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  Chapter X





   For a while, two years behind the times, everyone in the city--I'm talking about Petersburg, not Leningrad--was infected with Spenglerianism.

   Thin-legged young people, bird-headed young ladies and family fathers just getting over dropsy, went about main streets and side streets talking about the Decline of the West.

   Some Ivan Ivanovich would meet some Anatoly Leonidovich,  grasp each other by the hand and say, "You know, the West, of course, is in decline, the falling apart, dear sir. The culture of the future--civilization is on the rise..."

   They would sigh.

   They would arrange meetings.

   They would suffer.

   The poet Troitsyn also believed in the Decline of the West.

   Returning with the unknown poet from a visit, hiccupping from the hefty meal that had just materialized, he ruefully whispered, "We western people shall perish, shall perish."

   The unknown poet recited:



Oh, I feel sad, sad! A thick darkness lies
Upon the distant West, land of holy miracles...


   He talked about Konstantin Leontyev and giggled at his colleague. After all, what's decline for the unknown poet? A tied score to scoff at. Everything repeats itself all over again, a turn of the cycle, dear sir.

   "Pick up your foot and take a leap," he felt like suggesting to Troitsyn. He slapped him on the shoulder, saying, "Feast your eye on the spectacle of the world," and pointed to a dog relieving himself near a gate.

   Troitsyn stopped. There still weren't many dogs in the city then.

   "Just the same, I feel sad, ...chka," he called the unknown poet affectionately. "Look at you, writing poetry, and who needs it? No readers, no audience--that's sad."

   "Write idylls," suggested the unknown poet. "You have a talent for idylls. Do your own job: a flower blooms, the grass grows, a bird sings, you should write poetry."

   They stopped talking.

   "The moon. The stars," Troitsyn sweetly yawned. "What do you say we spend the night going for a walk?"

   "Let's take a walk," agreed the unknown poet.

   In their worn-out heels and rags, the poets walked first toward Pokrovskaya Square, then to the Sands, then to the Workers' Garden.

   "You love Petersburg and have a feel for it," said Troitsyn near Kazan Cathedral, lost in contemplation of the stars.

   "No wonder," observed the unknown poet, examining his boots. "I've been present in it in the guise of four generations."

   "Four generations is quite enough to get the feel of a city, Troitsyn affirmed, reaching for a handkerchief. "But," he continued, "I'm from Ladoga."

   "Write about Ladoga. You have childhood impressions there, mine are here. In your childhood you loved the fields with cornflowers, the marshes, the woods, the old-time wooden church. I, the Summer Garden with the gravel paths, the flower beds, the statues, the building. You liked a sip of tea from a saucer."

   They stopped talking.

   The unknown poet looked around.

   "I saw a park instead of a field, a Venus without arms instead of a country girl with a tan. How in the world could I come up with a love for fields and villages? No way I could come up with it."

   They sat down on a bench near the fence around the Yusupov Garden.

   "Recite a poem," Troitsyn suggested.

   The unknown poet laid aside his walking stick.


   "Lord knows," said Troitsyn, deeply moved. "That's real Petersburg poetry. Look, can you see the moon through the ruins?"
   He stood on tip-toes on a heap of crushed stone.

   The unknown poet lit up a cigarette.

   "Don't look at the moon," he said, "it's a disturbing influence." And, rising up in front of Troitsyn, he wanted to block it out.


   In the year of Spenglerianism, Misha Kotikov arrived, was dazzled and fell in love with the strength, the pride, the world view of the recently drowned Petersburg artist and poet, Zaevphratsky, a tall, gray old man who traveled with two valets. Since the age of thirty-five, the poet Zaevphratsky had been working on his biography. For this, he climbed Mount Ararat, Mount Elbrus, the Himalayas--accompanied by a luxurious retinue. His tent was seen by the oases of every desert. His foot made its way into every fantastical palace. He conversed with every dark-skinned potentate.

   Not once did Misha Kotikov see Zaevphratsky, yet he was dazzled. Misha had reddish hair with a ruddy complexion. He was a big-headed boy, neat, with a small mouth. "Amazing!" he often whispered, hunched over Zaevphratsky's notebooks and drawings.

   When Alexander Petrovich Zaevphratsky passed away, his wife cried and wrung her hands.

