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Chapter XVII




    On the black branches of city trees, the leaves, one at a time, were blazing like pure gold and, suddenly, an unexpected warmth spread about the city under a crystal clear blue sky. In this unexpected return of summer, I think my heroes partly imagine themselves as some sort of Philostratus, who falls together with the last autumn leaves, sinks together with buildings into an embankment, and goes to ruin together with a bygone people.


    "Many of us are haunted by the image of a beautiful youth," declared the unknown poet.

   "At last, I've caught on to you. You're all perverted," a laugh rang out. "That's why you're pursued by a pretty little boy."

   The unknown poet's bottle-mate turned his head on its bullish neck, slapped his knee with a pudgy palm, smiled with a plump face, and straightened his pince-nez.

   "Drink up!" he barked. "I only like women. I don't care for boys, imaginary or real. But women have nice little knobs and padding... I'd gladly wolf down a whole woman, from head to toe."

   "Apparently, you're not devoting yourself to poetry any more?" asked the unknown poet.

    "I've come on board now with a certain publishing house. I'm writing program fairy tales for children," answered the good-natured fat man, straightening his pince-nez. "The fools pay money for that. I still write some little articles in journals under a pseudonym," Asphodelyev added, savoring each word. "I praise the proletariat. I write that its day not only will come, but already has. For this, too, they pay money. I'm on close terms now with all proletarian literature. I pass for a certified critic. Comrade, another bottle," he caught the waiter by the apron.  

    The latter went lazily for the beer.  

    "If only I could be cruising now on a 'floating restaurant'..." Asphodelyev touchingly looked at the window.

   They went out.

   The cabbie drove at a walking pace over the Troitsky Bridge.

   "Why don't you write any criticism?" Asphodelyev asked. "After all, it's so easy."

   "Out of stupidity," answered the unknown poet, "and out of laziness. I'm lazy, ideologically lazy and impractical on principle."

   "Gentlemanly ways," Asphodelyev grinned. "In our time we have to put aside gentlemanly ways. Yes, you're all some kind of idiots!" he seethed. "You have no will to live whatsoever. You don't want to stand up for the present age. You don't want to take money."

   Taking hold of his amethyst, the unknown poet said, "You don't understand anything, my friend, you're a groveling animal."

   "I'm the one who's groveling!" said Asphodelyev, with irritation. "You're the one who's getting drunk on my money and talking nonsense! You're a cruel person, you ought to be ashamed of yourself lashing out at me."

   Asphodelyev hunched his shoulders, started heaving.

   "I'm bored, I'm going to watch Swan Lake," said the unknown poet. He got up, quickly said good-bye to Asphodelyev, and wanted to jump off the footboard.

   "Where are you going?" Asphodelyev asked.

   "To the Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet," answered the unknown poet.

   "Cabbie, to the Maryinsky Theater!" The hulk in the pince-nez got up, sat down again, wrapped his arms around the unknown poet.

   The cabbie headed off down Rossi Street.

   "I, too, was devoted to poetry," lamented Asphodelyev. "I love poetry more than everybody in the world, maybe, but I have no talent." He clutched the unknown poet to his bosom. They stopped talking.

   "You don't understand anything in my poetry, no one understands anything!" grinned the unknown poet.

   "What do you think you are, some kind of unintelligible?" Asphodelyev wondered.

   "There are different kinds of unintelligibles," the unknown poet answered. "Someday I'll take you to see real unintelligibilists. You'll see them extract new meaning from under the little caps of words."

   "Aren't they the green young people in little brocade caps with tassels who go by strange last names?" Asphodelyev wondered.

   "Poetry is a special occupation," answered the unknown poet. "It's a horrible and dangerous spectacle. You'll take some words, juxtapose them in an unusual way and you'll start to brood over them one night, a second, a third, you keep thinking about the juxtaposed words. And you notice: the hand of a meaning reaches out from under one word and links with the hand that has appeared from under another word, and a third word will put out a hand and you're engulfed by a completely new world opening up beyond words."

   And the unknown poet went on talking for a long time. But the cabbie was now coming up to the Academic Theater. The unknown poet jumped out of the carriage. The hulk in the pince-nez got up after him and paid the cabbie.

