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  Chapter XXXV




   I took the novel and rode to Peterhof, to read it over, reflect, wander about, feel myself in the company of my heroes.

   From the station at Old Peterhof, I went on to the tower which I had overseen and described. The tower was no more.

   Under the influence of unfaded flowers and grass, there awoke inside me once again the enormous bird once felt, consciously or unconsciously, by my heroes. I see my heroes standing around me in the air, and in the company of a crowd I walk to New Peterhof. I sit down by the sea and, just when my friends, pierced with sunlight, are raised up over the sea, I start leafing through the manuscript and chatting with them.



Chapter XXXVI


   On the appointed day, at the appointed hour, while it was still winter, a meeting of housing cooperative members took place in a railroad office worker's apartment. At the appointed hour, the area instructor appeared.

   Anticipating misfortune, Teptyolkin didn't want to come. But the intelligent residents of the building had tried so long to persuade the respected man that he decided to offer himself up, to come and agree to everything.

   Long before the day of the meeting, the inhabitants of the building had been whispering throughout the apartments and under the gateways that they should choose Teptyolkin as chairman, that he was a cultured man, that he wasn't a thief.

   The meeting dragged on deep into the night. Seized by a vague discomfort, Teptyolkin refused for a long time. Finally, the portfolios were assigned. The portfolio of chairman was assigned to Teptyolkin, then they went on to their desires. They all wanted a red corner to be set up for the building, and they started arguing about the apartment where it had to be built, whether to designate the room next to the janitor or to set it up in one of the communal apartments. They couldn't finish arguing and they put it into the minutes as a desideratum. All the time, the area instructor, a former navy man, went on interpreting, explaining, and he was satisfied. He was satisfied that they listened to him and trusted him, and the residents of the building were satisfied they were being listened to and trusted. The instructor left in the best frame of mind, and the residents went their way in the best frame of mind. They were coming down the stairs. Walking in front was a waiter, the new Secretary of the Board. Behind him came members of the inspection commission--a doorkeeper at a certain foreign firm, an accountant and a doctor. Behind them came the people; behind the people, Marya Petrovna and Teptyolkin. In the courtyard they all started saying good-bye to one another: some were kissing ladies on the hand, others were shaking hands, still others, tipping their hats, were hurrying off. Around them, cats were whining, and the spacious courtyard was lit up from above by a little moon.

   Still in the last days of June, sitting in a little garden he made together with Marya Petrovna, Teptyolkin felt that all of world history was none other than his own history. The little garden was beautiful. It occupied a small space in the courtyard near a red brick wall and was created by the couple's own hands. The spring of the year before, trees had been pruned not far from the zoo and, catching sight of this, Marya Petrovna remembered that, if she planted the branches that had just been cut off, they would put down roots.

   Together with Teptyolkin, she took two branches which had just been thrown away. By then, Teptyolkin was chairman of the governing board for the building. The branches took root. The couple built a small fence from wooden crossbeams. They themselves painted it green with oil paint, stamped down a tiny little path, hoed the ground and surrounded it with turf. For the turf, they made a special trip outside the city. They placed a little table and a bench, planted forget-me-nots, pansies, tobacco, poppies and a lilac bush. One key for the garden was with Teptyolkin, the other with the building superintendent or the janitor, so the residents would be able to sit in the little garden whenever they desired. But the quiet residents of that building, respecting someone else's work or, perhaps, scorning such a tiny garden, more like a terrarium, never went into it.

   Every morning, Marya Petrovna came down with a can and watered the flowers. In the evening, Teptyolkin breathed fresh air in it. Sometimes, they even had dinner in it. Teptyolkin would then sit at the table covered with a white cloth, and Marya Petrovna would rush downstairs from above with a steaming bowl, and children playing in the courtyard would watch with curiosity. Teptyolkin had completely calmed down now and he would take strolls around the little garden, if you could put it that way. Actually, he could just barely turn around in it.

   One time, sitting in the garden, Teptyolkin had the feeling the culture he was defending wasn't his. That he didn't belong to this culture. That he didn't belong to the world of brilliant minds, among which, up to this point, he had ranked himself. That nothing had been given him to do in the world. That he would pass like a shadow and there would remain no memory of him at all, or the most foolish. That all clerks felt the world the same way, the only discernible difference being that there was no chasm between him and a bookkeeper. That everybody more or less talks about a culture to which they don't belong. And at some concert by a visiting conductor, something blurry started flowing down Teptyolkin's cheeks, but he wasn't crying on account of the music. He felt like remaining an adolescent forever and looking at the world in wonder.

