The collegiate assessor Kovalev woke up rather early and his lips chirped "brr," as they always did when he woke up although he could never figure out why. Stretching out, he ordered the mirror standing on his night table to be fetched. He wanted to examine the pimple which had appeared on his nose last night; to his great astonishment, however, he saw that instead of his nose there was nothing more than a completely smooth spot! Scared, he ordered that water be brought and rubbed his eyes with a towel: indeed, no nose! He began groping around to see whether he wasn't dreaming; apparently he was not. The collegiate assessor Kovalev bestirred himself and got out of bed: no nose! He ordered that he be immediately dressed and betook himself with all haste to the police superintendent.
We will need, however, to say something about Kovalev so that the reader might understand what type of collegiate assessor he was. One may not compare collegiate assessors who have received such titles by dint of diplomas and certificates to those collegiate assessors who were educated in the Caucasus. These are two distinctly different types of collegiate assessors. But Russia is such a wondrous land that if you say something regarding one collegiate assessor, all collegiate assessors from Riga to Kamchatka will invariably take it to mean you are talking about them – and this, you will understand, is true of all ranks and titles. Kovalev was a Caucasian collegiate assessor. He had only been possessor of such a title for two years and therefore could not forget about it even for a minute. Yet to imbue himself with even greater nobility and weight, he never referred to himself as a collegiate assessor, only as a major. "Listen, sweetheart," he would say whenever he encountered a young woman on the street selling shirt fronts. "Come over to my place. My apartment is on Sadovaya street. Just ask: Is this where Major Kovalev lives? Everyone will be able to direct you." And if he met an especially pretty young thing, he would give her an additional, secret command: "Ask for Major Kovalev's apartment, love." For this very reason we will henceforth refer to this collegiate assessor as "major."
Major Kovalev had the daily habit of strolling along Nevsky Avenue. The collar of his shirt front was always extraordinarily clean and well-starched. His sideburns were of the type that one may now notice on provincial and district land surveyors, on architects and military doctors, as well as on police officials of various rank and authority, and on all men of full and ruddy cheek who were gifted players of Boston. These sideburns reached to the very middle of his cheeks and led directly to his nose. Major Kovalev wore a host of carnelian signets with coats of arms as well as those on which Wednesday, Thursday, Monday, and so forth were engraved. Major Kovalev came to Petersburg out of need, to wit, to select a building befitting his title; if he succeeded, he would find something on the vice-governor level; if he did not, then some kind of executive-looking apartment would do. Major Kovalev was not adverse to getting married, but only if his bride brought him at least two hundred thousand in dowry. Thus, the reader can now judge for himself what the position of this major was and how he looked with, instead of a rather nice-looking and well-shaped nose, that imbecilic flat and even spot.
Alas, not one coachman rattled down the street and he was obliged to go on foot, wrapped in his raincoat with his face mostly covered by a handkerchief, all of which gave him the appearance of bleeding. "Perhaps I imagined it after all; it simply cannot be that my nose stupidly fell off!" he thought and entered a bakery with the express purpose of taking a look at himself in the mirror. Thankfully, there was not a soul in the bakery. The apprentices were sweeping rooms and setting up chairs; a few with sleepy eyes carried trays stacked with hot pastries; on the chairs and tables lay yesterday's coffee-stained newspapers. "Thank heavens, no one's around," he said. "Now I can take a look." He timidly approached a mirror and looked. "What the devil! What is this nonsense?!" he spat. "You would think there would be something instead of the nose, but there's nothing at all!"
Biting his lips in disappointment, he exited the bakery and decided, against his habit, not to look or smile at anyone. Suddenly at the doors of a certain building he stopped dead in his tracks. An inexplicable phenomenon passed before his eyes: a carriage pulled up before the entryway; the doors swung open, and a man in uniform bent over, hopped out, and raced up the stairs. What horror and astonishment then came over Kovalev when he saw that this was none other than his own nose! Given this extraordinary sight, the world seemed to be spinning around before his very eyes; he felt that he could barely stand on his own two feet; and as he remained there shaking as if febrile he decided that, no matter what it took, he would await its return to the carriage. And two minutes later the nose did, in fact, emerge. He was in a gold-stitched uniform with a high, standing collar and suede pants; at his side rattled a sword. From his feathered cap one might have been able to conclude that he deemed himself the peer of a State Councillor. From all indications he was off somewhere on a visit. He glanced both ways then hailed a coachman: "Hither!" He got on and rode off.
