Memoirs of a Madman
October 3rd. — A strange occurrence has taken place today. I got up fairly late, and when Mawra brought me my clean boots, I asked her how late it was. When I heard it had long struck ten, I dressed as quickly as possible.
To tell the truth, I would rather not have gone to the office at all today, for I know beforehand that our department-chief will look as sour as vinegar. For some time past he has been in the habit of saying to me, “Look here, my friend; there is something wrong with your head. You often rush about as though you were possessed. Then you make such confused abstracts of the documents that the devil himself cannot make them out; you write the title without any capital letters, and add neither the date nor the docket-number.” The long-legged scoundrel! He is certainly envious of me, because I sit in the director’s work-room, and mend His Excellency’s pens. In a word, I should not have gone to the office if I had not hoped to meet the accountant, and perhaps squeeze a little advance out of this skinflint.
A terrible man, this accountant! As for his advancing one’s salary once in a way — you might sooner expect the skies to fall. You may beg and beseech him, and be on the very verge of ruin — this grey devil won’t budge an inch. At the same time, his own cook at home, as all the world knows, boxes his ears.
I really don’t see what good one gets by serving in our department. There are no plums there. In the fiscal and judicial offices it is quite different. There some ungainly fellow sits in a corner and writes and writes; he has such a shabby coat and such an ugly mug that one would like to spit on both of them. But you should see what a splendid country-house he has rented. He would not condescend to accept a gilt porcelain cup as a present. “You can give that to your family doctor,” he would say. Nothing less than a pair of chestnut horses, a fine carriage, or a beaver-fur coat worth three hundred roubles would be good enough for him. And yet he seems so mild and quiet, and asks so amiably, “Please lend me your penknife; I wish to mend my pen.” Nevertheless, he knows how to scarify a petitioner till he has hardly a whole stitch left on his body.
In our office it must be admitted everything is done in a proper and gentlemanly way; there is more cleanness and elegance than one will ever find in Government offices. The tables are mahogany, and everyone is addressed as “sir.” And truly, were it not for this official propriety, I should long ago have sent in my resignation.
I put on my old cloak, and took my umbrella, as a light rain was falling. No one was to be seen on the streets except some women, who had flung their skirts over their heads. Here and there one saw a cabman or a shopman with his umbrella up. Of the higher classes one only saw an official here and there. One I saw at the street-crossing, and thought to myself, “Ah! my friend, you are not going to the office, but after that young lady who walks in front of you. You are just like the officers who run after every petticoat they see.”
As I was thus following the train of my thoughts, I saw a carriage stop before a shop just as I was passing it. I recognised it at once; it was our director’s carriage. “He has nothing to do in the shop,” I said to myself; “it must be his daughter.”
I pressed myself close against the wall. A lackey opened the carriage door, and, as I had expected, she fluttered like a bird out of it. How proudly she looked right and left; how she drew her eyebrows together, and shot lightnings from her eyes — good heavens! I am lost, hopelessly lost!
But why must she come out in such abominable weather? And yet they say women are so mad on their finery!
She did not recognise me. I had wrapped myself as closely as possible in my cloak. It was dirty and old-fashioned, and I would not have liked to have been seen by her wearing it. Now they wear cloaks with long collars, but mine has only a short double collar, and the cloth is of inferior quality.
Her little dog could not get into the shop, and remained outside. I know this dog; its name is “Meggy.”
Before I had been standing there a minute, I heard a voice call, “Good day, Meggy!”
Who the deuce was that? I looked round and saw two ladies hurrying by under an umbrella — one old, the other fairly young. They had already passed me when I heard the same voice say again, “For shame, Meggy!”
What was that? I saw Meggy sniffing at a dog which ran behind the ladies. The deuce! I thought to myself, “I am not drunk? That happens pretty seldom.”
“No, Fidel, you are wrong,” I heard Meggy say quite distinctly. “I was — bow — wow! — I was — bow! wow! wow! — very ill.”
What an extraordinary dog! I was, to tell the truth, quite amazed to hear it talk human language. But when I considered the matter well, I ceased to be astonished. In fact, such things have already happened in the world. It is said that in England a fish put its head out of water and said a word or two in such an extraordinary language that learned men have been puzzling over them for three years, and have not succeeded in interpreting them yet. I also read in the paper of two cows who entered a shop and asked for a pound of tea.
Meanwhile what Meggy went on to say seemed to me still more remarkable. She added, “I wrote to you lately, Fidel; perhaps Polkan did not bring you the letter.”
Now I am willing to forfeit a whole month’s salary if I ever heard of dogs writing before. This has certainly astonished me. For some little time past I hear and see things which no other man has heard and seen.