   In the unknown poet's pocket were: a heap of unfinished poems, an unusual pencil in a little velvet sack and a little coin with the head of Helios, some sort of antique book in parchment binding, a yellowed piece of Brussels lace.

   In a theater box, almost opposite the stage, Kandalykin was sitting with Natasha Golubyets and with a group. The unknown poet respectfully bowed, looked to the right: sitting in one row with him were Rotikov, a little further--Kotikov; in the first row--Teptyolkin and the philosopher with the bushy moustache.

   "Our entire synod has gathered today," he thought. "A trade union day. We all got free tickets from our admirers and acquaintances."  

   The orchestra lazily started to play, the curtain lazily went up, the first act lazily passed.  

   At intermission Teptyolkin paced furiously three times past Konstantin Petrovich Rotikov.

   "Degenerate, some connoisseur of art you are!"

   Kostya Rotikov's little eyes lit up his ruddy cheeks, and his tiny, pearly-white teeth were laughing.

   Kostya Rotikov got up and approached Teptyolkin. Without looking, Teptyolkin said hello and and passed him by.

   In the lobby, Teptyolkin noticed the philosopher and the unknown poet chatting peacefully on the star in the parquet floor.

   The unknown poet looked at Teptyolkin, but Teptyolkin passed by, as if he didn't notice him. 




Chapter XVIII





   Not one little leaf remained on the trees. Over limestone and asphalt sidewalks, pavements made of boards--of eight-sided and four-sided wooden blocks, of round and oblong black-gray stones, the moon now spread its counterfeit snow. In its light, massive, two hundred year-old buildings with columns, with porticoes, with friezes, were now made ethereal. In the darkness of evenings, under yellow bulbs attached to shop signs, priapic pairs, trios, foursomes drifted along the sidewalk, caressing or quarreling. By now, the winter theaters and music halls had long since opened, and in clubs, libraries, schools,  they were making preparation, routinely and without haste, for the anniversary. By now, the plump and lean proprietors of privately-owned stores had long been accustomed to displaying portraits of the leaders and decorating them as much as they could. By now, the celebration bore a public and unobligatory character.

   But my heroes were trying as before to keep their place in the lofty tower of humanism and, from there, to contemplate and comprehend their epoch. True, they no longer felt like heroes. True, the sense of duty in them was little by little turning into habit. True, the unknown poet's divinations had long since ended and, by now, Teptyolkin spoke more and more seldom and more and more fruitlessly about the upholding of culture. And the philosopher spoke more and more seldom about philosophy and more and more loudly about his youth. He no longer wrote books. At any rate, it was all the same to him--they weren't destined to appear.

   Finally, came real snow in white flakes.



   The unknown poet stood with Kostya Rotikov in the courtyard of the Stroganov private residence, looking at the deep blue snow, listening to the hum of wires that reached in from the street.

   "So, that's where you are, you snakes!" Teptyolkin spitefully hissed, appearing at the gateway.

   "What's the matter with him?" Kostya Rotikov asked in amazement. "What's got his hackles up?"

   A tall, lanky Teptyolkin jumped out from under the gateway and ran at a trot, pushing himself away from the railings, along the embankment of the Moika.

   "What's the matter with me?" he thought. "What's the matter with me?"

   And he felt at his back that his friends were running after him and dancing around, and stomping around, and waving their hands, and making fun of him. 

  "What's wrong with all of us?" He shed a few tears and ran head-on into Marya Petrovna Dalmatova. Ringed with snowy stars, Marya Petrovna was walking in radiance to Visitors Court to buy shoes. Teptyolkin calmed down and headed off with her to Visitors' Court to pick out shoes.

   "Let's go, quickly." Musya started hurrying.

   Visitors' Court was brightly lit. Under the arcade, from shop to shop, Teptyolkin went after Marya Petrovna. He pictured a high Petersburg tower, pictured himself awaiting friends with flowers. How bright everything was then, how beautiful everything was! How radiant we were!

   Troo-roo, troo-roo.

   "Ugh, these shoes won't do at all," groaned Marya Petrovna.