Poor Kovalev almost lost his mind. He didn't know what he should even think of this oddest of events. How could it be actually possible that a nose, which just yesterday was sitting happily on his face unable to walk or ride, was now in a uniform? He chased after the carriage, which fortunately had not gotten far and had stopped in front of Kazan Cathedral.
He raced towards the Cathedral, fought his way through a row of wretched old women with faces knitted in wrinkles and two slivers for eyes whom he used to mock, and entered the church. There were few worshippers within; almost all of them were standing outside by the entryway. Kovalev was so upset and in such a state that he simply could not pray, and he cast his eyes around every corner in search of that certain gentleman. Finally he espied him standing on the side. The nose had almost completely hidden his face behind his high-standing collar and was praying with an expression of greatest piety.
"How should I approach him?" thought Kovalev. "It's obvious from everything, from the uniform, from the hat, that he's a state councillor. What the devil do I do?"
He began coughing in his vicinity; but the nose did not forsake his piety for even a minute and even made some low bows.
"My dear sir," said Kovalev, internally obliging himself to perk up, "my dear sir."
"How may I help you?" the nose replied, turning around.
"It is strange, my dear sir, but it seems that you should know your place. And all of a sudden where do I find you? In a church. You will agree that ..."
"Pardon me, but I fear I do not quite understand what you mean. Pray explain."
"How can I explain?" thought Kovalev, and mustering his courage, chimed:
"Of course, I, um, as it were, I am a major. You will agree that, for me, walking around without a nose is very unpleasant. Any old merchant woman selling peeled oranges on Voskresensky bridge could make do sitting there without a nose; but as I intend to receive ... well, being known to many ladies in many houses, such as Chekhtareva, the wife of the State Councillor, and others ... Well, you judge for yourself ... I don't know, my dear sir (here Major Kovalev shrugged his shoulders). Pardon me ... but if one were to examine this matter from the point of view of duty and honor ... you yourself would understand ..."
"No, I do not understand anything whatsoever. I would wish for a more satisfactory explanation."
"Dear sir," Kovalev began again, this time with a sense of personal dignity. "I do not know what to make of your words. Here the matter is, well, a rather obvious one. Or do you wish to say ... Well, after all, you are my nose!"
The nose looked at Kovalev and his brows frowned somewhat.
"You are mistaken, my dear sir. I am my own person. Whereby there can be no close relations between us. Judging by the buttons of your uniform, you must be working in a different department."
And with these words the nose turned back again and continued to pray.
Kovalev was utterly confused; he knew neither what to do nor what to think. At that moment the pleasant noise of a woman's dress could be heard, and there approached an elderly woman all decked out in the most tender white lace dress elegantly fitted on her tiny body, and a straw hat as light as a pastry. Behind them a tall heyduck with large sideburns and a good dozen collars stopped and opened a snuff box.
Kovalev stepped closer, liberated his cambric shirt front collar, straightened his gloves hanging on a gold string, and smiling in every direction, turned his attention to this delicate lady who, like a spring flower, bowed slightly and raised to Kovalev's forehead her white hand and half-transparent fingers. The smile on Kovalev's face became broader still when he espied from beneath that straw hat her rounded chin in its gleaming whiteness, and that part of her cheek shaded like a flower of the first spring rose. But all of a sudden he snapped back as if he had been burned. He remembered that instead of a nose he had nothing at all and tears streamed from his eyes. He spun around with the firm intention of telling that gentleman in a uniform that he was merely pretending to be a state councillor, that he was a cad and a rascal, and that he was nothing more than his very own nose ... But there was no longer any nose: he had managed to slip away, in all likelihood off on another official visit.