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Chapter XII




   Detachments of sailors swaggered through a little southern town. Tattered and tired Red Army regiments scurried frantically. Artillery and transports were being drawn. Wrangel had made a landing.

   He was 16 versts away when a ceremonial meeting opened in the assembly hall of a two-story girls' high school next to a hospital, across from a cathedral.

  Sitting at a long table that was covered with a traditional green cloth were Petersburgers. First, the newly appointed rector, leaping up, delivered a speech. Then spoke the newly chosen deans, then the newly chosen professors and lecturers. After the third lecturer, Teptyolkin rises.

   "Citizens," he says, "you have honored us with the sacred title of professors and lecturers. Up north, Petersburg is dying, from hunger, from epidemics, from moral anguish. There, the book stacks have become deserted, museums are no longer being visited. In the university, students wander, gray as ghosts. Neither dogs nor cats are there, no ravens fly, no sparrows twitter. They go all winter there without taking off their clothes, and they sit by small stoves, like Eskimos. Out on the street, dead horses lie about with their legs sticking up toward the sky, and people, utterly emaciated, bloated with hunger, cut them to pieces and, stashing hunks of meat into their bosom, slink back to their homes.

   "Here, in the midst of southern nature, in a beneficial climate, in an abundance of winter fruits, we shall cultivate an intellectual garden, plant the fruits of culture."

   Teptyolkin stops, lifts up his face and wrings his hands.

   "Here, in the south, culture will rise up in a multi-tiered tower. Southern winds will fan it, innocent flowers will be strewn upon its base, birds will fly in the windows. In the summer, we shall go out to the steppe, a whole crowd of us, and read eternal pages of philosophy and poetry. We needn't be disturbed by war and ruin. I think you feel the passion that inspires us."

   An elderly man, an expert in Sumero-Acadian letters, couldn't contain himself and started laughing out loud. A little old man with a passion for antiquity, not its grammatical formulas, but its eroticism, burst out laughing and covered his face with his hands. A biologist, a well-known Don Juan, watched ironically and straightened the part in his hair. But the whole assembly hall was applauding Teptyolkin, and in the staff room they shook his hand and chatted with him.

   On account of a brief discussion with students, Teptyolkin decided to give a course on Novalis.

   Teptyolkin's first lecture was magnificent. He bowed over a rostrum with boards in the background and, from time to time, glanced at his notes.

   "Colleagues," he was saying, "we shall now plunge into the most beautiful thing in the world. We shall step outside of a classicism that's bound hand and foot, to hear the fascinating music of the human soul, to behold with our own eyes, still covered with dew, a bouquet of youth, love and death."

   Teptyolkin's voice poured out like the song of a nightingale. His figure--tall, shapely, without the slightest stoop, his hands, joined behind his back in the shape of a little boat, his inspired eyes--everything evoked delight in the listeners. And, in the next lecture, when Teptyolkin started reading the originals and, there and then, translating them and doing commentary, drawing on God knows how many poets and in how many languages, many youths were finally astonished, and young ladies fell in love with Teptyolkin. All the studious young people were seized with a physical thirst for youth, love and death.

   Teptyolkin's lectures were crowded all winter. Now, spring had come, and weeds were breaking through between bricks in the pavement. The sun was already getting warm. Teptyolkin was already wearing his summer suit and white canvas shoes.

   When he passed by on the street, young ladies followed after him with bouquets of flowers and talked about youth, love and death. When he dropped in on young people studying, he was met with deferential bows.

   Teptyolkin became the talk of the town.

   Some students took up studying Italian, to read about the love of Petrarch and Laura in the original, others going over Latin to read the letters of Abélard and Héloise. Others started devouring Greek grammar to read Plato's Symposium.

   Teptyolkin's extraordinary lectures were being staged more and more frequently.

   "I've made it! I've made it!" he enthused and raced about the town like a conductor.

   Now he was reading with someone about love and interpreting a pregnant turn of phrase. Now, at the same time, analyzing Dante and, coming up to the middle of the fifth canto, to Paolo and Francesca, he was pacing the room, bowled over. Now he was doing commentary on Hector's parting from Andromache, now giving a lecture on Vyacheslav Ivanov.