   Zaevphratsky's friends used the opportunity to go to her and give comfort.

   Even Svechin gave comfort.

   But the next day he was snarling, "Idiot, bird-brain, she lies there like a log."

   And he paced all around his rather small, wooden house and trumpeted, "There he is with her, but she sighs, 'Ah, Alexander Petrovich!'"

   A year later, Misha Kotikov, as an admirer of Zaevphratsky, came to know Ekaterina Ivanovna.

   When it got around evening, he brought over some wine and treats. With her little head bowed, Ekaterina Ivanovna went on and on about Zaevphratsky. What kind of dresses he liked her to wear, what kind of hands Alexander Petrovich had, what beautiful gray hair, how enormous he was, how he paced about the room and how she, standing on tip-toes, would kiss him.

   Misha Kotikov sat, opening his tiny little crimson mouth, gazed with his crystal-clear deep blue eyes, began to stroke and caress Ekaterina Ivanovna's  hands and kissed Ekaterina Ivanovna on the forehead. 

   All the time he kept asking, "And what kind of nose did Alexander Petrovich have? And what kind of long arms? And did Alexander Petrovich put starch in his collar or did he prefer it soft? And did Alexander Petrovich drum his fingers on the glass?

   Ekaterina Ivanovna answered all the questions and began to cry. She took the man's handkerchief with his initials and raised it to her eyes.

   "Wasn't that Alexander Petrovich's handkerchief?" asked Misha Kotikov.

   She sat for a long time without speaking and wiped her eyes with Zaevphratsky's handkerchief.

   Then she handed over the handkerchief to Misha Kotikov, saying, "Keep this in memory of Alexander Petrovich."

   Again she started crying.

   Misha Kotikov neatly folded the handkerchief and quickly hid it.

   "And what did Alexander Petrovich say about art?" Misha Kotikov asked, stuffing the handkerchief into his pocket. "What was poetry for Alexander Petrovich?"

   "He didn't talk about poetry with me," said Ekaterina Ivanovna, looking into the mirror with her eyes open wide.

   She scampered up toward the mirror.

   "Look! Isn't it true I'm graceful?" she asked. She began to spread her hands, lower her head. "Alexander Petrovich found me graceful."

    "And when did Alexander Petrovich begin to write poetry, at what age?" Misha Kotikov put the question, lighting up a Russian cigarette.

    "Isn't it true I look like a virgin?" said Ekaterina Ivanovna, sitting down in an armchair. "Alexander Petrovich used to say I looked like a virgin."

    "Ekaterina Ivanovna, which table shall we set?" Misha Kotikov asked angrily, getting up from the armchair. 

    "This one here," said Ekaterina Ivanovna, pointing to a round table. "But I don't have anything."

    "I brought some Bordeaux and..., " Misha Kotikov said with pride, "some appetizers and and fruit."

    "My, how nice of you!" said Ekaterina Ivanovna, starting to laugh. "I love wine and fruit."

    "Alexander Petrovich's friends have completely abandoned me," she said, sighing, just as Misha Kotikov, standing on tip-toes, took down the wineglasses from the cupboard.

    "They don't worry about me at all. They know I have no willpower, that I don't know how to live. They don't pay any attention to me at all. They don't come by, they don't talk about Alexander Petrovich. They don't look after me. Let's be friends," she added. "Let's talk about Alexander Petrovich." 

    After finishing the wine and the appetizers, Misha Kotikov began to examine things in the room.

    "Isn't this the table where Alexander Petrovich used to write?" he asked, indicating a mid-sized round table. "Why don't you wipe off the dust?" he added.

    "I don't know how to dust," Ekaterina Ivanovna answered. "In Alexander Petrovich's time, I didn't do any dusting."

    The next day, Misha Kotikov woke up in Alexander Petrovich's bed.

    Next to him, with her mouth open and her arm sticking out, was Ekaterina Ivanovna.

    "Too bad she's so stupid," Misha Kotikov was thinking. "She can't pass on to me any valuable information about Alexander Petrovich whatsoever. Well, never mind, I'll get the valuable information from Alexander Petrovich's friends."

    "Ekaterina Ivanovna, ah, Ekaterina Ivanovna. How did Alexander Petrovich write?