   And when he thought there was no difference between him and a whimpering provincial, then he got upset with himself, and then it made him sick, and he'd get angry with Marya Petrovna for no reason at all and sometimes he'd even smash plates.

   Marya Petrovna was terribly worried about Teptyolkin. She saw to it that he carried on only the necessary acquaintances.

   "We're keeping only the necessary acquaintances," she sometimes said. "After all, the unnecessary--you don't need them. Right?"

   And, after saying nothing for a while, Teptyolkin would answer, moving his lips, "Right, the unnecessary--are, of course, unnecessary."

   And although Teptyolkin had almost no belief in an afterlife now, the dream of Scipio was fascinating for him. Music sang, and swelled, and fell in cascades. And, although he now felt his love for the Renaissance was ridiculous and groundless, in no way could he part with, tear himself away from the breadth of the horizon.

   The bald man hurries to the bookstore, as if to the water of life.

   "Isn't it true, Marya Petrovna, we can't live without Cicero?" he says and warms his feet at a tiled stove. And the fire is crackling and crackling.




*   *



   It was a winter day. A frosty sun hung over the city like a crimson ball. Passersby were desperately nipped by frost. But, in their soul, they felt wonderfully joyful.

   Teptyolkin was sitting by the stove and reading one of his favorite books, but the reading went badly. He was paying attention to what was going on inside him. It wasn't right, and it hurt. He was starting to realize he didn't care at all for the historical Philostratus, the court novelist from the time of Julia Domna (and not another--the author of erotic letters to courtesans and youths, and yet another). And, in his soul, it became clear and calm. And it didn't horrify him any more that clerks felt the same way about the world, that there was no chasm between him and a bookkeeper.

*   *



   Whenever Marya Petrovna went visiting, Teptyolkin was terribly worried: and what if she gets run over by a trolley? And what if, for some reason, she leaves her hosts earlier and gets attacked by robbers? After all, she has a weak heart, very weak.

   Teptyolkin worried, not only in the evening, but also in the afternoon. He stands at the window, stands and waits. Sometimes he even took the old binoculars out of the black chest of drawers and looked out the window down into the street, even frisked the crowd with his eyes, to see whether Marya Petrovna was coming behind it. He's always worried. He sees Marya Petrovna hurrying, and she has some kind of package under her arm.

   And, the next thing you know, her footsteps can already be heard on the stairway, topp, topp, and there's a newspaper in her hands, a bad newspaper, of course, with foul language, and there are bad newspapers now everywhere, all over the world. Teptyolkin will start reading the paper and it makes him feel sad that in Mexico, when they were hanging a general, a military band was playing, and the other generals and the people were eating ice cream. And not just because they were hanging a general, but because the hanging was accompanied by music, a national festival, and the eating of ice cream. Or yet he'll read that Aviakhim is organizing a campaign against men, and be struck by the shabbiness of human affairs. Or thata three-day exhibition and canary-singing competition open the next day, or that, before winter, they shipped voile to some provincial cooperative, instead of cotton textiles. Teptyolkin will forget that his whole life is now a complete mess, anxiety and rage, and plunge into the age-old question of the relationship between the great and the small, but now dinner's ready, a modest dinner, and now the soup's being served in a pot, and now Marya Petrovna's bustling about and putting down the ladle and wiping down plates. She sits down and asks, "Tastes good?" And she blows on the ladle and smiles.

   "I browned some roots," she says. "Look how much color there is in the broth!"

   Dinner was magnificent today. In the second course there was duck with cranberry sauce and, in the third--baked apples. After dinner, Marya Petrovna got up and she says, "Guess what I got for you! I'm walking through the market and what do I see: near a little old lady, next to the paintings, lies a nice little book. Well, I think it's "Lady with Camellias" or a French prayer book. But, still, I stopped and picked it up, and what if it's 'Arcadia'"...

   "Giacomo Sannazzaro!" exclaimed Teptyolkin.