   The university in the little town survived for one year. Wrangel was driven back, and an order was received that the university have no fewer than ten Marxists. At the time, there were no Marxists to be found. They were all busy at the front. So the university was closed. The lecture halls, which had been located in a granary, were closed. The ceremonial meetings and the extraordinary lectures in the assembly hall of the girls' high school came to an end. In vain did the beautiful climate and southern steppes beckon Teptyolkin to remain. Grabbing his things, he went back to Petersburg.



Chapter XIII




   Teptyolkin spent all summer in his tower, in the palace surroundings dear to him.

   In late autumn, when crimson leaves started whirling in the air and crackling under foot, he packed his books, his only property, into a tarpaulin suitcase. For the last time, he walked around the English Park falling into desolation, small but complex as a labyrinth. He went on to the next park, looked sadly at Eve covering her pubis with her hand. Between the hand and the body could be seen black twigs (a local children's prank). He cast a glance at Adam. The continuation of Adam's back was smeared with filth.

   He sat down on a bench. A few days earlier, he was sitting on this bench with Musya Dalmatova, but he didn't talk about love--he talked about how nice it would be to live together, about no longer being afraid of women. He remembered Marya Petrovna's golden words in reply: "A wife should behave toward her husband like a mother."

   After all, Teptyolkin needed a mom who would love him and cuddle him, kiss him on the forehead and call him her precious little boy.

   "My God, how beautiful the park is, how beautiful...," Tepyolkin whispered, getting up from the bench.

   And, even though he wasn't an aristocrat, he started to feel sorry for the aristocrats, the ruined country estates, the cows named Ariadne, Diana or Amalchen, Gretchen; all the numerous female relatives and dependents forever feeling cold in gray, brown or black shawls; the samovars, the jams, the albums, the games of patience being dealt with a trembling hand.  



   "Now, when all this has passed away," he thought, "aren't there touching rose gardens somewhere in the Kharkov region? Adolescents of the female sex reading only Pushkin, Gogol and Lermontov and dreaming of the Demon's salvation? And isn't the life of these former adolescents horrible now, when the previous way of life, for which they had been created, has ended? Aren't they besieged now by the most horrible despair?"



Chapter XIV




   Once again for Teptyolkin began the time of studies in the city libraries, the reading of letters and works by the little collaborators of the humanists, the unassuming soldiers of the army led by Petrarch and Boccaccio. He saw Petrarch together with Filippo di Cabassole roaming about the environs of Vaucluse, taken up with conversations about academic and religious questions, spending whole nights on books. Clement VI appeared, conferring a præbenda for Latin poetry, or Henri Etienne, the renowned publisher, or Etienne Dolet, who believed that God had put him on earth to extricate the French language from barbarity.

   Then, with sadness, he read the accounts of controversies. He felt that, with the utter collapse of the humanities, with the extreme scarcity of good books, only idle chatter was possible, not learned controversy.

   Sometimes he leafed through new books that were coming out. He was shocked by the form of exposition.

   "The contemporaries," he thought, "are distinguished by the impossible form of exposition, the complete absence of the spirit of criticism, utter ignorance and out and out brashness."

   Akim Akimoviches started coming to see Teptyolkin. They planted into his ear reports about his friends. One's living with his mommy and wrapped up in occultism; another--not indifferent to dogs; a third, a former drug addict, and his insights suspect in the highest degree. A fourth kisses up in foreign circles.

   Teptyolkin would laugh.

   "My friends--my chosen people, I shall never believe in slander. There is nothing higher than friendship."

   But he started to notice that a young man who was crazy about radio somehow was actually kissing with his mommy too passionately. They sit and they sit, and suddenly tongue joins with tongue, and the pressure from their tongues is so strong that both of them, the son and the mother, turn red from exertion. And he actually noticed that another of his acquaintances was on close terms with disreputable people and, upon meeting them, wagging his behind. And a third was unnaturally high-strung. But, just the same, Teptyolkin would convince himself this was all nonsense. Friendship was higher than everything in the world! Then and there, he quoted from Cicero.