    Ekaterina Ivanovna woke up, stretched out her arms, nudged Misha Kotikov with her knee, turned around on her other side and went back to sleep.

    For two weeks, Misha Kotikov kept going to see Ekaterina Ivanovna. He picked up various intimate details about Alexander Petrovich. Sometimes he took Ekaterina Ivanovna to a movie, sometimes to the theater. Sometimes they just walked the streets.

    Misha Kotikov found out everything: how many birthmarks there were on Alexander Petrovich's body, how many calluses. He found out that in 191... Alexander Petrovich broke out in boils on his back, that Alexander Petrovich liked coconuts, that from the time of his marriage to Ekaterina Ivanovna, Alexander Petrovich had a swarm of mistresses but loved her very much.

    And when he found out everything and wrote everything down, he then decided that Alexander Petrovich's mistresses must have been smarter than his wife and could give him more information about Alexander Petrovich's soul. He stopped seeing Ekaterina Ivanovna. He was such a clean boy, dressed as neatly as can be. Dirt never stuck to him, not even under his little fingernail.

    He found out that a student, X, was Alexander Petrovich's last mistress. He met her in a certain familiar building where literary gatherings were held.

    The building was wonderful. Two young ladies--and both wrote poetry. One--with haziness and melancholy, the other--with zeal and spontaneity. They both decided to divide the world in two parts: one would take the sorrow of the world, the other its delights.

   There were also all sorts of young men and women who had organized a poetic circle. They all recited poems sitting in a circle, while some stood on the balcony admiring the starry sky and the chimney pipes. And this is where Misha Kotikov met the student, X.

    He also recited a poem here, sitting on a sofa cushion with his legs outspread and his eyes closed. Sitting right next to him was the student, X, cheerful with long legs. 

    "Evgenya Alexandrovna," he said, "after the soiree, what do you say we go for a walk around the city, to the Toma Exchange?"

    "Only if we go in a group," Evgenya Alexandrovna whispered in reply.

    A group got together at two o'clock in the morning.

    The group walked past the stallions rearing up over the Fontanka. Wherever they went, Misha Kotikov looked after Zhenya. He was saying she was a wonderful and extraordinary girl. When they got near the Toma Exchange, Misha and Zhenya went off together, their heads tenderly slouched.

    Misha Kotikov turned red, Zhenichka turned pink, and they got up from the steps.

    "Tell me, Zhenichka," Misha Kotiov asked. "Did Alexander Petrovich love you very much?"

    "He promised to love me for two months, then he avoided me."

    "And when was that?"

    "February eleventh."

    "Did Alexander Petrovich talk with you about poetry?"

    "He said," Zhenya answered, straightening her skirt, "he said every girl should write poetry. In France, everyone writes."

    "And what did Alexander Petrovich say about assonances?"
    "He didn't like assonances. He said they're only good for songs."

    "Zhenichka, straighten your skirt a bit more, otherwise they'll notice."

    The young people said good-bye. The city was gradually coming back to life. Painted buildings were coming into view. The poet, Troitsyn, walked by, in the company of his pharmacist's wife. How he came to know the pharmacist's wife was unusual. Once, while he was walking by the drugstore, he saw a nice, little thing at the counter, went up and asked for something to relieve a headache. The nice, little thing knew it was Troitsyn. If only she hadn't known! Troitsyn recited poetry everywhere. He was terribly fond of reciting poetry.

    She gave him some headache medication and began talking to Troitsyn about the stars. Troitsyn was a simply unearthly man. The stars were all he could talk about.

    "Look," he would say, pointing out the window, "What a Bear."

   "And what an enormous moon," the girl answered.

    "And what clean night air," said Troitsyn.

    "And do you know my poem The Lady with the Camellias?" Troitsyn asked.

    "No, I don't."

    "Would you like me to recite it?"

    "Recite," the young lady replied.

    Troitsyn recited.

    "What poetic verses!" the girl said, falling into a trance.

    Troitsyn leaned all the way across the counter. The young lady looked at the clock.

    "My friend will come any minute. I'm taking her place today."

    "I'll escort you," said Troitsyn.

    "All right," said the young lady opening her eyes.

    A half hour later, they walked past Petrovsky Park.

    "What do you say we toss some snowballs?" Troitsyn suggested.

    Now she ran off, now he ran off. There were no passers-by. White from the snowballs, they sat down to catch their breath.