   His wife nodded her head and took out a little book. Teptyolkin looked and read:


Il Pastor Fido



   "Why, look here, this isn't 'Arcadia' at all," Teptyolkin exclaimed. "Why on earth are you deceiving me?"

   Marya Petrovna felt embarassed and blushed.

   "I bought this for myself. There's even a French translation here. I want to study Italian again. I bought 'Arcadia' for you."

   But Teptyolkin wasn't letting go of the Battista Guarini now. He admired the heart pierced with two arrows, and he noticed written on the ribbon: "RURIS NON CUPIDA VENUS." Then he started to examine two figures in long clothing, seemingly coming out of a cave. The chubby Eros, the kid, the billy goat, the lambs, the little angel--everything brought him to ecstasy. He started reading the dedication. The V instead of U and, the other way around, U instead of V; S, P and C where they're missing now, the limited number of contractions, the extremely soft paper, which had acquired over time the smell of old wine, the ripped-open parchment binding--it all transported Teptyolkin to an epoch he loved.

   Of course, this wasn't the XV century at all now, and not quite the XVI. The little book had been published in France in 1610, but, needless to say, in France, the Italian language was still held in esteem at this time. And Teptyolkin started reading the translation of a pastoral famous in its time, done by an anonymous writer of the Italian language.

   "Come on, I want to learn," Marya Petrovna broke the silence. "It's my little book. I bought 'Arcadia' for you."

   Marya Petrovna took out another little book, with gold edging, in a little black binding--it was a recent binding, from the eighties of the past century--and, inside, Venice was smiling. True, it wasn't the marvelous typeface of Aldus, not even of poor Manuzzia the younger, who had only one apprentice and a magnificent library, but still...

   The couple sit at the table and drink tea. And Marya Petrovna tries once again to begin her studies.  


  Teptyolkin was sitting in his study-garden. Whether the sky was too clear, or that Marya Petrovna had let the nanny goats out of the woodshed to stroll around the courtyard, or some other occurrence, or some conversation he had with Marya Petrovna before her appearance under the open sky,  Teptyolkin, putting down his book, would just sit in his terrarium, unable to concentrate. It's hard to say whether Teptyolkin was thinking at the moment. Had he been asked at the moment, he wouldn't have answered right away, but would have thought over what he was actually thinking about and, with bitterness, come to the conclusion he wasn't thinking about anything. Associations gave way to associations, then the sun reminded him of a watermelon, then the flowers on Marya Petrovna's blouse reminded him of a steamer, then the goat, butting against a brick wall, brought up in him the vague notion of a god who kindly spent time on earth among mankind. And, from time to time, Teptyolkin would get up from the little bench, lean against the fence, flex his nostrils and move his lips: "I have a premonition of something."

   And with a sense of self-satisfaction, he would look meaningfully at the people going by the little garden. Marya Petrovna, with a goat clasped in her arms, would run with the goat across the courtyard toward the place where Teptyolkin sat, and her husband, leaving behind his sublime experiences and the dissolving in nature, the absorption in the cosmos, would come out of the little garden and, after tossing two or three words back and forth with Marya Petrovna, go out past the gateway into the street.

   After such a state, Teptyolkin would feel the world's sweetest charm. He would think even the sun was shining more brightly and, what was more, that everything in the world was bright, and besides, that he himself was a sublime person, worthy in all regards. Then he was seized with compassion for living creatures, and he would forgive all other people for their shortcomings. He'd burn with boundless love for Marya Petrovna, and he would say, "Marya  Petrovna, what do you say we go looking for some toys!"

   Then, solemnly, he'd walk down the street with Marya Petrovna. They'd go up to toy store windows and, stopping, Marya Petrovna would put her nose up against the glass, and they'd go inside the store.

   "What age are you looking for?" the sales clerk would ask.

   "We need artistic toys," Teptyolkin would answer.

   And, bending over the counter, Marya Petrovna and Teptyolkin would start picking out toys.

   "And isn't there a nice little wooden bird?" Marya Petrovna would ask. "Or a wooden lion with the standard mane?"

   "And why don't I see any matryoshkas around here?" Tepyolkin would interrupt.

   And, taking the toys home, the couple would admire them together.

   But, more and more often, Teptyolkin, sitting in the little garden, noticed that Marya Petrovna was getting old, that her face no longer had that pure color, that she didn't feel like walking at all, that she would say, "Why don't you go for a walk by yourself, catch a breath of fresh air and, meanwhile, I'll fix dinner. Would you like me to make you some crawfish soup?"