   The unknown poet was waiting for Kostya Rotikov in the Catherine Public Garden.

   He stood for a while.

   He walked up and down the garden.

   On one bench he noticed Misha Kotikov with the actress B. He sits and tenderly whispers something into her ear and, noticing the unknown poet, draws a weak smile from the corner of his mouth.

   "He's still gathering biographical information about Zaevphratsky." The unknown poet turned his back and walked toward the gate.

   He bought a newspaper.

   He sat down on a bench.

   He read for a while.

   He put down the paper.

   Then he remembered the philosopher with the fluffy moustache and, in his mind, bowed before his stoicism. In earlier times, a magnificent university chair would have awaited this philosopher. Deferential young people couldn't have torn themselves from his books. But, now, there are neither a university chair, nor books, nor deferential young people.

   He yawned.

   Lazily, he thought, "It's heresy that, with the triumph of Christianity, robust, pagan poets and philosophers disappeared. Nowhere did they meet with comprehension, the most primitive comprehension, and they must have perished. What loneliness the last philosophers experienced, what loneliness..."

   He noticed Marya Petrovna Dalmatova on a bench.

   He got up. He approached.

   "What are you doing here?" he asked.

   "I'm reading your book," Marya answered, smiling.

   "You're better off reading Troitsyn. He's more useful for girls. You have the urge to read that kind of dry nonsense."

   "I'm forgetting how to talk," he thought, "completely forgetting."

   And, all of a sudden, sadly, sadly, he looked around.  


Chapter XV




   In the lowest depth of autumn, after Teptyolkin had forsaken the tower and moved back to the city, the unknown poet came into his room.

   Teptyolkin, as always during work hours, was sitting in a Chinese bathrobe. Rising up on his head was an embroidered skullcap.

   "I'm learning Sanskrit," he said. "It's necessary for me to penetrate into eastern wisdom. I shall inform you, totally in secret, I'm writing a book, The Hierarchy of Meanings."

   "Sure," the unknown poet started laughing, leaning his chin on his walking stick. "The point is, you'll be ridiculed by the present age."

   "What nonsense are you talking!" Teptyolkin exclaimed, becoming annoyed. "I'll be ridiculed! I'm respected and loved by everybody!"

   The unknown poet winced and started drumming on a glass with his fingers.

   "For the present age," he turned his head, "this is just a game."

   "Let's take Troitsyn. You can argue about his stature but, still, he's a real poet."

   "I heard Troitsyn collects poetic objects," Teptyolkin remarked, looking at the back of the unknown poet's head.

   "So what, it's from a great love for poetry. For outsiders, a great love tends to be ridiculous."

   "And Mikhail Alexandrovich Kotikov?" asked Teptyolkin, wondering.



   From Teptyolkin's, the unknown poet set out in response to an invitation received in the morning.

   Sitting on unpainted iron beds were crazy young people. One was gleaming with a pince-nez. Another was chanting his poetry with a bird's voice. A third, beating time with his foot, was listening to his pulse. In the middle sat their communal wife--a little second-year educator. A window with a flower was reflected on the apartment's bare wall.

   The unknown poet walked in.

   "We'd like to have a talk with you about poetry. We consider you one of us," they interrupted their activities.

   "Dasha, off the chair," said the man in the pince-nez.

   The educator turned and flopped down onto a bed.

   "Gompertsky." The person with the pince-nez held out his hand. "Expelled from the university for academic failure."

   "Lomanenko, rural economic planner," chirped the second with a bird's voice.

   "Stokin, future castrator of animals," the third introduced himself.

   "Ivolgina." The educator held out her hand and grazed her finger on the unknown poet's palm.

   "Dasha, make some tea," the future medical attendant rumbled, aside.

   "I want to listen." Her head twisted awry, Dasha started laughing.

   "They're speaking to you!" The man in the pince-nez squealed with a hysterical voice, did a pirouette and gracefully popped her below the back with the toe of his boot.