    Troitsyn looked around and saw nobody. She looked around. Nobody. They headed off farther back from the road.

    The next day, Troitsyn  was running all over town and telling everyone. For two weeks, he kept company with the druggist's wife, turning up everywhere with the druggist's wife, pulling his friends aside and whispering in their ears, "I'm tired of her. This is all perpendicular love. Like Don Juan, I'm searching for true love."

    Young people eyed the couple as they drifted off and laughed at Troitsyn.

    Misha Kotikov said good-bye to Zhenya. They agreed to meet the next day. Misha Kotikov went to see the unknown poet.

    "I'm working on a biography of Alexander Petrovich. You wouldn't be able to give me the necessary information?"

    "Hmm," lazily answered the unknown poet. "Go ask Troitsyn. He knows everything."



    The next day, Misha Kotikov was sitting at Troitsyn's place. The room was half in shadow. It smelled of raspberry jam. In the windows hung muslin curtains. A maid's room beauty was turning green on the window sill. Hung on the walls were portraits of French poets, nailed-up prints depicting Manon Lescaut, Ophelia and the Prodigal Son.

    "Here's a pen of Alexander Petrovich," said Troitsyn, as he extended a holder to Misha Kotikov. "Here's an inkwell, here's a handkerchief of Alexander Petrovich."

    "I have a handkerchief of Alexander Petrovich," answered Misha Kotikov with pride.

    "Do you mean to say you also collect poetic objects?"

   "They're things for a biography," Misha Kotikov answered. "It's important to establish in which year Alexander Petrovich carried which handkerchief. You see, you have a cambric and I have a linen. There's a connection between the things and the man. The linen reveals one texture of soul, the cambric another."

    "I have a handkerchief from 1913."

    "There, you see," Misha Kotikov observed. "But mine's a 1916. Therefore, Alexander Petrovich underwent some kind of internal drama or worsening of economic condition. Judging by the handkerchief, we can reconstruct the owner's soul and economic condition."

    "But I collect poetic objects in general," Troitsyn said, taking out a box. "Here's a lace from the boots of a famous poetess (he identified her by her first name). Here's a tie that belonged to the poet Lebedinsky, here's an autograph from Linsky, from Petrov, here it is--Alexander Petrovich."

    Misha Kotikov took the autograph of Alexander Petrovich and began to look it over.

     "And where could I get hold of an autograph of Alexander Petrovich?"

    "From Natalya Levantovskaya," Troitsyn replied.

    "Ah...," thought Misha Kotikov.


Chapter XI




    It was still spring when Teptyolkin moved to Peterhof and rented an uncommon building.

    At the entrance he began to reflect: here he'll receive his friends, walk around the park with his friends like the ancient philosophers and, walking to and fro, explain and interpret and talk about lofty matters. And coming to visit will be his life's dream, the uncommon and radiant creature --Marya Petrovna Dalmatovna. Also coming to visit will be his old mentor, the philosopher, and an uncommon poet, the spiritual offspring of western great poets, will recite his new works to them all in the bosom of nature. And other acquaintances will come. Teptyolkin began to reflect.

    When it was morning, he got up, flung open the window and started singing like a bird. Down below, sparrows were chirping, taking flight, and a thrush came.

    "What balmy weather," he thought and stretched out his hand toward the sun shining through the tree branches. "It's quiet here, absolutely quiet. Far from the city, I shall work. Here I can concentrate and not scatter myself."

    He leaned his elbows on a table.

    When it was evening, the inhabitants of neighboring dachas, becalmed Soviet bureaucrats, laughed "Ha-ha," walking the paths from from the dachas and plunging into the green of the park.

     "Ha-ha!" The philosopher has arrived. What's more, he has picked out a room!

     Ha-ha, the fool, in the morning he picks flowers.

    From day to day, Teptyolkin awaited the arrival of his friends. In the morning, he picked flowers so he could meet his friends with flowers.

    There he goes with an armful of bird cherry--Marya Petrovna loves bird cherry. There he is turning the corner with a bouquet of lilacs. Ekaterina Ivanovna loves lilacs.

    But why wasn't there a sign of Natalya Ardalyanovna? Where was she hiding?


