On the yellow card with a nobleman’s coronet the young porter at the Hotel “Versailles” somehow managed to read the Christian name and patronymic “Kasimir Stanislavovitch.” There followed something still more complicated and still more difficult to pronounce. The porter turned the card this way and that way in his hand, looked at the passport, which the visitor had given him with it, shrugged his shoulders–none of those who stayed at the “Versailles” gave their cards–then he threw both on to the table and began again to examine himself in the silvery, milky mirror which hung above the table, whipping up his thick hair with a comb. He wore an overcoat and shiny top-boots; the gold braid on his cap was greasy with age–the hotel was a bad one.
Kasimir Stanislavovitch left Kiev for Moscow on April 8th, Good Friday, on receiving a telegram with the one word “tenth.” Somehow or other he managed to get the money for his fare, and took his seat in a second-class compartment, grey and dim, but really giving him the sensation of comfort and luxury. The train was heated, and that railway-carriage heat and the smell of the heating apparatus, and the sharp tapping of the little hammers in it, reminded Kasimir Stanislavovitch of other times. At times it seemed to him that winter had returned, that in the fields the white, very white drifts of snow had covered up the yellowish bristle of stubble and the large leaden pools where the wild-duck swam. But often the snow-storm stopped suddenly and melted; the fields grew bright, and one felt that behind the clouds was much light, and the wet platforms of the railway-stations looked black, and the rooks called from the naked poplars. At each big station Kasimir Stanislavovitch went to the refreshment-room for a drink, and returned to his carriage with newspapers in his hands; but he did not read them; he only sat and sank in the thick smoke of his cigarettes, which burned and glowed, and to none of his neighbours–Odessa Jews who played cards all the time–did he say a single word. He wore an autumn overcoat of which the pockets were worn, a very old black top-hat, and new, but heavy, cheap boots. His hands, the typical hands of an habitual drunkard, and an old inhabitant of basements, shook when he lit a match. Everything else about him spoke of poverty and drunkenness: no cuffs, a dirty linen collar, an ancient tie, an inflamed and ravaged face, bright-blue watery eyes. His side-whiskers, dyed with a bad, brown dye, had an unnatural appearance. He looked tired and contemptuous.
The train reached Moscow next day, not at all up to time; it was seven hours late. The weather was neither one thing nor the other, but better and drier than in Kiev, with something stirring in the air. Kasimir Stanislavovitch took a cab without bargaining with the driver, and told him to drive straight to the “Versailles.” “I have known that hotel, my good fellow,” he said, suddenly breaking his silence, “since my student days.” From the “Versailles,” as soon as his little bag, tied with stout rope, had been taken up to his room, he immediately went out.
It was nearly evening: the air was warm, the black trees on the boulevards were turning green; everywhere there were crowds of people, cars, carts. Moscow was trafficking and doing business, was returning to the usual, pressing work, was ending her holiday, and unconsciously welcomed the spring. A man who has lived his life and ruined it feels lonely on a spring evening in a strange, crowded city. Kasimir Stanislavovitch walked the whole length of the Tverskoy Boulevard; he saw once more the cast-iron figure of the musing Poushkin, the golden and lilac top of the Strasnoy Monastery…. For about an hour he sat at the Café Filippov, drank chocolate, and read old comic papers. Then he went to a cinema, whose flaming signs shone from far away down the Tverskaya, through the darkling twilight. From the cinema he drove to a restaurant on the boulevard which he had also known in his student days. He was driven by an old man, bent in a bow, sad, gloomy, deeply absorbed in himself, in his old age, in his dark thoughts. All the way the man painfully and wearily helped on his lazy horse with his whole being, murmuring something to it all the time and occasionally bitterly reproaching it–and at last, when he reached the place, he allowed the load to slip from his shoulders for a moment and gave a deep sigh, as he took the money.
“I did not catch the name, and thought you meant ‘Brague’!” he muttered, turning his horse slowly; he seemed displeased, although the “Prague” was further away.
“I remember the ‘Prague’ too, old fellow,” answered Kasimir Stanislavovitch. “You must have been driving for a long time in Moscow.”