   Troo-roo, troo-roo. From shop to shop Teptyolkin scurried after her, as if following his star.

  He falls behind for a second and he pictures the unknown poet moving, swaying toward him.

   The unknown poet raised his head. "You will see," he says, "how the person who creates us lives."



Chapter XIX




   I awoke in a room perched over the street in a rotunda. It's quiet here. Only in the evenings, hell knows what goes on. Now some philosophizing building superintendent with a crimson nose will turn up out of the darkness. Now a dog looking like a wolf will run by, dragging a man after him. Now two passersby with raised collars will stop by a lantern and, hanging around, get a light from each other. Now, suddenly, the neighborhood lights up with loud swearing. Now, at a stairway, a man will fall asleep in his own vomit, like on a rug. But what a city it was, how clean, how festive! There were almost no people. Columns with odes flew up toward flocks of clouds. Everywhere it smelled of grass and mint. In yards, goats nibbled grass, rabbits scurried and cocks crowed.



Chapter XX




   Here I am, also, wrapped in a Chinese dressing gown. Here I am looking over a collection of tastelessness. Here I am holding a walking stick with an amethyst.

   How slowly time drags on! The bookshops are still closed. Maybe, in the meantime, I should busy myself with numismatics or read a treatise on the connection between intoxication and poetry.

   Tomorrow I'll invite my heroes to supper. I'll treat them to the wine I buried in 1917 in the courtyard under a large linden tree.

   And once again I fall asleep, and I dream that I see the unknown poet. He points to his book, which I hold in my hands.

   "No one suspects that this book arose from a juxtaposition of words. This does not contradict the fact that something's there before every artist in childhood. This is a fundamental antinomy (contradiction). Something is given to the artist outside of language but, scattering words and juxtaposing them, he will create, and then get to know his soul. With such an image in my youth, juxtaposing words, I got to know the universe and a whole world, arising for me in language, also arose from language. And it so happened this world that arose from language coincided, in an amazing way, with reality. But it's time, it's time..."

   And I wake up. It's already eleven o'clock now. The bookshops are open. They've taken books there from the area libraries. Maybe I'll run across Dante in one of the first editions or if only Beyle's encyclopedia...



   "Welcome, welcome," the bookseller started chiming. "Not a sign of you three days now. Do we have books for you. Whatever you like--on the ladder?"

   "And are these the striding Romans, the reasoning Greeks, the cooing Italians? Don't you by chance have The Life of Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus?"

   "Take your pick, take your pick."

   "But isn't it expensive?"

   "Cheap, dirt cheap."

   "And where do you keep archaeology?"

   "On the right, up the ladder. Allow me to hold it up."

   "Fine specimens you have."

   "We take good care, we take good care of our customers--whatever they want." 

   "Have you seen Teptyolkin lately? Tall, almost razor-thin, with a Japanese walking stick?"

   "Sure, sure, I know. He hasn't been here in ages."

   "And a lady in a hat with feathers?"

   "She was here yesterday after dinner."

   "And a tall young man?"

   "With an interest in drawings? He was here the other day."

   "And wasn't the young person with blue eyes, with a snub nose, asking for books by Zaevphratsky?"


   Night. Below, the white-deep blue of snow. Above, the starry deep blue of the sky.


   Here's the shovel. I have to prepare everything for the arrival of my changing heroes. My courtyard is quiet and bright. The linden tree minus leaves remembers how we sat beneath it many, many years ago--white, yellow, pink--and talked about the end of the age. Back then, our teeth were all intact. Back then, our hair wasn't falling out, and we didn't slouch.


   The place is two steps from the trunk of the linden in the direction of my lit-up window. Here. The moon is behind the clouds. Snowflakes are falling. I have to dig in the dark.


   Did I have the right place?

   Once again, two steps from the linden tree in the direction of the window.

   Once, twice.

   There, of course, there! Further down?


   At last!

   I have to fill it in and tamp it down. The snow will cover everything.

   With box and shovel, I went up the stairs like a sleepwalker. I turned my head and probed the darkness to see if there wasn't somebody in the courtyard

   There was nobody.


   I placed the wine in bottles on the table. I tidy up the room for the arrival of my friends.