    "We are the last island of the Renaissance in a sea of dogmatism surrounding us," Teptyolkin was saying to those assembled. "We, we alone, preserve the flames of critical thinking, respect for the sciences, respect for man. For us there is neither master nor slave. We are all in a high tower. We hear the granite sides pounded by furious waves."

    The tower itself was real, a remnant of a merchant class dacha. The bottom floor of the dacha had been taken apart by residents of neighboring houses to heat their kitchens, but the upper floor remained and it was cozy in the room. There stood a table covered with a green tablecloth. Sitting around the table was society: a lady in a hat with ostrich feathers and an amethyst pendant, a dog at her side on a chair; an old man looking over his fingernails and doing his manicure right there; a youth in a military jacket with an old-fashioned student's cap on his knees; the philosopher Andrei Ivanovich Andrievsky; three old maids and four old bachelors. In a corner, Ekaterina Ivanovna was curling her hair with her fingers.

    "My God, how few of us there are," Teptyolkin said, as he shook his graying hair. "Let's ask the venerable Andrei Ivanovich to play." He turned toward the tall philosopher, completely gray with a long bushy moustache.

    The philosopher got up, went to the case and took out his violin.

    Teptyolkin opened the window and stepped aside. The philosopher sat on the window sill, tucked the corner of a handkerchief inside his starched collar, tuned the strings and began to play.

    Down below, the last lilacs were in bloom. The room was penetrated by a violet light. Out there, in the distance, the sea was glimmering, lit up by a moon since dethroned but which, for those present, had preserved its charm. In front of the sea, fountains strove to reach the height of the moon in multicolored spurts, tailing off above in a flutter of white birds.

    The philosopher played a tune from long ago.

    Below, in the alley of fountains, Kostya Rotikov was passing by with a Komsomol boy. The Komsomol boy had the eyes of a cherubim. The Komsomol boy was playing a balalaika.

    Kostya Rotikov was intoxicated with love and with the night.

    The philosopher played. He saw Marburg, the great Cohen and his journey among the capitals of the western European world. He remembered how he spent a year on Place Jeanne D'Arc; he remembered how in Rome... the violin sang, more and more heartbroken, more and more heartbroken.

    The philosopher, with his thick, gray mane, with his young-looking face, with his fluffy moustache and his Vandyke, saw himself magnificently attired in a top hat with a cane, going for a walk with his young wife.

    "My God, how she loved me," he thought and longed for his deceased wife to be young again.

    "I can't," he said. "I can't play any more." He put down the violin and turned away into the violet night.

    The whole group went out below into the park.

    For some time, the philosopher walked without saying a word.

    "As I see it," he broke his silence, "a writer must appear who would sing of us, our feelings."

    "That's what Philostratus is," said the unknown poet, stopping and looking over a flower he had just picked.

    "Let it be as you wish. We'll call the unknown who must appear Philostratus."

    "We'll be vilified, no doubt," continued the unknown poet, "but Philostratus has to depict us as creatures of light, not some kind of devils."

    "Yes indeed. Of that you can be sure," someone remarked. "The winners always vilify the losers and turn them, whether they're gods or people, into devils. That's how it always was, and that's how it'll be with us. They'll turn us into devils, they will. Of that you can be sure."

    "They're doing it already," someone remarked.

    "Could it be we'll soon split off from each other?" Teptyolkin muttered, horrified, blinking his eyes. "Could it be we'll see each other as devils?"    

    They walked toward the Babyegonsky Heights.

    The group spread out a rug. Each rolled up their jacket into a cushion.

    "What a sofa!" exclaimed Teptyolkin.

    Up ahead, lit  by a Moslem crescent moon, Belvedere rose in a dark mass; on the right lay Peterhof, on the left a Finnish village.

    When everyone had settled down, the unknown poet began:



The strings were groaning, just like women.
You mustn't turn us into creatures of darkness...


    Teptyolkin, leaning against a tree, was crying, and it seemed to all of them this night that they were terribly young and terribly beautiful, that they were all terribly good people.

    And they got up -- partner with partner, and started dancing on a meadow spread with flowers, and the violin appeared in the philosopher's hands and began to sing so purely and sweetly. And with their very own eyes they all beheld Philostratus: with magical eyes shaded by the wings of his eyelashes, in drooping garments and a crown of laurel, a slender youth singing. And behind him, the rustling of an olive grove. And, wavering like an apparition, Rome was on the rise.