“I will,” I thought, “follow that dog in order to get to the bottom of the matter, Accordingly, I opened my umbrella and went after the two ladies. They went down Bean Street, turned through Citizen Street and Carpenter Street, and finally halted on the Cuckoo Bridge before a large house. I know this house; it is Sverkoff’s. What a monster he is! What sort of people live there! How many cooks, how many bagmen! There are brother officials of mine also there packed on each other like herrings. And I have a friend there, a fine player on the cornet.”
The ladies mounted to the fifth story. “Very good,” thought I; “I will make a note of the number, in order to follow up the matter at the first opportunity.”
October 11h. — To-day is Wednesday, and I was as usual in the office. I came early on purpose, sat down, and mended all the pens.
Our director must be a very clever man. The whole room is full of bookcases. I read the titles of some of the books; they were very learned, beyond the comprehension of people of my class, and all in French and German. I look at his face; see! how much dignity there is in his eyes. I never hear a single superfluous word from his mouth, except that when he hands over the documents, he asks “What sort of weather is it?”
No, he is not a man of our class; he is a real statesman. I have already noticed that I am a special favourite of his. If now his daughter also — ah! what folly — let me say no more about it!
I have read the Northern Bee. What foolish people the French are! By heavens! I should like to tackle them all, and give them a thrashing. I have also read a fine description of a ball given by a landowner of Kursk. The land-owners of Kursk write a fine style.
Then I noticed that it was already half-past twelve, and the director had not yet left his bedroom. But about half-past one something happened which no pen can describe.
The door opened. I thought it was the director; I jumped up with my documents from the seat, and — then — she — herself — came into the room. Ye saints! how beautifully she was dressed. Her garments were whiter than a swan’s plumage — oh how splendid! A sun, indeed, a real sun!
She greeted me and asked, “Has not my father come yet?”
Ah! what a voice. A canary bird! A real canary bird!
“Your Excellency,” I wanted to exclaim, “don’t have me executed, but if it must be done, then kill me rather with your own angelic hand.” But, God knows why, I could not bring it out, so I only said, “No, he has not come yet.”
She glanced at me, looked at the books, and let her handkerchief fall. Instantly I started up, but slipped on the infernal polished floor, and nearly broke my nose. Still I succeeded in picking up the handkerchief. Ye heavenly choirs, what a handkerchief! So tender and soft, of the finest cambric. It had the scent of a general’s rank!
She thanked me, and smiled so amiably that her sugar lips nearly melted. Then she left the room.
After I had sat there about an hour, a flunkey came in and said, “You can go home, Mr Ivanovitch; the director has already gone out!”
I cannot stand these lackeys! They hang about the vestibules, and scarcely vouchsafe to greet one with a nod. Yes, sometimes it is even worse; once one of these rascals offered me his snuff-box without even getting up from his chair. “Don’t you know then, you country-bumpkin, that I am an official and of aristocratic birth?”
This time, however, I took my hat and over-coat quietly; these people naturally never think of helping one on with it. I went home, lay a good while on the bed, and wrote some verses in my note:
“’Tis an hour since I saw thee,
And it seems a whole long year;
If I loathe my own existence,
How can I live on, my dear?”
I think they are by Pushkin.
In the evening I wrapped myself in my cloak, hastened to the director’s house, and waited there a long time to see if she would come out and get into the carriage. I only wanted to see her once, but she did not come.
November 6th. — Our chief clerk has gone mad. When I came to the office today he called me to his room and began as follows: “Look here, my friend, what wild ideas have got into your head?”
“How! What? None at all,” I answered.
“Consider well. You are already past forty; it is quite time to be reasonable. What do you imagine? Do you think I don’t know all your tricks? Are you trying to pay court to the director’s daughter? Look at yourself and realise what you are! A nonentity, nothing else. I would not give a kopeck for you. Look well in the glass. How can you have such thoughts with such a caricature of a face?”
May the devil take him! Because his own face has a certain resemblance to a medicine-bottle, because he has a curly bush of hair on his head, and sometimes combs it upwards, and sometimes plasters it down in all kinds of queer ways, he thinks that he can do everything. I know well, I know why he is angry with me. He is envious; perhaps he has noticed the tokens of favour which have been graciously shown me. But why should I bother about him? A councillor! What sort of important animal is that? He wears a gold chain with his watch, buys himself boots at thirty roubles a pair; may the deuce take him! Am I a tailor’s son or some other obscure cabbage? I am a nobleman! I can also work my way up. I am just forty-two — an age when a man’s real career generally begins. Wait a bit, my friend! I too may get to a superior’s rank; or perhaps, if God is gracious, even to a higher one, I shall make a name which will far outstrip yours. You think there are no able men except yourself? I only need to order a fashionable coat and wear a tie like yours, and you would be quite eclipsed.
