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Sunday
Oct162011

The Nose (part 3)

The third part of a story by this Russian writer.  You can read the original here.

This drove Kovalev to despair.  He stepped back for a moment and stood beneath the colonnade, sedulously looking in all directions to see whether by chance the nose's location might be detected.  He remembered quite clearly that the nose was wearing a feathered cap and a uniform in gold trim; but he did not notice his overcoat, or the color of his carriage or his horses, or whether there was a servant in livery in the back seat.  What is more, there were so many coaches careering back and forth at such breakneck speed that it would have been hard to notice anyway.  And even if he did identify the coach from the throngs racing about, he had absolutely no means of pulling it over. 

It was a beautiful, sunny day.  A fog lay over the Nevsky folk; a waterfall of motley ladies spilled out onto the sidewalks starting from Police bridge all the way to Anichkov bridge.  There he ran into a court councillor whom he knew and whom he called "lieutenant colonel," particularly if they happened to be among outsiders.  Then there was Yarygin, a desk director in the senate, his great friend who always lost by remise in Boston whenever eight played.  Finally he encountered another major, who had also received his assessorship in the Caucasus, waving his hand for Kovalev to approach. 

"Damn it all!" said Kovalev.  "Coachman, take me directly to the police superintendent."

Kovalev hopped into the open carriage and shouted at the coachman, "Drive, drive like the dickens!"

"Is the police superintendent in?" he asked, seated in the canopy.

"Nope," said the doorman, "just left."

"So much for that!"

"Yes," the doorman added.  "It wasn't a long time ago, but he left.  Had you come maybe a minute sooner, you might have caught him."

Not removing the handkerchief from his face, Kovalev got back onto the coach and yelled in a desperate voice at the coachman:

"Drive!"

"Where to?"

"Just drive straight ahead!"

"What do you mean, "straight ahead"?  There's a turn up there, so left or right?"

This question stopped Kovalev and forced him yet again to think.  In his position he ought, first of all, to head for the City Presidium, not because it was directly associated with the police, but because its forces could be made available much more quickly than in other places.  To seek out resolution at the workplace where the nose had declared himself employed seemed reckless since, from the nose's own responses, it was clear that there was nothing sacred for this person, and he could have lied to his office just as easily as he had lied when he claimed never before to have set eyes on Kovalev.  And so, Kovalev was just about to order the coachman to make for the City Presidium when another thought engulfed him.  Namely, that this crook and swindler, who already at their very first meeting had comported himself unconscionably, could have in the meantime slipped out of the city without any great hassle or discomfort, and all efforts to seek him out not only would be in vain, but could, God help him, last an entire month. 

Finally the Heavens themselves brought Kovalev to reason.  He decided to make haste to a newspaper office and have published, in a timely fashion, a circumstantial description of all the nose's qualities so that anyone who might encounter the nose would be able to identify him on the spot, or, at the very least, report his whereabouts.  Thus, having decided on such an act, he ordered the coachman to make for a newspaper office, and the whole way did not cease to jab him with his fist, yelling, "Faster, you scoundrel!  Faster, you swindler!"  "Really, sir!" said the coachman, shaking his head and yanking on the reins of his horse whose wooly hair was as long as that of a miniature poodle.  The carriage finally stopped and, panting, Kovalev burst into a not very large foyer where a grey-haired functionary in glasses and an old frock coat was sitting at a table, holding a pen in his mouth, and counting the receipts of copper coins.

"Who here can take down an announcement?" screamed Kovalev.  "Ah, hello!"

"That honor is mine," said the grey-haired functionary, lifting his eyes for a moment then lowering them anew to his stacks of money.

"I would like to place an announcement ..."

"I'm sorry, I will have to ask you to wait a little bit," said the functionary, writing down with his right hand a figure on some ledger and moving two beads on his abacus with his left.

A servant in galloons and with the appearance of one accustomed to an aristocratic household stood by the table with a written note in his hands.  This servant decided it would be proper to exhibit some public-mindedness:

"Rest assured, sir, that the doggie costs no more than eighty kopecks, that is to say I wouldn't pay more than four kopecks for him.  But the countess loves him, truly, truly, she loves him.  And that's why the person who finds him will get one hundred rubles!  In proper terms, as you and I have been on proper terms, there is just no accounting for some people's tastes.  As you know, a hunter will keep a setter or a poodle and not hesitate to pay five hundred or even a thousand rubles, provided it is a good dog."