   The little educator disappeared.

   "I'm stuck." The unknown poet turned toward the window. "I can't talk here about the affinity between poetry and intoxication," he thought. "They won't understand anything if I start talking about the need to reinvent the world with the word, about the descent into the hell of meaninglessness, into the hell of savages and outcries and screams, to discover a new melody of the world. They won't understand that a poet, whatever the cost, has to be an Orpheus and descend into a hell, even if an artistic one, enchant it and return with Eurydice--with art, and that, like Orpheus, he is doomed to turn and see the beloved phantom disappear. Foolish are they who think that art is possible without a descent into hell.

   "The means to isolate oneself and go down into hell: alcohol, love, madness..."

   And, in a flash, there flew before him the ghastly hotels where he, along with a pack of half-crazed vagabonds, slowly climbed endless stairways lit with a nocturnal, diminished light. There were nights under the rocking of mattresses, where there were sailors, thieves and former officers, and women's legs, now beneath them, now on top. Then the battered, frightened streets around the hotel turned brighter. And once again, six years earlier, he's risking his life running on the snowy shroud of the Neva, for he has to observe hell, and at night he sees cohorts leading out people absolutely white.  



In the west, an earthbound sun still shines...  


--a poetess would say later, but he knows for a fact the old sun will never shine, that it's impossible to go into one and the same stream twice, that a new circle is beginning on top of a two thousand year-old circle. He runs deeper and deeper into the old, two thousand year-old circle. He runs through the last century of humanism and dilettantism, the century of the pastoral and Trianon, the century of philosophy and criticism, and through the Italian gardens, amid fireworks and delightful Latin-Italian panegyrics, runs into the palace of Lorenzo the Magnificent. There they welcome him as they welcome dear friends who've been away a long time.

   "How is your work there, above?" they ask him.

   He remains silent, turns pale and disappears. And now he sees himself before a misty high tribunal, standing in frayed boots, hair uncombed and out of his mind.

   "A frightful court," he thinks.

   "What were you doing there, on earth?" Dante gets up. "Didn't you offend widows and orphans?"

   "I didn't offend, but I begat an author," he answers with a faint voice. "I seduced his soul and replaced it with laughter."

   "Wasn't it with my laughter, through tears?" Gogol gets up.

   "Not with your laughter," the unknown poet, looking down, answered, even more faintly.

   "Perhaps with my laughter?" Juvenal gets up.

   "Alas, not with your laughter. I let the author plunge us into the sea of life and make fun of us."

   And Horace shakes his head and whispers something in the ear to Persius. And everyone becomes serious and terribly sad.

   "And has it anguished you that much?"

   "Very much," answers the unknown poet.

   "And you let the author make fun of you?"

   "You have no place among us, despite all your art." Dante gets up.

   The unknown poet falls down. Doormen pick him up and toss him out into a horrible city. How quietly he walks down the street! He has nothing more in the world to do. He sits down at a table in a night café. Teptyolkin comes up the stairs and approaches.

   "No use feeling sad," he says. "We're all unhappy in this world. You see, I, too, used to think I was carrying the light of rebirth, and now look what happens."

   Once again the unknown poet is back in the room.

   "You're striving for a meaningless art. Art demands something in return. It demands an interpretation of meaninglessness. Man is surrounded by meaninglessness on all sides. You've written some combination of words, a meaningless block of words put into order with rhythmicization. You have to gaze into, feel your way into this block of words. Didn't a new consciousness of the world slip through it, a new form of surroundings? For every age has its one characteristic form or consciousness of surroundings."

   "For example, concretely!" the people in the room cried out.

   "I've got to be more simple," he thought, "I've got to be more simple."

   "Windows of chests, trees of gardens... what does that mean?" he asked.

   "Nothing," they cried out from the bed. "It's meaninglessness!"

   "No," he said, groping the sheets in his pocket. "Look inside the chest."

   "Chests don't have windows," they cried out from the bed. "Buildings have windows!"

   "Good," smiled the unknown poet. "It means buildings are--chests. And what are trees in gardens? You agree?"