But I have no money — that is the worst part of it!
November 8th. — I was at the theatre. “The Russian House–Fool” was performed. I laughed heartily. There was also a kind of musical comedy which contained amusing hits at barristers. The language was very broad; I wonder the censor passed it. In the comedy lines occur which accuse the merchants of cheating; their sons are said to lead immoral lives, and to behave very disrespectfully towards the nobility.
The critics also are criticised; they are said only to be able to find fault, so that authors have to beg the public for protection.
Our modern dramatists certainly write amusing things. I am very fond of the theatre. If I have only a kopeck in my pocket, I always go there. Most of my fellow-officials are uneducated boors, and never enter a theatre unless one throws free tickets at their head.
One actress sang divinely. I thought also of — but silence!
November 9th. — About eight o’clock I went to the office. The chief clerk pretended not to notice my arrival. I for my part also behaved as though he were not in existence. I read through and collated documents. About four o’clock I left. I passed by the director’s house, but no one was to be seen. After dinner I lay for a good while on the bed.
November 11th. — To-day I sat in the director’s room, mended twenty-three pens for him, and for Her — for Her Excellence, his daughter, four more.
The director likes to see many pens lying on his table. What a head he must have! He continually wraps himself in silence, but I don’t think the smallest trifle escapes his eye. I should like to know what he is generally thinking of, what is really going on in this brain; I should like to get acquainted with the whole manner of life of these gentlemen, and get a closer view of their cunning courtiers’ arts, and all the activities of these circles. I have often thought of asking His Excellence about them; but — the deuce knows why! — every time my tongue failed me and I could get nothing out but my meteorological report.
I wish I could get a look into the spare room whose door I so often see open. And a second small room behind the spare room excites my curiosity. How splendidly it is fitted up; what a quantity of mirrors and choice china it contains! I should also like to cast a glance into those regions where Her Excellency, the daughter, wields the sceptre. I should like to see how all the scent-bottles and boxes are arranged in her boudoir, and the flowers which exhale so delicious a scent that one is half afraid to breathe. And her clothes lying about which are too ethereal to be called clothes — but silence!
To-day there came to me what seemed a heavenly inspiration. I remembered the conversation between the two dogs which I had over — heard on the Nevski Prospect. “Very good,” I thought; “now I see my way clear. I must get hold of the correspondence which these two silly dogs have carried on with each other. In it I shall probably find many things explained.”
I had already once called Meggy to me and said to her, “Listen, Meggy! Now we are alone together; if you like, I will also. shut the door so that no one can see us. Tell me now all that you know about your mistress. I swear to you that I will tell no one.”
But the cunning dog drew in its tail, ruffled up its hair, and went quite quietly out of the door, as though it had heard nothing.
I had long been of the opinion that dogs are much cleverer than men. I also believed that they could talk, and that only a certain obstinacy kept them from doing so. They are especially watchful animals, and nothing escapes their observation. Now, cost what it may, I will go tomorrow to Sverkoff’s house in order to ask after Fidel, and if I have luck, to get hold of all the letters which Meggy has written to her.
November 12th. — To-day about two o’clock in the afternoon I started in order, by some means or other, to see Fidel and question her.
I cannot stand this smell of Sauerkraut which assails one’s olfactory nerves from all the shops in Citizen Street. There also exhales such an odour from under each house door, that one must hold one’s nose and pass by quickly. There ascends also so much smoke and soot from the artisans’ shops that it is almost impossible to get through it.
When I had climbed up to the sixth story, and had rung the bell, a rather pretty girl with a freckled face came out. I recognised her as the companion of the old lady. She blushed a little and asked “What do you want?”
“I want to have a little conversation with your dog.”
She was a simple-minded girl, as I saw at once. The dog came running and barking loudly. I wanted to take hold of it, but the abominable beast nearly caught hold of my nose with its teeth. But in a corner of the room I saw its sleeping-basket. Ah! that was what I wanted. I went to it, rummaged in the straw, and to my great satisfaction drew out a little packet of small pieces of paper. When the hideous little dog saw this, it first bit me in the calf of the leg, and then, as soon as it had become aware of my theft, it began to whimper and to fawn on me; but I said, “No, you little beast; good-bye!” and hastened away.
I believe the girl thought me mad; at any rate she was thoroughly alarmed.
When I reached my room I wished to get to work at once, and read through the letters by daylight, since I do not see well by candle-light; but the wretched Mawra had got the idea of sweeping the floor. These blockheads of Finnish women are always clean where there is no need to be.