The honorable functionary listened with rapt interest on his face and yet at the same time was trying to calculate how many letters the written note contained.  On the side stood a multitude of old women, merchant's clerks, and watchmen with notes.  One note indicated that a coachman of sober habits was sought for employment; another advertised a little-used pram brought over from Paris in 1814; a serf girl, nineteen years of age, was seeking employment having had experience in cleaning and laundry and was also good for other types of work; a durable carriage without suspension; a young, fiery, grey-dappled steed, seventeen years of age; new radish and turnip seeds imported from London; a dacha with all amenities, including two horse stalls and room to plant a magnificent birch or spruce garden; there was also a call for all those interested in purchasing old soles to come to a bazaar every day from eight in the morning until three.  The room which held all these people was small and its odor was extraordinarily thick.  But collegiate assessor Kovalev could not perceive the odor because he still had a handkerchief over his face and because his nose was still God knows where.  

"Forgive me, my dear sir," he finally said with some impatience, " but I simply must ask you.  I am in very urgent need of –"

"Presently, presently!  Two rubles forty-three kopecks!  Yes, this minute!  One ruble sixty-four kopecks!" said the gray-haired gentleman, tossing notes back at the old women and watchmen.  "How can I help you?" he said finally, turning to Kovalev.

"I would like," began Kovalev.  "Whether this is a matter of chicanery or cheating, I still have no way of knowing.  I would simply like for you to print that whoever brings this cur to heel will be sufficiently compensated."

"May I ask your surname?"

"Why do you need my surname?  I cannot tell you what it is.  I have many acquaintances: Chekhtareva, the wife of the state councillor, Palagea Grigorevna Podtochina, the wife of the staff officer ... They will know immediately, may God preserve me!  You can simply write: collegiate assessor, or better yet, someone with the rank of major."

"And the person who ran off was your serf?"

"What serf?!  That would not have been as great a swindle.  No, what ran off was ... my nose."

"Hmm, that's a queer name, that!  And did this Mr. Nosov bilk you out of a large sum of money?"

"The nose, that is ... you're not thinking of the right thing!  My nose, my very own nose has disappeared without a trace.  The Devil wished to play a trick on me!"

"How do you mean 'disappeared'?  Perhaps I don't quite understand something."

"Well, I'm not sure how that happened.  The main thing is that the nose is now gallivanting around the city claiming to be a state councillor.  And that's why I ask you to print that whoever catches him should hand him over to me at the soonest possible time.  Can't you imagine, as it were, how it must be for me without such a significant body part?  This is no little toe off my foot which I can hide in my boot so that no one could see whether or not it was there.  On Thursdays I visit Chekhtareva, the wife of the state councillor; Palagea Grigorevna Podtochina, the wife of the staff officer, and her very pretty daughter are also close acquaintances – so you can imagine how it would be for me now ...  Now I can no longer show my face there."

The functionary began to ponder the matter deeply, which meant that he squeezed his lips together with great force.

"No," he said finally after a long silence.  "I can't print that announcement in the newspaper."

"What?!  Why not?"

"It is so.  The newspaper could lose its reputation.  If everyone started to write that his nose had run off ... People already claim that we publish a lot of absurdities and lies."

"Now why is this matter absurd?  Here, it seems to me, there is nothing of the sort."

"It only seems to you that there isn't.  Yet just last week we encountered precisely the same incident.  An official came in exactly the way you came in now; he had a note with him, the entry would have cost him two rubles, seventy-three kopecks.  And all the announcement said was that his black-haired poodle had run off.  Does it seem like we would print such stuff?  It turned out that this was scurrilous nonsense: the poodle turned out to be the treasurer, I don't remember of which department."

"But I'm not placing an announcement about a poodle, it's about my very own nose!  Consequently, it's almost as if it were about myself."

"No, I can in no way print such an announcement."

"But I tell you my nose has disappeared!"

"If it's disappeared, then that's a matter for a doctor.  They say there are people who can stick on any nose.  But then again, one could think that you must be a person of jolly temperament who really enjoys a public joke."

"I swear to you as God is holy!  Perhaps it has even come time for me to show you."

"No need to get upset!" the functionary went on, snorting some tobacco. "Then again, if you're not upset," he added with a gesture of curiosity, "I wouldn't mind taking a look."

The collegiate assessor removed the handkerchief from his face.

"It really is extraordinarily strange!" said the functionary.  "The spot is completely smooth as if it were a freshly baked pancake.  Yes, almost impossibly flat and even!"

"Well, are you going to keep arguing now?  You see for yourself that it is impossible not to print this.  I would be particularly thankful, as well as glad that this event would have made meeting you very satisfying."

As could be deduced, the major had decided here on a bit of toadyism.

"Printing it, of course," said the functionary, "is no big deal.   Yet I do not see any advantage for you in doing so.  If you still wish to have it printed, leave the matter to a skilled writer and describe it as a rare phenomenon in nature, then print the piece in "The Northern Bee" (here he snorted some more tobacco) for the benefit of our youth (here he wiped his nose) and as an item of public interest."

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