   The unknown poet came first, limping, with an overhanging forehead, with the lower part of his face almost atrophied, and went to look over my books.

   "We all love books," he said quietly. "Philological education and interests--it's that which distinguishes us from the new people."

   I invited my hero to sit down.

   "I would venture," he began, "that the danger threatening the remnants of humanism is not from here, but from the new continent. That Europe is threatened by the former European colonies. It's curious that America originally appeared before Europe as a primitive land, then as the land of freedom, then as the land of productivity."

   An hour later, all my heroes had gathered and we sat down at the table.

   "You know," I turned to the unknown poet, "I was sort of trailing you and Teptyolkin at night."

   "Mentally, you've always been trailing us," he interrupted and looked at me.

   "We are in Rome," he began. "Undoubtedly in Rome and in intoxication. I felt this, and the words tell me this at night."

   He raised the Apuleian drinking-horn.

   "To Julia Domna!" He tilted his head and, halting, drank.

   Rotikov elegantly rose: "To refined art!"

   Kotikov leaped up: "To literary scholarship!"

   Troitsyn shed a few tears: "To darling France!"

   Teptyolkin raised a goblet from the time of the Renaissance. Everything fell silent.

   "I drink to the destruction of the XVth century," he wheezed, spread out his fingers and dropped the goblet.

   I gave out to my heroes engravings by Piranesi.

   Everyone plunged into grief. Only Ekaterina Ivanovna didn't understand.

   "Why are you so sad," she cried out, "Why are you so cheerless!"



   The stove was gleaming, shooting out sparks. My friends and I were sitting in front of it on a carpet, in a semicircle.

   There was a pile of apples on a shattered plate.

   In front of almost everyone were empty cigarette packs and piles of cigarette butts. Neither my friends nor I knew whether the night was still going or if morning had arrived.

   Rotikov got up.

   "Let's start a circular story," he proposed.

   I got up, lit a candle.

   Sitting down in an armchair, he began, "Ever since childhood, I had been fascinated by tastelessness. I'm convinced it has its own laws, its own style. One day I found out that a certain former Privy Councilor's wife was going to sell the furniture in her room. I lost no time. Just imagine a former smoking room in the home of an official, a Turkish divan, a whole set of ashtrays in the shape of shells, the palm of hand, leaves, now on high, now on low tables, ottomans, a desk which remained, no one knows what for. The walls were decorated with pictures of actresses in Parisian theater of the light variety. Bowing, I went in. On the divan a charming creature was singing and playing the guitar. Her magnificent bluish skirts of the last century were trimmed with golden bees, her feet in little dull satin shoes! 'You're a marvelous Privy Councilor's wife,' I said with a bow. 'Oh no,' she started to laugh, 'I'm a youngster!' And, with her eyes, she pointed to the ottoman next to the divan. 'Aren't you cold?' she asked and, without waiting for an answer, wrapped me up in a cashmere shawl.

   "Lowering her head, she started looking through little book with talking flowers: 'The time of charming Nana, the lady with the camellias, has passed,' she interrupted the silence and smoothed out her fluffy hair. 'You are trying,' she said, 'to revive that bygone, frivolous and carefree time.'"

   The unknown poet sat down in the armchair: 

   "Still, she was a girl. Deep in the snowy Petersburg night, she spent her early youth strolling the sidewalk. She loved silvery houses, fancy carriages, fiddlers in cafés and an English war song."

   The unknown poet smiled, rose from the armchair and went up to the fire.

   Troitsyn sat down in the armchair and continued: 

   "After a look at me, she opened her fan. She was born not far from Kiev, on a small estate."

   Troitsyn gave up his place. Kotikov pompously sat down in the armchair: 

   "And, evenings, her mother talked to her about Paris, about the Champs Elysées and about cabriolets, and, at age 16, she ran off to Petersburg with a ballet dancer. She loved Petersburg like a northern Paris."

   Teptyolkin gave a start.

   "Petersburg is the center of humanism," he broke in from his place.

   "It's the center of Hellenism," the unknown poet interrupted.

   Kostya Rotikov turned over on the carpet.

