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Thursday
Oct202011

The Nose (part 4)

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

The collegiate assessor was crestfallen.  He let his eyes slip down to the newspaper where there was an advertisement about shows, and his face was all ready to smile as he recognized the actresses, such pretty things they were, and his hand reached for his pocket to see whether he had a blue banknote because, in Kovalev's opinion, staff officers should sit in armchairs – but then the thought of his nose spoiled it all!

Even the functionary, it seemed, was affected by Kovalev's predicament.  Wishing to alleviate the collegiate assessor's grief somewhat, he deemed it proper to express his sympathy in a few words:

"I am truly sorry that you've had to endure such a story.  Would you like, perhaps, to snort some tobacco?  It relieves headaches and depressive moods; it's even good for hemorrhoids."

As he spoke the functionary lifted the snuff box towards Kovalev and nonchalantly flipped open the lid; inside was a portrait of a lady in a hat.

This unintentional act deprived Kovalev of his patience.

"I do not understand why you find it appropriate here to joke around," he said in earnest.  "Or can you actually not see that I have nothing with which to snort?  The Devil take your tobacco!  Even if you brought me rapeseed I couldn't look at it now, and not only at that vile Berezino stuff."

Having said this, Kovalev walked out of the newspaper office in titanic disappointment; he then made for the house of a district commissioner who had an extraordinary sweet tooth.  The entire antechamber – which was also the dining room – of the commissioner's house was lined with sweets brought to him by merchants out of friendship.  At this very moment the commissioner's cook was removing his public jackboots; his spurs and all his military armor were already draped around in corners; his three-year-old son was already playing with his father's triangular hat; and he, after a life of belligerence and verbal abuse, was ready to enjoy the pleasures of the world.

Kovalev came to him at that very time when he had stretched out, grunted, and said: "At last I will sleep two blissful hours!"  And so it was easy to foresee that the collegiate assessor's arrival would be very inopportune; and even if he had brought him several pounds of tea or fabric, I don't know whether Kovalev would have been warmly received.  The commissioner was a great patron of the arts and all types of manufactured goods, but he preferred government banknotes to all of that.  "That thing," he would often say, "there is nothing better than that thing.  It doesn't ask to be fed; it takes up little space; it always fits in your pocket; and if you drop it, it doesn't bruise."

The commissioner received Kovalev rather dryly and said after lunch was no time to conduct investigations, adding that it was natural, having gorged oneself, to relax a bit (from this the collegiate assessor could see that the district commissioner was unfamiliar with the dictums of medieval sages), that a decent, proper person would not have his nose cut off, and that there were also many majors in this world who didn't even have any underwear in good condition and loitered around obscene places.

And there he hit the nail right on the head!  One should remark that Kovalev took umbrage quite easily.  He could forgive anything that people said about himself personally, but could not endure any slight of his rank or position.  He even suggested that while one could permit anything in theatrical plays that related to junior officers, one should leave staff officers unscathed.  The commissioner's reception had so embarrassed Kovalev that he shook his head and said, with a feeling of dignity and spreading his arms somewhat: "I confess that after these hurtful comments on your part, there is nothing more I can add."  And he left.

He arrived home, barely hearing the feet beneath him.  Dusk had already set in.  His apartment seemed either sad or extraordinarily disgusting after all these fruitless searches.  Entering his vestibule he was surprised to find his servant Ivan lying on his back on the filthy leather coach, spitting on the ceiling with no small amount of self-satisfaction and often rewetting the very same spot.  Such indifference enraged Kovalev; he slapped his servant in the forehead with his hat, proclaiming: "You swine!  You're always up to some stupidity!"

Ivan jumped up from the coach and threw himself on Kovalev to help him remove his coat.

Entering his room the mayor, tired and sad and threw himself onto an armchair.  Finally, after several sighs, he said:

"My God! My God!  Whence this misfortune?  If I were without arms or legs it would be better; if I were without ears, it would be admittedly rather horrible, but still more bearable; the Devil only knows, however, what a person without a nose is.  A bird is not a bird; a citizen is not a citizen; just pull it off and toss it out the window!  May it have been sliced off during war or a duel; may I myself have been the cause; but it actually disappeared without a reason, for nothing, for free!  But no, that cannot be ..."  he added, having thought the matter out a bit more.  It is unlikely that the nose disappeared; it is in every way unlikely.  I either dreamed it or daydreamed it; maybe by accident I drank instead of water the water from my washbasin after I shave my beard.  That fool Ivan never took it away, and I seized it."

To prove to himself once and for all that he was not drunk, the major pinched himself so strongly that he screamed.  That pain proved to him conclusively that he was acting and living in reality.  He meekly made his way to the mirror and began to squint at the thought that his nose would be back in its place; but at that moment he jumped back and said:

"How horrible, what a denigrating sight!"