“Driving?” the old man said; “I have been driving now for fifty-one years.”
“That means that you may have driven me before,” said Kasimir Stanislavovitch.
“Perhaps I did,” answered the old man dryly. “There are lots of people in the world; one can’t remember all of you.”
Of the old restaurant, once known to Kasimir Stanislavovitch, there remained only the name. Now it was a large, first-class, though vulgar, restaurant. Over the entrance burnt an electric globe which illuminated with its unpleasant, heliotrope light the smart, second-rate cabmen, impudent, and cruel to their lean, short-winded steeds. In the damp hall stood pots of laurels and tropical plants of the kind which one sees carried on to the platforms from weddings to funerals and vice versa. From the porters’ lodge several men rushed out together to Kasimir Stanislavovitch, and all of them had just the same thick curl of hair as the porter at the “Versailles.” In the large greenish room, decorated in the rococo style, were a multitude of broad mirrors, and in the corner burnt a crimson icon-lamp. The room was still empty, and only a few of the electric lights were on. Kasimir Stanislavovitch sat for a long time alone, doing nothing. One felt that behind the windows with their white blinds the long, spring evening had not yet grown dark; one heard from the street the thudding of hooves; in the middle of the room there was the monotonous splash-splash of the little fountain in an aquarium round which gold-fish, with their scales peeling off, lighted somehow from below, swam through the water. A waiter in white brought the dinner things, bread, and a decanter of cold vodka. Kasimir Stanislavovitch began drinking the vodka, held it in his mouth before swallowing it, and, having swallowed it, smelt the black bread as though with loathing. With a suddenness which gave even him a start, a gramophone began to roar out through the room a mixture of Russian songs, now exaggeratedly boisterous and turbulent, now too tender, drawling, sentimental…. And Kasimir Stanislavovitch’s eyes grew red and tears filmed them at that sweet and snuffling drone of the machine.
Then a grey-haired, curly, black-eyed Georgian brought him, on a large iron fork, a half-cooked, smelly shashlyk, cut off the meat on to the plate with a kind of dissolute smartness, and, with Asiatic simplicity, with his own hand sprinkled it with onions, salt, and rusty barbery powder, while the gramophone roared out in the empty hall a cake-walk, inciting one to jerks and spasms. Then Kasimir Stanislavovitch was served with cheese, fruit, red wine, coffee, mineral water, liquers…. The gramophone had long ago grown silent; instead of it there had been playing on the platform an orchestra of German women dressed in white; the lighted hall, continually filling up with people, grew hot, became dim with tobacco smoke and heavily saturated with the smell of food; waiters rushed about in a whirl; drunken people ordered cigars which immediately made them sick; the head-waiters showed excessive officiousness, combined with an intense realization of their own dignity; in the mirrors, in the watery gloom of their abysses, there was more and more chaotically reflected something huge, noisy, complicated. Several times Kasimir Stanislavovitch went out of the hot hall into the cool corridors, into the cold lavatory, where there was a strange smell of the sea; he walked as if on air, and, on returning to his table, again ordered wine. After midnight, closing his eyes and drawing the fresh night air through his nostrils into his intoxicated head, he raced in a hansom-cab on rubber tyres out of the town to a brothel; he saw in the distance infinite chains of light, running away somewhere down hill and then up hill again, but he saw it just as if it were not he, but some one else, seeing it. In the brothel he nearly had a fight with a stout gentleman who attacked him shouting that he was known to all thinking Russia. Then he lay, dressed, on a broad bed, covered with a satin quilt, in a little room half-lighted from the ceiling by a sky-blue lantern, with a sickly smell of scented soap, and with dresses hanging from a hook on the door. Near the bed stood a dish of fruit, and the girl who had been hired to entertain Kasimir Stanislavovitch, silently, greedily, with relish ate a pear, cutting off slices with a knife, and her friend, with fat bare arms, dressed only in a chemise which made her look like a little girl, was rapidly writing on the toilet-table, taking no notice of them. She wrote and wept–of what? There are lots of people in the world; one can’t know everything….