   "How interesting," Ekaterina Ivanovna clapped her hands. "What a fantastical story is coming out!"

   The philosopher took the violin, sat in the armchair and, instead of going on with the story, reflected for minute. Then he got up, started playing a café chantant number, beating time with his foot.

   Teptyolkin, horrified, opened his eyes, enormous enough already, and thrust his arms out at the philosopher.

   "Don't! Don't," the arms seemed to say.

   And the philosopher, not noticing what had happened, was now playing a pure, beautiful melody, and his round face with the fluffy moustache was meaningful and sad.

   I went up to a mirror. The candles were burning low. In the mirror, I could see my heroes sitting in a semicircle, and the next room, and standing in it by the window, Teptyolkin, blowing his nose and looking at us.

   I lifted the blind.

   By now, a dark morning had arrived. By now, I could hear factory whistles. And I see my heroes fade and, one after another, disappear.



Chapter XXI




   Back at home, Teptyolkin opened a carved box, took out a fifteenth century statuette, placed it on a little chest. It so happened the little chest served as a pedestal.

   "Deliver me from temptation, give me the strength to see the world as beautiful." He bowed his head, and when he raised his eyes, he thought the statuette had the face, not of Elena Stavrogina, but of Marya Petrovna Dalmatova.

   Tetyolkin remained deep in thought all night long.

   By now, the canary was singing in Sladkopevtseva's room. Back from carousing with her friends, Sladkopevtseva was looking for a drink of water. Her shoes were now shuffling about the rooms, but Teptyolkin was still pursuing the image of a bygone world, when he was young, truly young.

   Toward morning, humanism grew dim, and only the image of Marya Petrovna was shining and guiding Teptyolkin in the dense wood of life.



   Toward evening Teptyolkin was sitting by the table and going through some kind of torment. He recalled that some great people had lived a life of abstinence.

   "So how will I," Teptyolkin thought, "give into temptation and get married? And, maybe, nature hasn't made me for that at all. I'll get married--and my memory will grow faint, the hazy and wonderful daydreams will vanish, these bright morning hours and quiet nights will vanish. A woman will grow old alongside me, and I'll notice that I, too, am getting old. Yes, it's a difficult question." Teptyolkin started pacing the room. "But maybe I won't have the strength to marry, maybe I'm not a man. Maybe my body hasn't matured. All right, I'll get married, but then the horror..."

   He became terrified. He mechanically opened the door, but no one came in.

   Teptyolkin poured out some cold tea, drank it in one gulp.

   "And maybe all my manly strength has gone into the mind. What's to be done, what's to be done?" He closed the door. "I want to get married, but maybe my body doesn't. But some mature very late. Maybe I, too, shall mature someday."

   In the darkness, Teptyolkin started pacing the room even more rapidly.

   Below, in a ruined cellar, workers were boiling soap. Acrid steam pierced through the cracks in the floor. Outside, behind a locked gateway, the janitor was on the curbstone reading Tarzan, holding the book up to his eyes.

   And there and then appeared in Teptyolkin's room an extraordinary twenty-three year-old girl--Marya Petrovna Dalmatovna. In a straw hat, it seemed, she was plucking flowers from a red-planked floor, holding them out to Teptyolkin. Teptyolkin was bowing, lifting them to his nose, devoutly kissing. Then she started to dance, and Teptyolkin heard extraordinary voices and saw that a little stem was trembling in her hands and a bud was ripening, a blue flower coming into bloom.

   "Oh, how depraved my brain is." Teptyolkin started pacing the room.

   Just then, the janitor on duty finished reading Tarzan, walked around in front of the building, sat down again on the curbstone and dozed off...

   Teptyolkin appeared in the window.

   "What stars," he thought. "And, under a starry sky like that, I'm haunted by these kinds of filthy things. I'm probably the filthiest person in the world."



   Teptyolkin came out of his building. The windows of apartment blocks were lit up from inside with a light, now harsh, now sentimental, now indifferent. In his autumn coat, Teptyolkin walks in fits and starts. On this night he will determine whether or not he's a man, and whether he can marry, join in matrimony with Marya Petrovna Dalmatova. Teptyolkin walks, or hurries, from LaSalle Street toward October Station. Sometimes he stops for a moment in the middle of the pavement. Sometimes he runs ahead of passersby and does what he has never done up to now--peep under women's hats.