This was, as one might have expected, unclear.  If a button had disappeared, a silver spoon, a watch or something like that; but disappear, and from whom would it disappear?  What is more, in one's own apartment!  Major Kovalev, imagining all the circumstances, came up with hardly anything closer to the truth than it should be the fault of none other than the staff officer's wife Podtochina, who wanted him to marry her daughter.  He did enjoy pursuing her, but avoided a conclusive parting.  When the staff officer's wife told him straight out that she wished to give him her daughter, he moved away from his compliments and said that he was still young, that he still had five years of service remaining so as to be exactly forty-two years old.  And then the staff officer's wife, probably out of vengeance, decided to spoil it all and hired for the task some witchy old women because she could never ask for the nose simply to be cut off.  No one visited him in his room; the barber Yakovlevich had shaved him on Wednesday; and all through that Wednesday and the next day, Thursday, his nose had been whole – this he remembered and knew very well.  Moreover, he would have perceptible pain now, and, doubtless, in this time the wound could not possible have healed so quickly and become as smooth as a pancake.  In his head he hatched a plan: should he formally sue the state officer's wife or simply appear in person and expose her.  His ponderings were interrupted by the light, gleaming through all the cracks in the doors, which let him know that Ivan had already lit the candle in the antechamber.  Soon Ivan himself appeared carrying the candle in front and brightly illuminating the entire room.  Kovalev's first gesture was to reach for his handkerchief and cover up that place where yesterday his nose had sat, with the result that even an idiot looking at this gentleman would notice such an oddity.  

Ivan had hardly managed to crawl into his tiny closet of a room when a familiar voice could be heard in the antechamber:

"Does the collegiate assessor Kovalev live here?"

"Please come in.  Major Kovalev is here," said Kovalev, quickly jumping up and answering the door.

The policeman of reddish appearance entered.  He had sideburns that were neither very light-colored nor very dark and very full cheeks.  This was the same policeman who was standing at Saint Isaac's bridge at the beginning of our story.  

"Did you happen to let your nose get lost?"

"That is correct."

"It has now been found."

"What did you say?" screamed Major Kovalev.  Joy had removed his tongue.  He gazed upon the policeman standing before him, at the policeman's full lips and cheeks through which flashed a flickering ray of light.  "How?"

"A strange case: it was intercepted, so to speak, on the road.  It was sitting in a stagecoach with the intent of being driven to Riga.  Its passport had long been in the name of a certain functionary.  And the strange thing is that even I first took it for a gentleman.  But thankfully I had my glasses with me and was able to see at that moment that it was the nose.  After all, I'm near-sighted; so if you were to stand before me, I would only see that you have a face, but I would not notice your nose, your beard or anything else.  My mother-in-law, that is to say, the mother of my wife, also sees nothing."

Kovalev was beside himself.

"Where is it?  Where?  I'll run over there."

"Do not worry!  Knowing that you needed it, I simply brought it along with me.  And the strange thing is that the main participant in this matter is that swindler barber on Voznesensky street who is now sitting in a holding cell.  I had long suspected him of thievery and drunkenness, and already just the day before yesterday he pilfered a dozen buttons from a store.  Anyway, to make a long story short, your nose is just the way it was."

And saying this, the policeman reached into his pocket and pulled out the nose wrapped in a paper.

"That's it!"  shouted Kovalev.  "That's it, for sure!  Officer, please stay and have a cup of tea with me."

"I would do so with great pleasure," said the policeman, "but I simply cannot.  I have to depart immediately for the asylum.  Prices on all supplies have been skyrocketing ... in this house lives my mother-in-law, that is, the mother of my wife, and children; the eldest one, in particular, gives us the most hope; he's a very smart lad, but there are no means by which to raise him ..."

Kovalev caught on, grabbed some red banknotes off the table, and stuffed them in the hands of the police guard, who bowed and scraped perfunctorily then beat a path out the door.  Within a minute Kovalev heard his voice again outside, where he was railing some dumb bumpkin who had driven his cart almost directly onto the boulevard.     

Upon the policeman's departure the collegiate assessor remained in an indefinable state, and it was only several minutes later that he could see and feel again.  During this almost unconscious swoon he was overcome with incredible joy.  He carefully took the retrieved nose hidden in the joint hollow of both his hands and looked at it again with rapt attention.

"That's it!  That's it for sure!" said Major Kovalev.  "There's the pimple that appeared on the left side yesterday."

The major almost started cackling in joy.

But nothing on this earth lasts a long time, and for that reason joy, too, from the first minute to the second is no longer as vivid.  In the third minute it grows even weaker and, in the end, dovetails unnoticeably with the standard state of the soul, just as the circle upon the water created from the tossing in of a stone in the end becomes yet again part of the smooth surface.  Kovalev began to think more deeply and realized that the matter was far from over: he had found the nose, but it still needed to be reattached and put back in its place.

"And what if it doesn't go back?"

At such a question, asked silently to himself, the major became very pale.   

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