    "I propose to write a poem," the unknown poet was saying (when the vision had dispersed). "The city is being ravaged by a metaphysical plague. The signori assume Greek names and go off to a castle. There they pass the time in study of sciences, music, in works of poetry, painting  and sculpture. But they know they are doomed, that the last assault on the castle is being prepared. The signori know that it is not for them to triumph. They go down underground. There they store radiant images for future generations and come out to veritable destruction, to ridicule, to death without glory, for there exists for them now nothing but death."


    "Ugh. Isn't it the truth, I've become a complete idiot now," Ekaterina Ivanovna said, starting to latch on to Teptyolkin. "I've become a complete idiot without Alexander Petrovich and totally unhappy."

    "Listen," Teptyolkin said, turning aside to Ekaterina Ivanovna, "you're not an idiot at all. It's just the way life turns out." ("Zaevphratsky has completely depraved her," he thought to himself).

    "But where's Mikhail Petrovich Kotikov," Ekaterina Ivanovna whispered. "Why doesn't he come by and talk with me about Alexander Petrovich?"

    After a silence, Teptyolkin said, "I don't know."

    Lifting her leg a bit, Ekaterina Ivanovna started looking over her shoes.

    "You know, my shoes are cracked all over," she said, with her eyes wide open. "And, at home, there's no blanket. I have to cover myself with an overcoat."

    And she started thinking.

    "Don't you have any candies?"

    "No," Teptyolkin answered sadly.

    "But Alexander Petrovich was a great poet, you know, wasn't he? No more poets like that now." She straightened up with pride. "He loved me more than anyone else in the world," she said, and smiled.

       Musya came up to Teptyolkin in an old-fashioned straw hat with blue ribbons and touched him with her slightly shining fingernails.

    "Tell me," she said, "what it means:"



There is in statues the enchantment of wine,
The intoxicating fruits of high autumn


    "Ah-huh," Teptyolkin nodded. "Hidden in these lines is a whole world-view, a whole swirling sea of meanings, now rising like waves, now vanishing."

    "It's so nice to be with you," said Musya. "He was saying to me," she said, glancing toward the unknown poet in conversation with an old bachelor, "that you are the last remaining leaves of high autumn. I didn't quite understand that, even though I've finished the university; but, then again, that isn't taught in universities these days."

    "It isn't taught, it's felt," Teptyolkin observed.

    "Why don't we sit down on that little step," Musya indicated with her chin.

    They went a little higher up. They sat down on a step between the caryatids of the Belvedere portico.

    "How the nightingales sing!" said Musya. "Why are girls always excited by nightingales?"

    "Not just girls," Teptyolkin replied. "I've always been excited by nightingales."

    He looked Musya in the eye.

    "But I'm scared of women," he let out wistfully. "They're a frightful element."

    "What do you mean frightful?" Musya smiled. 

    "Why, they turn your head, turn your head and leave. It happened with my friends, and once they left, no way you could beg them to live together. And to think how my friends used to worship their wives and carry around their pictures in their wallets! But they always, always leave."

    Teptyolkin felt hurt for his friends.

    Musya took out a comb and began to stroke Teptyolkin's hair.

    Down below, young people were singing:



Gaudeamus igitur...


    Teptyolkin remembered finishing the university, then plunged into his childhood and, there, came across Elena Stavrogina. It seemed to him there was something of Elena Stavrogina in Maria Petrovna Dalmatova, that she was, as it were, a distorted image of Elena Stavrogina, distorted but none the less dear. He kissed her hand.

    "My God," he said, "if you only knew..."

    "What, what?" Musya asked.

    "Nothing," Teptyolkin answered softly.

    Down below they were singing:



On the Volga there's a cliff...


    In the morning, Kostya Rotikov and the unknown poet were going back to Leningrad by train. The unknown poet was unbearably sad. After all, there awaits him total oblivion. Kostya Rotikov amused him as much as he could and talked about the Baroque.

    "Isn't it true," he was saying, "you strive, not for perfection and conclusiveness, but for starting out and becoming, not for the limited and the tangible, but for the unending and the colossal."

    There was no one else in the car, and they were sitting together. Kostya Rotikov stood up and recited a sonnet by Gongora.