   He's looking for the most deformed, so there can't be even a question of love. He stops. Little more than children, they offer him their services, with a slatternly turn of the eyes, with a filthy little smirk, with exaggerated, childish movements.

   He cowers before them and, putting aside their sweet talk, they will shower him with abuse and hurry off. Sometimes a creature in worn-down heals, with a scarcity of rouge on her cheeks, with an unimaginably yellow ermine around her neck, runs ahead of Teptyolkin and, trying to uphold bygone dignity, will whisper, "First gateway on the right."

   Finally, he sees what he needs. Coming out of a tavern not far from Ligovka is a woman, stout, strong-boned, big-toothed.

   "Do you believe in God?" Teptyolkin appeals to her.

   "Of course, I believe!" The woman makes the sign of the cross.

   "Let's go, let's go." Teptyolkin drags her briskly down along Nevsky.

   "I won't go for less than three rubles!" she declares, sullenly looking over the figure of Teptyolkin.

   "Fine with me, it makes no difference," Teptyolkin affirms and drags her along Nevsky by the shirtsleeve.

   "Where are you dragging me? I live right around here. And hell knows where you're dragging me."

   The woman stops and holds out her hand.

   "I'll go to your place later--later, but first you have to swear."

   "Wait a second! Are you drunk or something? What else do you need me to swear to?"

   And with amazement, almost with fright, she stared into Teptyolkin's quivering face.

   "Everything depends on this night," Teptyolkin whispered without hearing. "My whole life from now on depends on this night! I want to get married," Teptyolkin groaned from deep down inside. "Get married! Tonight is the test. I'm at the crossroads, at the frightful crossroads. If I prove to be a man, I shall marry Marya Petrovna, if not--I shall be a eunuch, a frightful eunuch from learning!"

   "What's with the whispering!" the woman cries out. "Are we going to stand out on the street all night?"

   "Let's go, let's go." Teptyolkin started to hurry. "Let's go."

   "And I'm supposed to think you're taking me to a cathedral?" the woman asked, her yellow eyes agape.

   But Teptyolkin was already dragging her to a wall that was glimmering with an icon.

   "Swear that you're not infected." He stopped in front of the icon. "Swear!" he screamed at the top of his voice.

   "Yikes! What a sicko!" the woman said angrily and, hoisting her skirt, disappeared down a stairwell.



   Marya Petrovna was sitting at a little table in her room with prim curtains and telling her fortune with cards. Outside the window it was night. Behind her back on the wall was a photo.

   Walking around the chair in which she was sitting was the cat, Zolushka.

   Marya Petrovna stopped telling her fortune and plunged back into the memory of a singing school from the time of War Communism, long since closed. Didn't she dream of becoming a splendid singer! Here she is standing by a piano and singing, and there, an enthusiastic public. The doors are bursting with her public, the walls breaking apart. They present Marya Petrovna with candy, flowers and other things. Marya Petrovna started thinking, leaned on her elbow and plunged back to the university she recently finished, with its arcades, corridors, with numerous auditoriums, with professors and students. Didn't she dream of becoming an educated woman, writing books about literature, talking in a circle of professors listening attentively?

   Outside, it's deserted now and only police officers, neatly dressed, whistle back and forth to each other, then walk in pairs and converse.

   With the cards Marya Petrovna tells who she will be. She sees Teptyolkin. He's standing below, pathetic, cold, looking at the lit-up window of the room where she sits and tells her fortune.

   "Darling, of course, darling!" She starts to feel warm and cozy.

   Leaves are rustling, bats fly about. She and Teptyolkin walk toward the sea, sit down on a bench. Standing up under a silvery moon, she sings like a real singer who has come from abroad on tour, and Teptyolkin listens, sitting and looking at the sea.

   She cast a glance out the window to see if Teptyolkin is there. He is.

   It seems to her it's a clear morning. Teptyolkin sits and works. She stands, ironing starched underwear for him. Marya Petrovna cast a glance out the window. Is Teptyolkin there? He is.