I then went for a little walk and began to think over what had happened. Now at last I could get to the bottom of all facts, ideas and motives! These letters would explain everything. Dogs are clever fellows; they know all about politics, and I will certainly find in the letters all I want, especially the character of the director and all his relationships. And through these letters I will get information about her who — but silence!
Towards evening I came home and lay for a good while on the bed.
November 13th. — Now let us see! The letter is fairly legible but the handwriting is somewhat doggish.
“Dear Fidel! — I cannot get accustomed to your ordinary name, as if they could not have found a better one for you! Fidel! How tasteless! How ordinary! But this is sot the time to discuss it. I am very glad that we thought of corresponding with each other.”
(The letter is quite correctly written. The punctuation and spelling are perfectly right. Even our head clerk does not write so simply and clearly, though he declares he has been at the University. Let us go on.)
“I think that it is one of the most refined joys of this world to interchange thoughts, feelings, and impressions.”
(H’m! This idea comes from some book which has been translated from German. I can’t remember the title.)
“I speak from experience, although I have not gone farther into the world than just before our front door. Does not my life pass happily and comfortably? My mistress, whom her father calls Sophie, is quite in love with me.”
(Ah! Ah! — but better be silent!)
“Her father also often strokes me. I drink tea and coffee with cream. Yes, my dear, I must confess to you that I find no satisfaction in those large, gnawed-at bones which Polkan devours in the kitchen. Only the bones of wild fowl are good, and that only when the marrow has not been sucked out of them. They taste very nice with a little sauce, but there should be no green stuff in it. But I know nothing worse than the habit of giving dogs balls of bread kneaded up. Someone sits at table, kneads a bread-ball with dirty fingers, calls you and sticks it in your mouth. Good manners forbid your refusing it, and you eat it — with disgust it is true, but you eat it.”
(The deuce! What is this? What rubbish! As if she could find nothing more suitable to write about! I will see if there is anything more reasonable on the second page.)
“I am quite willing to inform you of everything that goes on here. I have already men — tioned the most important person in the house, whom Sophie calls ‘Papa.’ He is a very strange man.”
(Ah! Here we are at last! Yes, I knew it; they have a politician’s penetrating eye for all things. Let us see what she says about “Papa.”)
“ . . . a strange man. Generally he is silent; he only speaks seldom, but about a week ago he kept on repeating to himself, ‘Shall I get it or not?’ In one hand he took a sheet of paper; the other he stretched out as though to receive something, and repeated, ‘Shall I get it or not?’ Once he turned to me with the question, ‘What do you think, Meggy?’ I did not understand in the least what he meant, sniffed at his boots, and went away. A week later he came home with his face beaming. That morning he was visited by several officers in uniform who congratulated him. At the dinner-table he was in a better humour than I have ever seen him before.”
(Ah! he is ambitious then! I must make a note of that.)
“Pardon, my dear, I hasten to conclude, etc., etc. To-morrow I will finish the letter.”
“Now, good morning; here I am again at your service. To-day my mistress Sophie . . . ”
(Ah! we will see what she says about Sophie. Let us go on!)
“ . . . was in an unusually excited state. She went to a ball, and I was glad that I could write to you in her absence. She likes going to balls, although she gets dreadfully irritated while dressing. I cannot understand, my dear, what is the pleasure in going to a ball. She comes home from the ball at six o’clock in the early morning, and to judge by her pale and emaciated face, she has had nothing to eat. I could, frankly speaking, not endure such an existence. If I could not get partridge with sauce, or the wing of a roast chicken, I don’t know what I should do. Porridge with sauce is also tolerable, but I can get up no enthusiasm for carrots, turnips, and artichokes.”
The style is very unequal! One sees at once that it has not been written by a man. The beginning is quite intelligent, but at the end the canine nature breaks out. I will read another letter; it is rather long and there is no date.
“Ah, my dear, how delightful is the arrival of spring! My heart beats as though it expected something. There is a perpetual ringing in my ears, so that I often stand with my foot raised, for several minutes at a time, and listen towards the door. In confidence I will tell you that I have many admirers. I often sit on the window-sill and let them pass in review. Ah! if you knew what miscreations there are among them; one, a clumsy house-dog, with stupidity written on his face, walks the street with an important air and imagines that he is an extremely important person, and that the eyes of all the world are fastened on him. I don’t pay him the least attention, and pretend not to see him at all.