    The unknown poet looked on with affection at Kostya Rotikov, sarcastic and witty, a bit frivolous, reading only foreign books and somewhat condescendingly admiring the handiwork of mankind.

    "Let's keep up the struggle," he said, straightening up.

    "What's the matter with you?" asked Kostya Rotikov.

    "Nothing," the unknown poet smiled. "I've been thinking over a new Baroque poem."


    Outside the window, fields with tall grass flew by. Having appeared, Kostya Rotikov was now reading a sonnet by Camões and finding a huge similarity with Pushkin's work



For the shores of a distant homeland...


    In a car at the end of the train, Ekaterina Ivanovna was sitting by herself and plucking a daisy: he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not. But who loves her or who doesn't, she didn't know. But she felt she ought to be loved and looked after.

    In the very last car, the philosopher with his bushy moustache was riding and thinking:

    "The world is given, the world is not; reality is given, reality is not."

    Cheeva, cheeva, the wheels were turning.

    Cheeva, cheeva...

    And there's the station.

    Kostya Rotikov has a walking stick with a large cat's eye.

    Kostya Rotikov has blue eyes, almost sapphire.

    Kostya Rotikov has long, pink fingernails.

    "Where to?" the unknown poet cheerfully asked. "All the same, there's nothing to do."

    "Let's go listen to fatherland's aspens changing their language," Kostya Rotikov said with a smile.

    Kostya Rotikov and the unknown poet spent the whole day together. They walked through the Summer Garden, along the banks of the Fontanka, the Catherine Canal, the Moika, the Neva. They stood before the Bronze Horseman and lamented that the city fathers couldn't get around to cleaning off the green--the beautiful black-green patina. They sat down on a bench. They had a smoke. They talked about how the city was, from its inception, a large palace.

    They talked about books.


    A summer evening. No official business whatsoever. No university chair whatsoever. A swarm of midges circles and hovers. Teptyolkin sits in a boat and rows. Reeds are nodding on the shore. Higher up, the Peterhof Palace can be seen. On the shore stands the unknown poet.

    "You've come!" Teptyolkin cries and rows toward the shore. "Finally, you've come. If only you knew how sad I've been living here. Especially today."

    The boat reached the shore. The unknown poet gets on board, and Teptyolkin, stoop-shouldered, graying, rows away from the shore. The unknown poet steers with the rudder. The boats drifts off to sea.

    "I was thinking back," said Teptyolkin, "to when I was teaching, some years ago, at a university city. I remember the very day, the hour when we--a young woman who was a student and myself--headed off to the opposite side of a river and there, in a grove, I gave a lecture."


    Finally, in darkness, they secured the boat and went for a walk in the park.

    A pink strip of daybreak had appeared in the east when, without speaking a word, they went up to the tower.

    The unknown poet was listening to Teptyolkin knocking about upstairs in the one and only habitable room, taking off his boots and propping them by the bed, clinking a teaspoon in a glass.

    "He takes his tea cold," he surmised.

    In the morning, Kostya Rotikov saw the unknown poet napping on a white bench in the park near a large fir tree that was straight as a mast. The friends said a jolly hello and headed off toward the sea, leaving a trail of parted grass. A firm and pink Kostya Rotikov squatted in the sea. On the shore, the unknown poet naps on stones warmed by the morning sun.

    "And did you know," Kostya Rotikov said as he came into view, "Andrei Ivanovich has come to stay here?"

    Shaking his leg and drying himself with a Turkish towel, he continued, "I'll be taking lessons with him on the methodology of artistic theory."

    The stones and the sand were scorched. Kostya Rotikov laces up his boots with round toes. The unknown poet hops gleefully from stone to stone and has a smoke.

    The young people skirted the cemetery and made their way at an angle, along a path, in the middle of an uncut, fluffy meadow, littered with black bugs and greenish-metallic beetles and snail streaks, with caraway, red and white clover and sorrel, toward the road leading to New Peterhof, toward the unspurting fountains (it was a weekday), toward the statues with the peeled-off gold leaf, where an invalid selling cigarettes walks back and forth near the balustrade, a bow-legged little boy runs about hawking irises and an ice cream vendor, propped against a cooler with his legs crossed, from time to time scoops his nose with a touch of melancholy.