   And she thought his eyes were mournful.


   "But how in the world am I going to I pull off a wedding?" Returning, he sat down on the bed late at night. The blanket was lying on the floor, his graying hair was standing on end. The wall was glimmering with moonlight. The moon flooded the whole room. "If I'm an honest man, I should marry Marya Petrovna Dalmatova. After all, a girl can't be strung along for a whole year."

   He got up in his shirt. The shirt was longer in the front, shorter in the back. He took a candle from the chest, lit it and waited till it flamed. Finally, the candle started shining like a star.

   "I need some diversion," he thought. He wrapped himself up in the blanket, sat down at the table, started to compare Pushkin against André Chénier.


          Toujours ce souvenier m'attendrit et me touche


   He read and was unintentionally diverted from the comparison: quiet trees, covered with yellow, reddish leaves, were rippling overhead. Marya Petrovna was sitting below. In the distance, the sea was swaying, and the wind was singing.

   Toward morning there appeared to Teptyolkin a garden as quiet as could be. There's sun inside churches. There are monks blowing their noses into their arms, flowering oleanders, a gentle rose-colored sea, bells coughing like wakening consumptives, a grapevine still covered with dew, tea in a saucer, the grunting of pigs lying about behind a fence. And he thought he believed in the devil and in temptation. He'd like to go away from here, sit down on a high, majestic mountain and look at the whole world and enjoy himself. And he thought the demons would be sure to surround him there, but he would turn his back and refuse--"I don't want to go with you," he'll say. "I'm not of your ilk. I fought against you all my life." And the devils leap up and start yelling at him: "Look at you, you overaged kid!" And Teptyolkin even caught sight of the unknown poet coming forward, seemingly at the head of the demons, and coiling next to him, at his sides are Kostya Rotikov and Misha Kotikov.

   "Vanish, ye accursed!" Jumping up, Teptyolkin began stomping. On the table are coffee and bread and butter, and by the bed stands the landlady.

   "You were groaning in your sleep, but what a morning it is!"

   Indeed, above the geranium placed on the windowsill, a winter sky appears, crystal clear and dazzling.

   "You're a kid, nothing but a kid." Silent for a while, the landlady took a breath. "Even though you're turning gray. When I leave, now, you'll probably jump up again, grab a book from the shelf and be pleased as punch."

   And she snuck to the door, rustling by with her dress, like the tail of a snake.


Chapter XXII




   Teptyolkin made his way along a frozen sidewalk. He walked past a nighttime eating-place. He heard music.

   "Probably, little flutists are playing there now." He passed by mime actresses, rather unruly corpulent gals who were mouthing off with some choice words . "The dialect of robbers' dens," he decided. "It's interesting to analyze from where and how this dialect appeared."

   He went back in his mind to XIII century France, when argot was created. Foul language circled around Teptyolkin and fell.

   Running up the steps into a murky door and running out were people who had acquired the smell of boots, "Sappho" cigarettes and wine. Off to the side, a man was beating a thin-legged mime actress with his fists, trying to hit her in the snout, in the chest or another sensitive place. The mime actress was fending him off, screaming "police, police!"--but a police officer turned his back and went off to keep an eye on his beat.

   A hooting crowd gathered. There were too many blows, too much noise. Two mounted police officers showed up on trained horses. They forced their way into the crowd and, to disperse the slightly inebriated, the horses started dancing, like in a circus.

   Teptyolkin went into an apartment building. Marya Petrovna Dalmatova was waiting for him. The rooms had been tidied up. Prim curtains shone white. An antique icon looked on with dark eyes. Coming into a girl's room, Teptyolkin felt a shudder. Musya was standing there. For the first time, he noticed her hair was fluffy, her nose pointy, her lips tiny.

   "I've come to propose to you... to take up Latin," he said.

   "What for?" Musya wondered and started laughing.

   "To get a better feel for the city we're in," Teptyolkin answered.

   "I know the city even without Latin," Musya replied. "But I'm glad to see you. You're so splendid, so splendid. Give me your hat and walking stick."

   They sat down on a nice old couch.