   And then Teptyolkin would draw Marya Petrovna to him and, coming face to face, look into her eyes, and a nice, young Marya Petrovna, extremely young, was walking through the park like Diana, just like Diana.

   In brighter moments, Teptyolkin stopped blaming the war and the Revolution for his sterility and that of his age. And then the autumn leaves would rustle for him like before in the brightest spring, in the most implacable summer. And looking at him from behind the trees were entrancing little faces with little horns and hooves, and nymphs, with eyes of depths beyond wakening, rose above the water like vapor, and he'd hear their speech inside himself, entrancing and wonderful; and he would think: here were these creatures coming to him from the other world, that he wasn't really alone, that the great era of humanism was passing away together with him.

   In these tender moments Teptyolkin read over his letter to the unknown poet:


   Dear friend, you're a paganist. It's a profoundly negative trait. You don't receive Christian grace. Meanwhile, it's possible to combine Christianity with faith in the delightful gods and feel the world's own stillness. After all, no matter what you might say, you love the sun, the warm morning sun, you love the morning birdsong, and not only ornamentation--you're attracted by the ornamentation in pagan religion, not the variety of god-heads, not the materialization of the forces of nature--but that peculiar sanctity, that innermost knowledge which arises from contact with nature. You love the death pangs of this feeling, but don't you prefer its daybreak? You love dying, but don't you prefer life? Do you remember our conversations in the park at Peterhof, in the garden by Mon Plaisir, among the trees already shedding, under the watch of a barefoot girl keeping an eye on the garden and cracking little cedar nuts? I've heard rumors that you've given up on yourself. Dear friend, come to your senses, you're hurting terribly just now. Go back to paganism, but to the lucid kind, without the poisonous substances, without the sneer, without the scorn. After all, the nymphs and satyrs who appeared to us haven't appeared to other people. Dear friend, why do you slander yourself? Here in the hall where the Botticellis are gathered, Marya Petrovna and I, we often speak about you, we often remember you--after all, you, too, loved his paintings. You were always striving for Rome, but, of course, Florence is closer to us and dearer. You've been going through a terrible ordeal, which I have gone through already: remember your very words about being turned into devils. I now understand the world in all its mournful beauty. It wasn't our dream, but we who were the lie. Even then, we were unworthy of that which was revealed to us. I see our shortcomings, but they don't frighten me. I know we're weak, insanely weak, that we're depraved, that we're greedy, but that we loved a spiritual sun and, who knows, perhaps, love it even now.


Chapter XXXVII




   Marya Petrovna came out the doorway of an enormous building that looked either like a peppershaker or a desk-set, lit up from inside by chandeliers, icon lamps and candles. She unbuttoned her jacket, took out a collapsible Chinese lantern, pulled it open, stood among the columns and, shielding the flame from the wind, stuck the match into the lantern.

   Part of the crowd made for October 25th Prospect, part walked along Mayorov Prospect. Some, including Marya Petrovna and Teptyolkin, made their way along the Galernaya toward the Lieutenant Schmidt Bridge. Streets seared with frost mirrored the starry heavens. The peal of bells could be heard from the lid of the inkwell. Faces, hands, streets, lanes and side streets were lit by quivering flames of little candles. And to Marya Petrovna, who had lost the feeling of religion, it seemed she was taking part in a carnival procession. Not being a Christian any more, she liked church for the ceremonies, like an archaic theater and ritual performance. For the same reasons, she preferred the Church of Tikhon to the Living Church. She thought an exalted performance required a language of its own and a certain incomprehensibility, whereas the Living Church, failing to understand this, was striving for simplicity, thereby abolishing the psychological frame--it lowered a lofty activity to the level of everyday life. "In art there has to be an element of the irrational." So thought Marya Petrovna, walking with her husband over the Lieutenant Schmidt Bridge and holding the lantern, like a participant in an exalted theatrical production.