“And what a hideous bulldog has taken up his post opposite my window! If he stood on his hind-legs, as the monster probably cannot, he would be taller by a head than my mistress’s papa, who himself has a stately figure. This lout seems, moreover, to be very impudent. I growl at him, but he does not seem to mind that at all. If he at least would only wrinkle his forehead! Instead of that, he stretches out his tongue, droops his big ears, and stares in at the window — this rustic boor! But do you think, my dear, that my heart remains proof against all temptations? Alas no! If you had only seen that gentlemanly dog who crept through the fence of the neighbouring house. Treasure is his name. Ah, my dear, what a delightful snout he has!”
(To the deuce with the stuff! What rubbish it is! How can one blacken paper with such absurdities. Give me a man. I want to see a man! I need some food to nourish and refresh my mind, and get this silliness instead. I will turn the page to see if there is anything better on the other side.)
“Sophie sat at the table and sewed something. I looked out of the window and amused myself by watching the passers-by. Suddenly a flunkey entered and announced a visitor — ‘Mr Teploft.’
“‘Show him in!’ said Sophie, and began to embrace me. ‘Ah! Meggy, Meggy, do you know who that is? He is dark, and belongs to the Royal Household; and what eyes he has! Dark and brilliant as fire.’
“Sophie hastened into her room. A minute later a young gentleman with black whiskers entered. He went to the mirror, smoothed his hair, and looked round the room. I turned away and sat down in my place,
“Sophie entered and returned his bow in a friendly manner.
“I pretended to observe nothing, and continued to look out of the window. But I leant my head a little on one side to hear what they were talking about. Ah, my dear! what silly things they discussed — how a lady executed the wrong figure in dancing; how a certain Boboff, with his expansive shirt-frill, had looked like a stork and nearly fallen down; how a certain Lidina imagined she had blue eyes when they were really green, etc.
“I do not know, my dear, what special charm she finds in her Mr Teploff, and why she is so delighted with him.”
(It seems to me myself that there is something wrong here. It is impossible that this Teploff should bewitch her. We will see further.)
“If this gentleman of the Household pleases her, then she must also be pleased, according to my view, with that official who sits in her papa’s writing-room. Ah, my dear, if you know what a figure he is! A regular tortoise!”
(What official does she mean?)
“He has an extraordinary name. He always sits there and mends the pens. His hair looks like a truss of hay. Her papa always employs him instead of a servant.”
(I believe this abominable little beast is referring to me. But what has my hair got to do with hay?)
“Sophie can never keep from laughing when she sees him.”
You lie, cursed dog! What a scandalous tongue! As if I did not know that it is envy which prompts you, and that here there is” treachery at work — yes, the treachery of the chief clerk. This man hates me implacably; he has plotted against me, he is always seeking to injure me. I’ll look through one more letter; perhaps it will make the matter clearer.
“Fidel, my dear, pardon me that I have not written for so long. I was floating in a dream of delight. In truth, some author remarks, ‘Love is a second life.’ Besides, great changes are going on in the house. The young chamberlain is always here. Sophie is wildly in love with him. Her papa is quite contented. I heard from Gregor, who sweeps the floor, and is in the habit of talking to himself, that the marriage will soon be celebrated. Her papa will at any rate get his daughter married to a general, a colonel, or a chamberlain.”
Deuce take it! I can read no more. It is all about chamberlains and generals. I should like myself to be a general — not in order to sue for her hand and all that — no, not at all; I should like to be a general merely in order to see people wriggling, squirming, and hatching plots before me.
And then I should like to tell them that they are both of them not worth spitting on. But it is vexatious! I tear the foolish dog’s letters up in a thousand pieces.
December 3rd. — It is not possible that the marriage should take place; it is only idle gossip. What does it signify if he is a chamberlain! That is only a dignity, not a substantial thing which one can see or handle. His chamberlain’s office will not procure him a third eye in his forehead. Neither is his nose made of gold; it is just like mine or anyone else’s nose. He does not eat and cough, but smells and sneezes with it. I should like to get to the bottom of the mystery — whence do all these distinctions come? Why am I only a titular councillor?
Perhaps I am really a count or a general, and only appear to be a titular councillor. Perhaps I don’t even know who and what I am. How many cases there are in history of a simple gentleman, or even a burgher or peasant, suddenly turning out to be a great lord or baron? Well, suppose that I appear suddenly in a general’s uniform, on the right shoulder an epaulette, on the left an epaulette, and a blue sash across my breast, what sort of a tune would my beloved sing then? What would her papa, our director, say? Oh, he is ambitious! He is a freemason, certainly a freemason; however much he may conceal it, I have found it out. When he gives anyone his hand, he only reaches out two fingers. Well, could not I this minute be nominated a general or a superintendent? I should like to know why I am a titular councillor — why just that, and nothing more?