   "We agree," answered the people in the room.

   "What you get is: people live in buildings or chests the way trees grow in gardens."

   "We don't get it!" cried out those present.

   "So much for improvisation!"   


   "Here's what it means," said the unknown poet. "Windows of chests, trees of gardens."

   "Now, there's an item for you," muttered the people on the bed when the unknown poet had disappeared.

   "Dashka, forget the tea."

   "But, the scoundrel, what poetry he writes," frowned the man in the pince-nez. "Unintelligible and, at the same time, non-unintelligible. Just try to figure him out."

   Gompertsky went into the kitchen, sat on the window and turned toward Dasha: "Fry some eggs."

   He started drumming his fingers on the table.

   "I'm a cultured person, a neurasthenic. You have to love more than I do." He pointed to the door. "I've studied. I'm a refined character. And what are they? In the dark. Oy troo-la-la, oy troo-la-la..." he started singing.

   "And, after all, we're really your harem, Dashka. You're the sovereign around here." He went up to her.

   "Ugh, get away." She shoved him aside. "The fried eggs'll be burnt."  



Chapter XVI




    Having moved from the dacha to the city, Teptyolkin was once again giving free lessons in Egyptian, Greek, Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese. He had to uphold a culture in decline.

   Even today, on this bright autumn day, there he was in his room, family photographs in the background, poring over an Egyptian tale about a shipwreck survivor. He was figuring out hieroglyphics, writing out words on separate sheets.  




Mayor--Head of city



   And, looking out into the distance, he heard imaginary birds singing, decorated boats drifting past, swaying palms. And there arose the beautiful image of Isis, and then, of the last tsarina.

   And in the courtyard, beneath the windows, Pioneers were playing tag, blind man's bluff, others picking their nose, just like real children, and from time to time they sang:   



We shall build a new world





Over the seas we'll go


   And, along the canals, along the rivers cutting through the city, Soviet young ladies sat in boats and, behind them, an admirer in a leather jacket played the harmonica or the balalaika or the guitar.

   And, at the sight of them, the Petersburg madmen were overcome with such despondency that they cried without tears, shrugged and wrung their hands.

   And the poet Troitsyn, having come back after being seen in his little cubbyhole, was lying in bed, turning toward the wall and shuddering, as if from the cold.

   And Ekaterina Ivanovna, in her unheated room, was going around with a bundle in her hands! My God, how she longed to have a child by Alexander Petrovich, and she remembered Alexander Petrovich going with her up a stairway decked out with mirrors and pots with trees and proposing to her, and how she led him into her pink room, absolutely pink, how he used to read her poetry late into the night and how they used to sit afterward in a bright dining room. She remembered--the tablecloth was colored and the napkins were colored. And she remembered her father, a prominent official of one of the ministries. And her mother, laced up and stretched. And the servant Grigory in a new double-breasted jacket and white gloves.

   And Kovalyov, at the sight of the boats, grew old in his heart and looked around with horror and felt that time was slipping away, slipping away, and that he hadn't yet begun to live, and something inside him started shouting that he was no longer a cornet, that he would never sit on a horse, wouldn't be riding along the circular riding path in the Summer Garden, wouldn't be saluting and wouldn't be exchanging bows with elegant young ladies.

   Teptyolkin copied out a pile of words. He consulted an Egyptian grammar in German, figuring it out from time to time.

   Everything was ready, but the pupil hadn't arrived. An hour passed, another. Teptyolkin approached the wall.

   "It's almost six o'clock. Marya Petrovna won't be coming for a while yet. Tonight we'll go to Konstantin Petrovich Rotikov's to listen to music from the past," he thought with pleasure.

   The clock in the landlady's room struck six, then six-thirty.

   In Sladkopevtseva's room sat four admirers. They were drinking tea from saucers. None of the saucers matched. They were talking about the theory of relativity and, now one, now another, furtively pressed against Sladkopevtseva's foot under the table. Sometimes a spoon fell or a handkerchief rose from the floor--and a hand would clutch Evdokia Ivanovna's knee.