   Teptyolkin also carried a small lighted candle in a paper bag made from yesterday evening's Red Gazette. And, drifting off into daydreams, he went back to his childhood. He saw himself in a sanitary room decorated with oil-based paint, and an ikon of St. Panteleimon with a little many-sided crimson icon lamp. Guarding his flame, he turned down the First Line of Vasiliev Island, but Marya Petrovna, looking into her lantern, and taking someone else's back for her husband's, turned the other way. And, all of a sudden, she felt she had to scream. Something was pulling from inside, rocking back and forth. It was hot around her. Her eyelids wouldn't open and, holding back nausea, she heard a voice: "First aid! Tell the navigator there was a man overboard."

   And, further off, another voice: "Just come down the ladder into the fo'castle, I hear a shout or whatever, I look--man overboard. I jumped in the water, off the southwest, raincoat an' all, but, mother of God, that water was cold. I barely got out. A mighty catch there. Maybe not too heavy, but  a VIP. I came down with a cramp."

   "That's right. We're sitting there, we're bored, you know, passing the bottle around, this one to that one. Seryozhka plops in. I take a look and I think--gotta haul him out. I take a look, he's towing some dame by the hair, hauling a fish or a whale! Oy, I think, making good on Easter Sunday." He knocked back a little glass of vodka, started panting and turning red. "You'd think he was getting holy baptism in the Jordan."

   Marya Petrovna raised her heavy head a bit and looked around. Two men, a bathroom, the rest in the doorway, in striped sailor's vests. A porthole draws air in from above. Some man goes to point the lamp onto the stern.

   "Look, she opened her eyes. Unplug the porthole; hoist her up for some air."

   They wrapped up Marya Petrovna. The sailors wanted to go with her, but she went by herself. And, going away, she heard, "They put on some boiling water, started brewing a little tea in the galley, gave the dame something to drink. It'll pass. Calamities happen in life. She'll wheeze and cough a while and get over it."

   Meanwhile, Teptyolkin, was running down the street, then running home. Marya Petrovna still wasn't there. By now he'd run back from St. Isaac's Cathedral fifteen times, stood several times on the Lieutenant Schmidt Bridge--now at one end, now the other, sometimes stopping near the two sphinxes and looking at the black strips of water between the embankment and the ice. His heart was gripped with foreboding.

   "My God, where could she be? Where could she be?" His soul was in tears.

   And he raced and dashed through the snow and, when it was full daylight, he ran up the stairs to his doorway for the twentieth time and saw: Marya Petrovna sitting on a step with a bandage on her head and shaking with a fever. She had no colored lantern in her hands and her face was horribly pale, and her hat was oddly perched on her head.

   "My little girl," he exclaimed, "what's wrong with you?" He clasped his wife around the shoulders and carried her into the apartment.

   Marya Petrovna broke down and sobbed.



   Marya Petrovna was lying in bed, a thermometer sticking out from under her arm. Tepyolkin, sad and in concentration, was pacing up and down the room. His unshaven face was trembling.

   "How quickly family happiness slips away," he was thinking. "It can be ruined by some little thing, an accident."

   He felt bad that here was a young life slipping away so pointlessly.

   "Marya Petrovna." He would down in a chair and and take Marya Petrovna's little hand.

   "My treasure." Marya Petrovna opened her eyes. "My treasure, my sweet treasure, I'm leaving you."

   And what was utterly strange was that she really did leave.

   This was accompanied by strange occurrences. She asked Teptyolkin to carry her around the room in his arms. He lifted her up to each and every thing. And, with one hand clasped around his neck, with the other she felt the objects--little knives for slitting pages, books, backs of chairs, flowers in the little window, a curtain, an ashtray with flowers. Then she required him to turn her around, she didn't have enough air. Teptyolkin was pale. He carried out her demands, turned her around and turned himself. Across the way, out of two speakers attached to a balcony, came the sound of radio news. Later on, Teptyolkin had no recollection at all of what happened next, because he noticed that Marya Petrovna was calming down. He carefully put her down on the bed and sat beside her and started looking at the vials, at the lamp shade, at the little face in the light. He noticed that dust had settled on the vials and he started wiping the vials, surrounding the lamp with paper on all sides, leaving only a narrow slit so the light would fall off to the side. He kissed Marya Petrovna on the forehead and sat on the windowsill. He started looking at his little garden in the courtyard, covered with snowflakes. In his drowsiness, Teptyolkin was horrified that everyone talked about decay, while no one talked about rebirth. At night, he got up from the chair, sat on the windowsill. "The universe is a sentient garden where Dante and Beatrice stroll. Doesn't a kind of wife appear as a guiding star for a man? And don't we reveal to our wife some kind of wondrously  harmonious image which appeared to us in childhood?" Teptyolkin further reflected that the life of a married couple would be impossible. On tiptoe, enormous and sad, he went into the next room and started reading his manuscript. And he began fretting over the discrepancy between his figure and his ideal image. He was fretting over his thinness. In his opinion, it kept him from becoming heroic.

