily plumped-up pillows.

The study was furnished with oak shelves that were tightly packed with books, before which silk lightly slipped on brass rings; a careful hand could at one time completely conceal from the gaze the contents of the shelves, at another reveal rows of black leather bindings that were speckled with the inscription: Kant.

The study’s furniture was green-upholstered; and there was a handsome bust … of Kant, of course.

For two years now Nikolai Apollonovich had not risen before noon. For two and a half years before that he had woken up earlier: had woken up at nine o’clock, at half past nine appearing in a tightly buttoned-up uniform jacket, for the family imbibing of coffee.

Two and a half years before, Nikolai Apollonovich had not paced about the house in a Bokharan robe; a skullcap had not adorned his Oriental drawing-room; two and a half years before, Anna Petrovna, Nikolai Apollonovich’s mother and Apollon Apollonovich’s spouse, had finally abandoned the family hearth, inspired by an Italian artist; and after her flight with the artist Nikolai Apollonovich had appeared on the parquets of the cooling domestic hearth dressed in a Bokharan robe: the daily meetings of father and son over morning coffee were somehow curtailed of themselves. Coffee was served to Nikolai Apollonovich in bed.

And Apollon Apollonovich was inclined to partake of coffee considerably earlier than his son.

The meetings of father and son took place only over dinner; and even then, only for a short time; meanwhile in the mornings a robe began to appear on Nikolai Apollonovich; Tartar slippers, trimmed with fur, were acquired; while on his head a skullcap appeared.

And the brilliant young man was transformed into an Oriental.

Nikolai Apollonovich had just received a letter; a letter written in unfamiliar handwriting: some kind of wretched doggerel with an amorous-revolutionary tinge and the striking signature: ‘A Fiery Soul’. Wishing for the sake of precision to acquaint himself with the contents of the doggerel, Nikolai Apollonovich began helplessly to rush about the room, hunting for his spectacles, rummaging among books, quills, pens and other knick-knacks and muttering to himself:

‘A-a … But where are my spectacles? …

‘The devil take it …

‘Have you lost them?

‘Tell me, please.

‘Eh? …’

Like Apollon Apollonovich, Nikolai Apollonovich talked to himself.

His movements were impetuous, like the movements of his eminent papa; like Apollon Apollonovich, he was distinguished by an unprepossessing stature, a ceaselessly smiling face with an anxious gaze: but when he immersed himself in the serious contemplation of anything at all this gaze slowly turned to stone: drily, sharply and coldly protruded the lines of his completely white countenance, like one painted on an icon, striking the observer with an especial kind of aristocratic nobility: the nobility in his face was manifested in a notable manner by his forehead – chiselled, with small, swollen veins: the rapid pulsation of these veins clearly marked on his forehead a premature sclerosis.

The bluish veins coincided with the blueness around his enormous eyes, which looked as though they had been pencilled in some dark cornflower colour (only in moments of agitation did his eyes become black from the dilation of the pupils).

Nikolai Apollonovich was arrayed before us in a Tartar skullcap; but had he taken it off – there would have appeared a cap of white flaxen hair, softening this cold, almost stern exterior with an imprinted stubbornness; it was rare to encounter hair of such a colour in a grown man; this hair colour, unusual for adults, is frequently encountered in peasant infants – especially in Belorussia.

Carelessly abandoning the letter, Nikolai Apollonovich sat down before an open book; and the thing he had been reading a day earlier arose before him (some kind of treatise). Both chapter and page came back to him: he recalled even the lightly traced zigzag of a rounded fingernail; the convoluted passages of thoughts and his own notations – in pencil in the margins; now his face grew enlivened, remaining both stern and clear: it was animated by thought.

Here, in his room, Nikolai Apollonovich truly grew into a self-appointed centre – into a series of logical premisses that predetermined thought, soul and this very desk: here he was the sole centre of the universe, both conceivable and inconceivable, cyclically elapsing in all zones of time.

This centre made deductions.

But scarcely had Nikolai Apollonovich succeeded this day in putting away from him the trivia of day-to-day existence and the abyss of all kinds of obscurity, called world and life, and scarcely had Nikolai Apollonovich succeeded in going into his study than obscurity again burst into Nikolai Apollonovich’s world; and in this obscurity consciousness of self got shamefully stuck: thus does the untrammelled fly, running along the rim of a plate on its six legs, suddenly get inextricably stuck leg and wing in a sticky sediment of honey.

Nikolai Apollonovich tore himself away from the book: someone was knocking at his door:

‘Well …?

‘What is it?’

From the other side of the door a hollow and deferential voice was heard.

‘There, sir …

‘They’re asking for you, sir …’

Concentrating himself in thought, Nikolai Apollonovich was in the habit of locking his work room: then it began to seem to him that both he and the room and the objects in that room were instantly transformed from objects of the real world into the intelligible symbols of purely logical constructions; the space of the room blended with his body, which had lost sensitivity, into a general chaos of existence, called by him the ‘universe’; and Nikolai Apollonovich’s consciousness, separating itself from his body, united itself directly with the electric lamp on his writing desk, which he called ‘the sun of consciousness’. Having locked himself in and reviewing the tenets of his system which was being, step by step, reduced to a unity, he felt his body being poured into the ‘universe’, that is, into the room; while the head of this ‘body’ was displaced into the electric lamp’s pot-bellied lightbulb under the coquettish shade.

And having displaced himself thus, Nikolai Apollonovich became a truly creative being.

This was why he liked to lock himself in: the voice, rustle or step of an intruder turning the ‘universe’ into a room, and ‘consciousness’ into a lamp, shattered Nikolai Apollonovich’s whimsical sequence of thought.

So it was now.

‘What is it?

‘I can’t hear …’

But from the distance of space the lackey’s voice responded:

‘A man has arrived out there.’

At this point Nikolai Apollonovich’s face suddenly took on a pleased expression:

‘Ah, this will be someone from the costumier’s: the costumier has brought me my costume …’

What costumier?

Nikolai Apollonovich, gathering up the skirts of his robe, strode off in the direction of the exit; by the staircase balustrade Nikolai Apollonovich leaned over and shouted:

‘Is that you? …

‘The costumier?

‘Are you from the costumier?

‘Has the costumier sent me the costume?’

And again we repeat to ourselves: what costumier?

In Nikolai Apollonovich’s room a cardboard box appeared; Nikolai Apollonovich locked the door; fussily he cut the string; and he raised the lid; further, pulled out of the box: first a small mask with a black lace beard, and after the mask Nikolai Apollonovich pulled out a sumptuous bright red domino cape with folds that rustled.

Soon he stood before the mirror – all of satin, all of red, having raised the miniature mask over his face; the black lace of the beard, turning away, fell on to his shoulders, forming to right and left a whimsical, fantastical wing; and from the black lace of the wings from the semi-twilight of the room in the mirror looked at him tormentingly, strangely – it, the same: the face, – his, his own; you would have said that there in the mirror it was not Nikolai Apollonovich looking at himself, but an unknown, pale, languishing – demon of space.

After this masquerade Nikolai Apollonovich, with an exceedingly pleased look on his face, put back into the cardboard box first the red domino cape, and after it the small black mask.