    The young people went into a public cafeteria located near the palace and began to eat sour cabbage soup. One plate was heavy and nautical, the other with a coat of arms. The spoons were made of tin.

    "What does Philostratus represent?" Kostya Rotikov asked, raising a spoon to his mouth.

    But, just then, the philosopher Andrei Ivanovich walked into the cafeteria, in the company of a pharmacist and a woman who was a research assistant from the local institute.

    Kostya Rotikov and the unknown poet, rising, greeted the philosopher. After dinner, they all headed for Old Peterhof to a celebration of the local institute's anniversary. But, along the way, they decided to drop in on Teptyolkin.

    At the time, Teptyolkin was sunbathing. He was sitting naked in a three-legged armchair and wiggling his toes, and smiling, and drinking tea and reading The Genius of Christianity by Châteaubriand.

    Kostya Rotikov went in first and did an about-face. He blocked the door, asked the others coming up to wait a while, opened the door a crack and elegantly slipped into the room. Teptyolkin turned red all over from unexpectedness.

    Settling down near the tower, in the garden with a broken fence, with acacia bushes and the remains of flowerbeds, the group was amusing itself. During this time, it grew even larger. A student of medium height, sitting on a stump, was playing on a comb. Another, of tiny stature, was whistling. The philosopher was sitting on a bench recently put in place and still unpainted. Next to him sat the pharmacist, his lips quivering all the time. The research assistant from the local institute sat primly on the grass. It was then that Kostya Rotikov came down from the height of the tower, arm in arm with Teptyolkin.

    The pharmacist had finally just begun to speak. He felt bad about being disturbed. He was of enormous height, dressed in starched linen and didn't so much wear his suit as give it a presentation. Right then and there, telling them to hold still, a young man with a passion for Freudianism took a picture of the whole group with a Kodak. He had even taken a few lessons in German with Teptyolkin so he could read Freud in the original.

    "Ladies and gentlemen," said Teptyolkin. "Perhaps, instead of going to the anniversary, we'll sit here a while longer, because a pupil from the city will be coming to see me an hour from now."

   While Teptyolkin was in the tower preparing a student from workers school for an institution of higher learning, the unknown poet and Kostya Rotikov went off for some beer. All the while they took turns drinking from a little glass someone had turned up, fanned themselves with their handkerchiefs,  and swatted and chased away mosquitoes.

   A man's footsteps were heard. On the road, a wrinkled gypsy woman appeared in high, blacked boots. Catching sight of the tower and the group, she quickly ran toward it.

   "Come on, I'll tell your fortune," she said. "Come on, I'll tell your fortune! Your eyes are foreign!"

   She walked among them as they were lying, sitting or standing.

   "Don't bother, don't bother," they answered her, "we know our future."

   Nobody noticed that a pupil had slipped in from the tower with Krayevich's physics under his arm.

   "La-la, la-la," Teptyolkin sang, pocketing his money and coming down the stairway.

   The sun was already setting when the group neared the local institute. They were late. The academic part was over. Music floated from a not-so-large hall of a not-so-large palace of Leichtenberg Dukes. Glass doors were opened to the park, and girls, attractive and unattractive, in carefully preserved lace dresses, were hovering near the entrance. Inside, there was dancing. Everything wore a pure and innocent character. The happy faces of young girls and young men, the ballroom pianist who kept a slow tempo, the professors sitting along the wall in dignified conversation. The group entered the hall in single file. The moon has been dazzling for quite a while now. Kostya Rotikov dances till he's soaked in sweat; the philosopher cautiously makes his way among the dancers and converses with professors; Teptyolkin emerges from the doorway to the park with the pharmacist. Moths fly about and pelt the lit-up windows.

   Darkness. The philosopher, the pharmacist and the research assistant move in three silhouettes. The pharmacist walks behind so the philosopher won't stumble, so he won't hurt himself, so one of the last philosophical luminaries won't fall astray.

   Two silhouettes and a third kiss each other at a tidy porch.

   "Good night, dear Andrei Ivanovich," they say.

   In the morning, students once again scattered about the park to collect insects, small beetles and all sorts of herbs. Some were sailing in boats around little ponds, fishing for algæ with nets in the water. It was hot. The sun was scorching. There was a smell of hay.



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