On the tenth of April Kasimir Stanislavovitch woke up early. Judging from the start with which he opened his eyes, one could see that he was overwhelmed by the idea that he was in Moscow. He had got back after four in the morning. He staggered down the staircase of the “Versailles,” but without a mistake he went straight to his room down the long, stinking tunnel of a corridor which was lighted only at its entrance by a little lamp smoking sleepily. Outside every room stood boots and shoes–all of strangers, unknown to one another, hostile to one another. Suddenly a door opened, almost terrifying Kasimir Stanislavovitch; on its threshold appeared an old man, looking like a third-rate actor acting “The Memoirs of a Lunatic,” and Kasimir Stanislavovitch saw a lamp under a green shade and a room crowded with things, the cave of a lonely, old lodger, with icons in the corner, and innumerable cigarette boxes piled one upon another almost to the ceiling, near the icons. Was that the half-crazy writer of the lives of the saints, who had lived in the “Versailles” twenty-three years ago? Kasimir Stanislavovitch’s dark room was terribly hot with a malignant and smelly dryness…. The light from the window over the door came faintly into the darkness. Kasimir Stanislavovitch went behind the screen, took the top-hat off his thin, greasy hair, threw his overcoat over the end of his bare bed…. As soon as he lay down, everything began to turn round him, to rush into an abyss, and he fell asleep instantly. In his sleep all the time he was conscious of the smell of the iron wash-stand which stood close to his face, and he dreamt of a spring day, trees in blossom, the hall of a manor house and a number of people waiting anxiously for the bishop to arrive at any moment; and all night long he was wearied and tormented with that waiting…. Now in the corridors of the “Versailles” people rang, ran, called to one another. Behind the screen, through the double, dusty window-panes, the sun shone; it was almost hot…. Kasimir Stanislavovitch took off his jacket, rang the bell, and began to wash. There came in a quick-eyed boy, the page-boy, with fox-coloured hair on his head, in a frock-coat and pink shirt.
“A loaf, samovar, and lemon,” Kasimir Stanislavovitch said without looking at him.
“And tea and sugar?” the boy asked with Moscow sharpness.
And a minute later he rushed in with a boiling samovar in his hand, held out level with his shoulders; on the round table in front of the sofa he quickly put a tray with a glass and a battered brass slop-basin, and thumped the samovar down on the tray…. Kasimir Stanislavovitch, while the tea was drawing, mechanically opened the Moscow Daily, which the page-boy had brought in with the samovar. His eye fell on a report that yesterday an unknown man had been picked up unconscious…. “The victim was taken to the hospital,” he read, and threw the paper away. He felt very bad and unsteady. He got up and opened the window–it faced the yard–and a breath of freshness and of the city came to him; there came to him the melodious shouts of hawkers, the bells of horse-trams humming behind the house opposite, the blended rap-tap of the cars, the musical drone of church-bells…. The city had long since started its huge, noisy life in that bright, jolly, almost spring day. Kasimir Stanislavovitch squeezed the lemon into a glass of tea and greedily drank the sour, muddy liquid; then he again went behind the screen. The “Versailles” was quiet. It was pleasant and peaceful; his eye wandered leisurely over the hotel notice on the wall: “A stay of three hours is reckoned as a full day.” A mouse scuttled in the chest of drawers, rolling about a piece of sugar left there by some visitor…. Thus half asleep Kasimir Stanislavovitch lay for a long time behind the screen, until the sun had gone from the room and another freshness was wafted in from the window, the freshness of evening.