   "Where's your friend?" she asked, to start a conversation.

   "He's very busy," Teptyolkin answered. "I haven't seen him in a long time. I've heard that... "

   "No, no, I was just asking," Musya interrupted, "instead, tell me what you've been up to."

   "No, no, let's not talk about me," Teptyolkin answered. "How am I going to tell," he thought, "how am I going to tell her about the main thing?"

   "My mother will be coming from church soon," Musya said. "We'll have a drink of tea with jam."

   "How in the world am I going to tell her about the main thing?" Teptyolkin was brooding. "Tell such an innocent and radiant creature?"

   He turned pale.

   "Excuse me, I'm in a real hurry." And, almost without saying good-bye, he went out.

   "Maybe he had a stomach ache!" Musya turned angry. She became depressed. She went up to the cage and, pondering, started poking the canary with her finger. The canary flew from perch to perch.

   "What a dirty trick," Musya thought. "All my girlfriends have taken the leap, but I'll be left behind. What a letdown!"

   She went up to the piano, started to play "Ecstasy" by Scriabin.

   Her mother came in.

   "Take the books off the table," she said.

   "Which books?" Continuing to play, Musya turned her head. "Oh, Teptyolkin must have forgotten."

   She went up to the table, started leafing through the books.

   "'Vita Nuova,'" she read aloud.

   "The man spends his time on nonsense," mommy observed.

   Out of one book fell a scrap of paper. Musya picked it up:

My god has decayed but preserved his youth
And most frightful of all for me are a bouncing bust and shoulders,
And a woman's thigh, and the sob of a woman's flesh
In torments that drank in the torment of a passionate night,
And now I wander, like Origen,
Watching a sunset, cold and stretched out far.
Not for me, Marya, the bondage of a woman
And your question, rising in a black ripple...


   Teptyolkin returned home in an awful tizzy and only then did he notice that he forgot the books.

   "My God!" he almost gave a shout. "Marya Petrovna has read it." He sat down on the bed and clawed his graying hair.

   Just then the bell rang.

   "It's me," a voice answered.

   Into the room came the unknown poet.

   "Don't despair," the unknown poet said as he left. "Everything will work itself out. Nobody knows girls."


   Musya read the paper she picked up and started thinking. She quickly drank a cup of tea. She said she had a headache, and went to bed.

   "How splendid Teptyolkin is! So, it's true he's a virgin. My God, how intriguing! There's a wonderful man in our city. Of course, there's all the swine you could want. How sad it must be for him to live... I just have to marry him. We'll live as brother and sister. Our life will be wonderful."



   In the morning the unknown poet came into Musya's room for the books.

   "I've come for Teptyolkin's books," he said. "Teptyolkin's horrified that he left yesterday so unexpectedly. You've been looking through the books?" the unknown poet asked.

   "No," the girl answered. "I don't know Italian."

   "Teptyolkin loves you very much and idealizes you tremendously," the unknown poet remarked, as if to himself.

   "I love Teptyolkin, too," the girl remarked, also as if to herself.

   "You'd make a happy couple," the unknown poet said, moving off toward the window, as if into space.

    Seeing that the girl had blushed, he said good-bye and left, carrying off the books.

  "They're selfless creatures," the unknown poet blurted out, coming into Teptyolkin's room. "I said you loved her and were asking for her hand."

   Choirboys were singing. Marya Petrovna and Teptyolkin stood on a pink satin cloth. On their heads are flimsy crowns with artificial stones. Marya Petrovna is in a white dress, Teptyolkin in a black suit. Behind are curious invalids and cigarette-girls, old ladies from Mosselprom. The wedding took place in secret.

   After the wedding, Teptyolkin stood on a balcony for a long time. He looked down on the city, but he didn't see five-story and three-story buildings. However, he did see slender alleys of trimmed acacias and, on a path, Philostratus. The tall youth was walking, with enormous eyes shaded by the wings of his eyelashes. Fountains were gulping water. Moonbeams were trembling below and, above, the palace spread out its wings. And, there, beyond the alley of fountains, was the sea and, walking next to the youth with a deferential bow --Teptyolkin.


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