December 6th. — To-day I have been reading papers the whole morning. Very strange things are happening in Spain. I have not understood them all. It is said that the throne is vacant, the representatives of the people are in difficulties about finding an occupant, and riots are taking place.
All this appears to me very strange. How can the throne be vacant? It is said that it will be occupied by a woman. A woman cannot sit on a throne. That is impossible. Only a king can sit on a throne. They say that there is no king there, but that is not possible. There cannot be a kingdom without a king. There must be a king, but he is hidden away somewhere. Perhaps he is actually on the spot, and only some domestic complications, or fears of the neighbouring Powers, France and other countries, compel him to remain in concealment; there might also be other reasons.
December 8th. — I was nearly going to the office, but various considerations kept me from doing so. I keep on thinking about these Spanish affairs. How is it possible that a woman should reign? It would not be allowed, especially by England. In the rest of Europe the political situation is also critical; the Emperor of Austria
These events, to tell the truth, have so shaken and shattered me, that I could really do nothing all day. Mawra told me that I was very absent-minded at table. In fact, in my absent-mindedness I threw two plates on the ground so that they broke in pieces.
After dinner I felt weak, and did not feel up to making abstracts of reports. I lay most of the time on my bed, and thought of the Spanish affairs.
The year 2000: April 43rd. — To-day is a day of splendid triumph. Spain has a king; he has been found, and I am he. I discovered it today; all of a sudden it came upon me like a flash of lightning.
I do not understand how I could imagine, that I am a titular councillor. How could such a foolish idea enter my head? It was fortunate that it occurred to no one to shut me up in an asylum. Now it is all clear, and as plain as a pikestaff. Formerly — I don’t know why — everything seemed veiled in a kind of mist. That is, I believe, because people think that the human brain is in the head. Nothing of the sort; it is carried by the wind from the Caspian Sea.
For the first time I told Mawra who I am. When she learned that the king of Spain stood before her, she struck her hands together over her head, and nearly died of alarm. The stupid thing had never seen the king of Spain before!
I comforted her, however, at once by assuring her that I was not angry with her for having hitherto cleaned my boots badly. Women are stupid things; one cannot interest them in lofty subjects. She was frightened because she thought all kings of Spain were like Philip II. But I explained to her that there was a great difference between me and him. I did not go to the office. Why the deuce should I? No, my dear friends, you won’t get me there again! I am not going to worry myself with your infernal documents any more.
Marchember 86. Between day and night. — To-day the office-messenger came and summoned me, as I had not been there for three weeks. I went just for the fun of the thing. The chief clerk thought I would bow humbly before him, and make excuses; but I looked at him quite indifferently, neither angrily nor mildly, and sat down quietly at my place as though I noticed no one. I looked at all this rabble of scribblers, and thought, “If you only knew who is sitting among you! Good heavens! what a to-do you would make. Even the chief clerk would bow himself to the earth before me as he does now before the director.’
A pile of reports was laid before me, of which to make abstracts, but I did not touch them with one finger.
After a little time there was a commotion in the office, and there a report went round that the director was coming. Many of the clerks vied with each other to attract his notice; but I did not stir. As he came through our room, each one hastily buttoned up his coat; but I had no idea of doing anything of the sort. What is the director to me? Should I stand up before him? Never. What sort of a director is he? He is a bottle-stopper, and no director. A quite ordinary, simple bottle-stopper — nothing more. I felt quite amused as they gave me a document to sign.
They thought I would simply put down my name — “So-and-so, Clerk.” Why not? But at the top of the sheet, where the director generally writes his name, I inscribed “Ferdinand Yin.” in bold characters. You should have seen what a reverential silence ensued. But I made a gesture with my hand, and said, “Gentlemen, no ceremony please!” Then I went out, and took my way straight to the director’s house.
He was not at home. The flunkey wanted not to let me in, but I talked to him in such a way that he soon dropped his arms.
I went straight to Sophie’s dressing-room. She sat before the mirror. When she saw me, she sprang up and took a step backwards; but I did not tell her that I was the king of Spain.
But I told her that a happiness awaited her, beyond her power to imagine; and that in spite of all our enemies’ devices we should be united. That was all which I wished to say to her, and I went out. Oh, what cunning creatures these women are! Now I have found out what woman really is. Hitherto no one knew whom a woman really loves; I am the first to discover it — she loves the devil. Yes, joking apart, learned men write nonsense when they pronounce that she is this and that; she loves the devil — that is all. You see a woman looking through her lorgnette from a box in the front row. One thinks she is watching that stout gentleman who wears an order. Not a bit of it! She is watching the devil who stands behind his back. He has hidden himself there, and beckons to her with his finger. And she marries him — actually — she marries him!