Then he carefully got himself in order: he undid his bag, changed his underclothing, took out a cheap, but clean handkerchief, brushed his shiny frock-coat, top-hat, and overcoat, took out of its torn pocket a crumpled Kiev newspaper of January 15, and threw it away into the corner…. Having dressed and combed his whiskers with a dyeing comb, he counted his money–there remained in his purse four roubles, seventy copecks–and went out. Exactly at six o’clock he was outside a low, ancient, little church in the Molchanovka. Behind the church fence a spreading tree was just breaking into green; children were playing there–the black stocking of one thin little girl, jumping over a rope, was continually coming down–and he sat there on a bench among perambulators with sleeping babies and nurses in Russian costumes. Sparrows prattled over all the tree; the air was soft, all but summer–even the dust smelt of summer–the sky above the sunset behind the houses melted into a gentle gold, and one felt that once more there was somewhere in the world joy, youth, happiness. In the church the chandeliers were already burning, and there stood the pulpit and in front of the pulpit was spread a little carpet. Kasimir Stanislavovitch cautiously took off his top-hat, trying not to untidy his hair, and entered the church nervously; he went into a corner, but a corner from which he could see the couple to be married. He looked at the painted vault, raised his eyes to the cupola, and his every movement and every gasp echoed loudly through the silence. The church shone with gold; the candles sputtered expectantly. And now the priests and choir began to enter, crossing themselves with the carelessness which comes of habit, then old women, children, smart wedding guests, and worried stewards. A noise was heard in the porch, the crunching wheels of the carriage, and every one turned their heads towards the entrance, and the hymn burst out “Come, my dove!” Kasimir Stanislavovitch became deadly pale, as his heart beat, and unconsciously he took a step forward. And close by him there passed–her veil touching him, and a breath of lily-of-the-valley–she who did not know even of his existence in the world; she passed, bending her charming head, all flowers and transparent gauze, all snow-white and innocent, happy and timid, like a princess going to her first communion…. Kasimir Stanislavovitch hardly saw the bridegroom who came to meet her, a rather small, broad-shouldered man with yellow, close-cropped hair. During the whole ceremony only one thing was before his eyes: the bent head, in the flowers and the veil, and the little hand trembling as it held a burning candle tied with a white ribbon in a bow….
About ten o’clock he was back again in the hotel. All his overcoat smelt of the spring air. After coming out of the church, he had seen, near the porch, the car lined with white satin, and its window reflecting the sunset, and behind the window there flashed on him for the last time the face of her who was being carried away from him for ever. After that he had wandered about in little streets, and had come out on the Novensky Boulevard…. Now slowly and with trembling hands he took off his overcoat, put on the table a paper bag containing two green cucumbers which for some reason he had bought at a hawker’s stall. They too smelt of spring even through the paper, and spring-like through the upper pane of the window the April moon shone silvery high up in the not yet darkened sky. Kasimir Stanislavovitch lit a candle, sadly illuminating his empty, casual home, and sat down on the sofa, feeling on his face the freshness of evening…. Thus he sat for a long time. He did not ring the bell, gave no orders, locked himself in–all this seemed suspicious to the porter who had seen him enter his room with his shuffling feet and taking the key out of the door in order to lock himself in from the inside. Several times the porter stole up on tiptoe to the door and looked through the key-hole: Kasimir Stanislavovitch was sitting on the sofa, trembling and wiping his face with a handkerchief, and weeping so bitterly, so copiously that the brown dye came off, and was smeared over his face.
At night he tore the cord off the blind, and, seeing nothing through his tears, began to fasten it to the hook of the clothes-peg. But the guttering candle flickered and the paper bag, and terrible dark waves swam and flickered over the locked room: he was old, weak–and he himself was well aware of it…. No, it was not in his power to die by his own hand!
In the morning he started for the railway station about three hours before the train left. At the station he quietly walked about among the passengers, with his eyes on the ground and tear-stained; and he would stop unexpectedly now before one and now before another, and in a low voice, evenly but without expression, he would say rather quickly:
“For God’s sake … I am in a desperate position…. My fare to Briansk…. If only a few copecks….”
And some passengers, trying not to look at his top-hat, at the worn velvet collar of his overcoat, at the dreadful face with the faded violet whiskers, hurriedly, and with confusion, gave him something.
And then, rushing out of the station on to the platform, he got mixed in the crowd and disappeared into it, while in the “Versailles,” in the room which for two days had as it were belonged to him, they carried out the slop-pail, opened the windows to the April sun and to the fresh air, noisily moved the furniture, swept up and threw out the dust–and with the dust there fell under the table, under the table cloth which slid on to the floor, his torn note, which he had forgotten with the cucumbers:
“I beg that no one be accused of my death. I was at the wedding of my only daughter who….”