   "What would have happened," he was thinking, "if I had muscles, and then if I had an ascetic face and if I wore chains?" And, in the light of the moon, Teptyolkin raised his eyes on high and was overcome with an even greater sorrow. "What would have happened," he thought, "if my last name hadn't been Teptyolkin, but totally different. The two syllables 'tep-tyol' are without a doubt onomatopœia. The word 'kin' might have been ominous, a bit like 'king,' But the consonant 'l' prevents this. And if the 'l' here combined for another syllable, you would have gotten 'Tepteyolkin.' It would have been terribly lugubrious. Lord," said Teptyolkin, straightening up, putting aside the little book. "No one thought about the Renaissance, only me. So much torment--for what!" And once again he came back down to reality.

   He remembered that night was as quiet as could be, that, looking for Marya Petrovna, he found himself near the sphinxes, that the fairytale monsters reminded him of other nights--Egyptian, even then. And, having put aside the book, he went into the next room. There was no sign of Marya Petrovna in the bed. He looked around. Without any assistance, Marya Petrovna was moving blindly about the room and sitting down wherever she could sit. She sat on chairs, on the table, on the windowsill, and on the little trunk covered with the plush green tablecloth.

   "Marya Petrovna." Teptyolkin, throwing himself at her. "Don't abandon me."

   In his arms, Marya Petrovna started crying and started coughing. Teptyolkin sensed her wheezing was getting more and more faint, and in his arms her body felt heavy and tepid. And, unable to keep standing, he sat on a chair, but the chair couldn't withstand the three-fold weight and he sat on the floor.

   By now, a rosy blush touched the cheeks of what had been Marya Petrovna, but her arms dangled limply and her stilled eyes looked up at the ceiling, and her lower jaw hung down, and Teptyolkin's white face gazed out the window. Like Cornet Kovalyov, he had the feeling the world was truly horrible and that he was alone, completely alone in it.

   Late at night, when the doctor came as usual, he found the rosy deceased on the bed, in a white dress, and Teptyolkin with a hat and suitcase in his hands.

   When Teptyolkin walked in his pre-dawn anguish, he was smiled upon by a pigeon. The dappled white bird turned its little neck and looked at him with a circular eye.

   "So, it's you, my pigeon," said Teptyolkin, stopping, "my dear pigeon." And he started walking after the pigeon, and the pigeon, strutting solemnly, walked along the pavement and Teptyolkin followed after it. "Once again, you've come back here, birds of peace,” he said. “But now I'm different, a totally different man. Nothing's left of the man who used to think he was shining a new day over the city with his love. Standing among you, dear birds, is a different man."

   And the pigeons, assuming he would start to feed them, flew down from the ledges, gathered in little flocks and were chatting with one another.

   And a sunlit Kazan Cathedral, and the public garden with slightly chilled, solitary figures, and the benches still damp with dew, called upon Teptyolkin to stretch out and, laying his hands beneath his head, to doze off among the ambling birds. And the sky, the sweetest Petersburg sky, the lovely, pale, blue, faint sky, came down like a cupola on Teptyolkin, as he remembers that he's bald and utterly alone.  



    A fulsome moon shed its light on a House of the Arts that no longer exists. An attendant with the face of the last emperor was getting ready to close the doors. Teptyolkin and Marya Petrovna made their way down through the back entrance and went out into a city that was empty and coming back to life.

    Damn, what a long time ago that was!

    When Teptyolkin and Marya Petrovna walked together, the light stood over the godforsaken buildings. And the heart was gripped by predawn yearning, and a cold wind burst out, lashed, and shrieked.

    The author looks out the window. In his ears, the goat song echoes, sings and howls, and sings again, and echoes again and, fading out to a faint whisper, falls silent.

    The author is still young. If they start listening to him, he'll tell one more Petersburg fairy tale.

    So then, till the next night, friend.

1926-1927; 1929


  Alternative ending

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