Petersburg The White Domino

Now it was time to leave. Most of the guests had already dispersed: Sofya Petrovna Likhutina was loitering solitarily about the emptying rooms; only the Spaniard from Granada clicked in response to her agitation his resonant castanets. There in the empty enfilade she unexpectedly saw a solitary, white domino; the white domino seemed to emerge at once from nowhere, and – now, look:

someone sad and tall, whom she thought she had seen a large number of times, quite recently, today – someone sad and tall, entirely swathed in white satin, was coming towards her through the emptying rooms; from behind the slits of his mask the bright light of his eyes was looking at her; it seemed to her that the light had begun to stream so sadly from his forehead, from his stiffening fingers …

Sofya Petrovna trustingly called out to the domino’s dear possessor:

‘Sergei Sergeyevich! … Oh, Sergei Sergeyevich! …’

Yes, there could be no doubt: it was Sergei Sergeich Likhutin; he had repented of yesterday’s scandal; he had come for her – to take her away.

Sofya Petrovna again called out to the domino’s dear possessor – sad and tall:

‘It is you, isn’t it? … It’s you?’

But the tall, sad domino shook his head, put a finger to his lips and told her to be silent.

Trustingly she held out her hand to the white domino: how the satin gleamed, how cool the satin was! And her azure little hand began to rustle, having touched this white arm, and hung helplessly on it (the arm of the domino’s possessor proved to be hard as wood); for a moment above her little head a radiant mask inclined, displaying from beneath the white lace a handful of beard, like a sheaf of ripe grain.20

Never had she seen Sergei Sergeyevich in this dazzling guise before; and she whispered:

‘Have you forgiven me?’

From behind the mask a sigh responded to her.

‘Shall we make it up now?’

But the tall, sad figure slowly shook its head.

‘Is it … you, Sergei Sergeyevich?’

But the tall, sad figure slowly shook its head.

Now they were going through into the vestibule: the inexpressible surrounded them, the inexpressible stood all around. Sofya Petrovna Likhutina, taking off her little black mask, buried her face in her caressing furs, but the tall, sad figure, who had put on his coat, did not take off his mask. With amazement Sofya Petrovna looked at the tall, sad figure: was surprised that he had not been handed an officer’s jacket; instead of that jacket he put on a torn little coat, from which his elongated hands peeped somehow strangely, reminding her of lilies. With the whole of herself she rushed towards him amidst the astonished lackeys, who were watching the spectacle; the inexpressible surrounded them, the inexpressible stood all around.

But the tall, sad figure in the lighted doorway slowly shook its head and told her to be silent.

Since evening the sky had become a continuous, dirty slush; since nightfall the continuous, dirty slush had descended to earth; fog had descended to earth, becoming for a time a blackish gloom, through which the reddish blotches of the streetlights horribly emerged. Sofya Petrovna Likhutina saw how above a reddish blotch, hunched, the caryatid of the entrance porch fell, and how it hung; how in the blotch a piece of the little house next door with bay windows and small carved wooden sculptures protruded. The tall outline of her unknown companion loomed before her. And she whispered to him imploringly:

‘I’d like a cab!’

The tall outline of her unknown companion with the flaxen-white beard, who had lowered his red-stained little peaked cap on to his mask, waved his arm into the fog:


Sofya Petrovna Likhutina understood everything now: the sad outline had a beautiful, caressing voice –

– a voice she had heard a large number of times, had heard quite recently, last night: yes, last night in a dream; but she had forgotten it, as she had forgotten altogether the dream of the night that had passed – …

He had a beautiful, caressing voice, but … – there could be no doubt, his voice was not Sergei Sergeyevich’s. And yet she hoped, and yet she wished that this (so she wished) beautiful and caressing but alien person was her husband. But her husband had not come for her, had not led her out of hell: a stranger had led her out of hell.

Who could he be?

The unknown outline raised its voice several times: its voice grew stronger, stronger and stronger, and it seemed that behind the mask, too, someone was growing stronger, immensely huge. The silence merely threw itself upon the voice; on the other side of someone else’s gate a dog responded. A street ran off that way.

‘Well then, who are you?’

‘You all deny me: I look after you all. You deny me, and then you call on me …’

At this point Sofya Petrovna Likhutina realized for an instant what was standing before her: tears constricted her throat; she wanted to fall at these slender feet and suddenly entwine the unknown figure’s slender knees in her arms, but at that moment a carriage began prosaically to clatter and a sleepy, round-shouldered Vanka21 moved forward into the street lamp’s bright light. The wondrous outline helped her into the carriage, but when she stretched forth her trembling arms to it beseechingly from the carriage, the outline slowly put a finger to its lips and told her to be silent.

But the carriage had already moved off: if only it had stopped and, oh, if only it had turned back – turned back to that bright place where for an instant before her the tall, sad figure had stood and where he was no longer, since from there now only the yellow eye of the street lamp gleamed on the flagstones.