That is all ambition, and the reason is that there is under the tongue a little blister in which there is a little worm of the size of a pin’s head. And this is constructed by a barber in Bean Street; I don’t remember his name at the moment, but so much is certain that, in conjunction with a midwife, he wants to spread Mohammedanism all over the world, and that in consequence of this a large number of people in France have already adopted the faith of Islam.
No date. The day had no date. — I went for a walk incognito on the Nevski Prospect. I avoided every appearance of being the king of Spain. I felt it below my dignity to let myself be recognised by the whole world, since I must first present myself at court. And I was also restrained by the fact that I have at present no Spanish national costume. If I could only get a cloak! I tried to have a consultation with a tailor, but these people are real asses! Moreover, they neglect their business, dabble in speculation, and have become loafers. I will have a cloak made out of my new official uniform which I have only worn twice. But to prevent this botcher of a tailor spoiling it, I will make it myself with closed doors, so that no one sees me. Since the cut must be altogether altered, I have used the scissors myself.
I don’t remember the date. The devil knows what month it was. The cloak is quite ready. Mawra exclaimed aloud when I put it on. I will, however, not present myself at court yet; the Spanish deputation has not yet arrived. It would not be befitting if I appeared without them. My appearance would be less imposing. From hour to hour I expect them.
The 1st. — The extraordinary long delay of the deputies in coming astonishes me. What can possibly keep them? Perhaps France has a hand in the matter; it is certainly hostilely inclined. I went to the post office to inquire whether the Spanish deputation had come. The postmaster is an extraordinary blockhead who knows nothing. “No,” he said to me, “there is no Spanish deputation here; but if you want to send them a letter, we will forward it at the fixed rate.” The deuce! What do I want with a letter? Letters are. nonsense. Letters are written by apothecaries . . . .
Madrid, February 30th. — So I am in Spain after all! It has happened so quickly that I could hardly take it in. The Spanish deputies came early this morning, and I got with them into the carriage. This unexpected promptness seemed to me strange. We drove so quickly that in half an hour we were at the Spanish frontier. Over all Europe now there are cast-iron roads, and the steamers go very fast. A wonderful country, this Spain!
As we entered the first room, I saw numerous persons with shorn heads. I guessed at once that they must be either grandees or soldiers, at least to judge by their shorn heads.
The Chancellor of the State, who led me by the hand, seemed to me to behave in a very strange way; he pushed me into a little room and said, “Stay here, and if you call yourself “King Ferdinand” again, I will drive the wish to do so out of you.”
I knew, however, that that was only a test, and I reasserted my conviction; on which the Chancellor gave me two such severe blows with a stick on the back, that I could have cried out with the pain. But I restrained myself, remembering that this was a usual ceremony of old — time chivalry when one was inducted into a high position, and in Spain the laws of chivalry prevail up to the present day. When I was alone, I determined to study State affairs; I discovered that Spain and China are one and the same country, and it is only through ignorance that people regard them as separate kingdoms. I advice everyone urgently to write down the word “Spain” on a sheet of paper; he will see that it is quite the same as China.
But I feel much annoyed by an event which is about to take place tomorrow; at seven o’clock the earth is going to sit on the moon. This is foretold by the famous English chemist, Wellington. To tell the truth, I often felt uneasy when I thought of the excessive brittleness and fragility of the moon. The moon is generally repaired in Hamburg, and very imperfectly. It is done by a lame cooper, an obvious blockhead who has no idea how to do it. He took waxed thread and olive-oil — hence that pungent smell over all the earth which compels people to hold their noses. And this makes the moon so fragile that no men can live on it, but only noses. Therefore we cannot see our noses, because they are on the moon.
When I now pictured to myself how the earth, that massive body, would crush our noses to dust, if it sat on the moon, I became so uneasy, that I immediately put on my shoes and stockings and hastened into the council-hall to give the police orders to prevent the moon sitting on the earth.
The grandees with the shorn heads, whom I met in great numbers in the hall, were very intelligent people, and when I exclaimed, “Gentlemen! let us save the moon, for the earth is going to sit on it,” they all set to work to fulfil my imperial wish, and many of them clambered up the wall in order to take the moon down. At that moment the Imperial Chancellor came in. As soon as he appeared, they all scattered, but I alone, as king, remained. To my astonishment, however, the Chancellor beat me with the stick and drove me to my room. So powerful are ancient customs in Spain!