   These were Sladkopevtseva's pupils. And pupils, as is well known, like to look after a teacher.

   The clock struck seven.

   Evdokia Ivanovna sat down at the piano. Chibiryachkin, the widest, the tallest, sat beside her and started cleaning his enormous nails with a match.

   "When will this riff-raff go away?" He looked over his shoulder at his comrades. "Damned sons of bitches!"

   Indeed, one son of a bitch, a tall twenty-eight year-old fellow with a red beard, was carnivorously eyeing the back of Evdokia Ivanovna's head. Another, small, in high boots, was sliding a peek up her thighs. A third, fat, with a shaved head, was sitting in an armchair.

   And the landlady, playing a sentimental romance, was thinking, "Oh, oh, how thrilled I am by a virgin boy!"

   At eight o'clock Musya Dalmatova came into Teptyolkin's room. Teptyolkin took off the embroidered skull cap, wrapped his neck in a rust-colored down scarf, buttoned his overcoat all the way up.

   "I'm shivering," he said. He put on a soft hat, took the walking stick with the Japanese monkeys. Musya took his arm, and they set out.

   "Ah, if only you knew," Teptyolkin said along the way, "how beautiful the Egyptian language of the classical period is! It's not so difficult. You only have to know some six hundred symbols. Only it's too bad that, in the whole wide world, there isn't a complete dictionary of the Egyptian language."

   "And, by origin, what group does the Egyptian language belong to?" asked Musya.

   "To the Semitic-Hamitic," answered Teptyolkin.

   "And where did columns spring up from?" asked Musya.

   "From the striving for eternity," Teptyolkin answered, after reflecting. "Wait a minute," he suddenly remembered, "tree-trunks are a prototype of columns."  

   In front of the building, in one of whose rooms Kostya Rotikov lived, Musya said, "In one of the museums I used to see wonderful Egyptian ornaments: rings of lapis-lazuli."

   They went on into a courtyard that fairly reeked. At the sight of them, cats peered from an open cesspit, jumped out and ran, one after another. One cat, ginger-colored, ran across the road.

   Teptyolkin felt something unwholesome under foot. In front of the entrance, he wiped his foot for a long time with strong-smelling daisies growing in shrubs here and there.

   They went up steps with ruts. They stood there a while. They knocked.

   A tenant opened the door, a thirty-five year-old maiden with reddish hair, with a Russian cigarette in her mouth, in a deep-blue shawl with roses, dreaming of the nighttime city of eight, ten years ago. All her life she will dream of it, even as a gray-haired old lady.

   "There's someone here to see you," she said, opening the door into Kostya Rotikov's room.

   Kostya Rotikov and the unknown poet were sitting  Turkish-style on a couch and drinking Turkish coffee out of  little cups. One wall was covered and filled to the top with tastelessness. All sorts of money-boxes in the shape of a hand giving the fig sign. Ashtrays, paper-weights in the shape of a hand gliding over a woman's breast. All sorts of tiny boxes with "body movements." All sorts of pictures in gold frames draped, just in case, with crimson velvet. Eighteenth century books, stocked with engravings, that dealt with corresponding subjects and positions.

   The wall across from the couch was hung and filled with the most whimsical artifacts of the Baroque: snuff-boxes, clocks, engravings, the works of Gongora and Marino in parchments, in green and red morocco leather bindings, and lying on a magnificent bowlegged table were the sonnets of Shakespeare.

   "Around all of Europe," Kostya Rotikov continued the conversation, "you can see now an interest in the Baroque, in this style, as you said, fully completed in its incompleteness, magnificent and rather mad in and of itself."

   And they bent over a portrait of Gongora.

   "In Gongora each word is multi-significant," the poet raised his head. "He uses it on one plane, and another and another. Each line in Gongora is a poem by Dante in miniature. But what utterly desperate and blatant artistry trying to conceal the emotional turmoil; and these cheeks and neck of the beloved that once upon a time, in the golden age, were real, living flowers--roses and lilies. In order to understand Gongora, you have to be a person with a corresponding inclination, with a corresponding Hellenistic cast of mind. It's clear now, but even recently this wasn't understood."