January in the same year, following after February. — I can never understand what kind of a country this Spain really is. The popular customs and rules of court etiquette are quite extraordinary. I do not understand them at all, at all. To-day my head was shorn, although I exclaimed as loudly as I could, that I did not want to be a monk. What happened afterwards, when they began to let cold water trickle on my head, I do not know. I have never experienced such hellish torments. I nearly went mad, and they had difficulty in holding me. The significance of this strange custom is entirely hidden from me. It is a very foolish and unreasonable one.
Nor can I understand the stupidity of the kings who have not done away with it before now. Judging by all the circumstances, it seems to me as though I had fallen into the hands of the Inquisition, and as though the man whom I took to be the Chancellor was the Grand Inquisitor. But yet I cannot understand how the king could fall into the hands of the Inquisition. The affair may have been arranged by France — especially Polignac — he is a hound, that Polignac! He has sworn to compass my death, and now he is hunting me down. But I know, my friend, that you are only a tool of the English. They are clever fellows, and have a finger in every pie. All the world knows that France sneezes when England takes a pinch of snuff.
The 25th. — To-day the Grand Inquisitor came into my room; when I heard his steps in the distance, I hid myself under a chair. When he did not see me, he began to call. At first he called “Poprishchin!” I made no answer. Then he called “Axanti Ivanovitch! Titular Councillor! Nobleman!” I still kept silence. “Ferdinand the Eighth, King of Spain!” I was on the point of putting out my head, but I thought, “No, brother, you shall not deceive me! You shall not pour water on my head again!”
But he had already seen me and drove me from under the chair with his stick. The cursed stick really hurts one. But the following discovery compensated me for all the pain, i.e. that every cock has his Spain under his feathers. The Grand Inquisitor went angrily away, and threatened me with some punishment or other. I felt only contempt for his powerless spite, for I know that he only works like a machine, like a tool of the English.
34 March. February, 349. — No, I have no longer power to endure. God! what are they going to do with me? They pour cold water on my head. They take no notice of me, and seem neither to see nor hear. Why do they torture me? What do they want from one so wretched as myself? What can I give them? I possess nothing. I cannot bear all their tortures; my head aches as though everything were turning round in a circle. Save me! Carry me away! Give me three steeds swift as the wind! Mount your seat, coachman, ring bells, gallop horses, and carry me straight out of this world. Farther, ever farther, till nothing more is to be seen!
Ah! the heaven bends over me already; a star glimmers in the distance; the forest with its dark trees in the moonlight rushes past; a bluish mist floats under my feet; music sounds in the cloud; on the one side is the sea, on the other, Italy; beyond I also see Russian peasants’ houses. Is not my parents’ house there in the distance? Does not my mother sit by the window? mother, mother, save your unhappy son! Let a tear fall on his aching head! See how they torture him! Press the poor orphan to your bosom! He has no rest in this world; they hunt him from place to place.
Mother, mother, have pity on your sick child! And do you know that the Bey of Algiers has a wart under his nose?
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“The Diary of a Madman,” told in the first person, purports to be a diary kept by a forty-two-year-old clerk who has a meaningless job in the vast governmental bureaucracy of mid-nineteenth century Russia. His best prospects for advancement are far behind him, and his duties consist of routine tasks such as sharpening his employer’s quills or copying information from one departmental form to another. He is unmarried, bored, and treated without kindness or courtesy. “They don’t listen to me, they don’t hear me, they don’t see me,” he realizes late in the story. “I cannot bear this suffering.”
The daily entries in his journal reveal a man slowly going mad as he comes to understand his own insignificance. The narrator is scorned by his landlady, reprimanded by his boss, and accosted by strangers in the street. The diary shows how he manufactures explanations for these indignities. “There are so many crooks, so many Poles,” so many civil servants “who sit on top of one another like dogs.” He is quick to blame others for his shabby life. “I see through his indignation. He is envious,” he says of one foe who has belittled him. “Perhaps he’s noticed the marks of favor bestowed on me. A lot I care what he says of me.” Such entries show the clerk using the conventional and commonplace rationalizations to which many people resort to explain away their failures and to evade their own contributions to their unhappiness. “High officers, they get all the best things in this world. You discover a crumb of happiness, you reach out for it and then along comes a high official and snatches it away.”
Increasingly, these mild misperceptions cease to be effective. When reality metes out to the clerk more than his commonplace ideas can explain, he starts inventing more fantastic rationalizations, which seem to remove him further from reality. Adding to the pressures are his rare glimpses of Sophie, his boss’s daughter. He indulges in obsessive thoughts of love and devotion toward her that are far out of proportion to her occasional and demeaning comments to him. “Holy Fathers, the way she was dressed! Her dress was white, and fluffy, like a...
(The entire section is 893 words.)