   The unknown poet leaned back against the wall.

   Just then, Musya Dalmatova and Teptyolkin came into the room.

   "How cozy it is here," said Teptyolkin, not noticing the fig signs over the heads of his friends. "And you're sitting Turkish-style and drinking Turkish coffee. But it's full of smoke here, let me open a window." He went up. He opened a window pane. "But then Marya Petrovna will come down with a headache."

   "Have you been waiting for us for a long time?" he asked.

   "Since yesterday evening we've been here poring over Spanish, English, Italian poets," answered Kostya Rotikov, "and exchanging ideas."

   "And has Aglaia Nikolaevna come?" Teptyolkin asked.

   "We expect her any minute now," Kostya Rotikov answered.

   There was a knock at the front door. Kostya Rotikov jumped out into the hall. A minute later, slender and coiling like a snake, Aglaia Nikolaevna walked in. Lying on her shoulders was a blue fox fur. Glittering on her bosom was a large emerald, but on her ears there was nothing. Coiling next to her was Kostya Rotikov, and jumping on the other side, a little dog.

   "They're having an evening of music from the past," Teptyolkin pronounced in Marya Petrovna's ear.

   They all moved on to the next room.

   Already sitting there were deaf old ladies and old men with side-whiskers and little beards, high-stepping young ladies, overage young people trilling r's like in the day of their youth. The walls were hung with portraits in round gold frames. The grand piano was opened, the keys and the strings began to throb.

   Aglaia Nikolaevna exchanged bows.

   They presented flowers--white roses.

   She sniffed, exchanged bows, smiled.

   The thin hands of old ladies and old men were clapping.

   "She hasn't changed at all after these years," they whispered to one another, "our beloved Aglaia Nikolaevna."

   "In 191... she was N's mistress," one overaged young person whispered to another overaged young person.

   "She has a wonderful little dog," one high-stepping young lady whispered to another high-stepping young lady.

   Aglaia Nikolaevna sat down.

   Again the hands were lifted, again the keys were dropped, again pure music fluttered, like a butterfly.

   Two young ladies presented lilies.

   "Ah, Aglaia Nikolaevna," Kostya Rotikov said, "tonight you have given us sheer delight."

   The dining room was flooded with light. On the walls, imperial factory china plates, which had survived intact, with landscapes and portraits, were glittering with gold trim. Wine in bottles, vodka in carafes, wine glasses, were sparkling on the table. And, all around, there was something pink, something red, something white, something blue. There was everything.

   But the little old men and the overaged young people felt this was only a replica, that the real thing had died, that this was, as it were, a memory, always less vivid than reality. Suddenly, they felt something  missing, something missing... Moreover, they noticed that,  to throw this party, certain items from the dining room had disappeared (been sold).

   "Bring my bag," Musya Dalmatova whispered into Teptyolkin's ear. "It's in Konstantin Petrovich's room."

    In Konstantin Petrovich's room the moon was shining. The wind slightly raised the velvet that was covering some images. And that's how Teptyolkin got a look at what he shouldn't have seen. He squeezed the little bag in his hands, opened his mouth and sat down.

   "What in the world is this?" he thought. "What in the world is this! A person with such refined taste and suddenly..." Above him, ten naked bodies of men and women, in all sorts of positions, were now covered with velvet, now once again displayed.

   He felt that not all was well in the house.  

   "Snakes," he exclaimed, "snakes!" And he rushed out of the room.

   And, at the table, he thought he saw snakes with tiny green hands stooping, leaning back, guffawing, talking, bowing, lifting forks to their mouths with different-colored food, and that he and Marya Petrovna were the only ones alive.

   The unknown poet struck him in particular. He noticed that the poet was completely white, that his eyes were greenish: he was no longer a young man at all.

   "Eat, eat," said Kostya Rotikov's aunties, running around the table. "Eat, eat."

   And the crystal chandeliers were not crystal, but droplets of light over heads.  


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