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Saturday
Oct222011

The Nose (part 5)

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

With a feeling of inexpressible fear he raced to the table and moved the mirror nearer to himself, so as to make sure that he wouldn't put the nose on crookedly.  His hands were shaking.  Carefully and warily he placed it back in its former spot.  Oh, the horror!  The nose was not sticking back on!  He lowered it to his mouth, blew some hot air on it and again raised it to that smooth spot between his two cheeks.  But the nose would not stay on at all.

"Come on!  Come on now!  Get on there, you fool!" he said to it.  But the nose seemed almost wooden and fell on the table with such an odd sound, as if it were a cork.  The major's face convulsed.  "Will it really never grow back on?" he said in panic.  Yet however many times he tried to put the nose back in place, each new attempt was as unsuccessful as the last.

He summoned Ivan and sent him for the doctor, who happened to occupy in the very same building the nicest apartment on the second floor.  The doctor was in all appearances a manly sort, with handsome, resinous sideburns and a lovely, healthy-looking wife.  In the mornings he would eat fresh apples and kept his mouth unusually clean and pure, rinsing for at least three-quarters of an hour every morning and polishing his teeth with five different types of brushes.  The doctor appeared that very minute.  Having asked how long ago the misfortune occurred, he seized Kovalev by the chin and pushed his thumb down so hard on the spot where the nose had been that Kovalev snapped his head back and knocked it against the wall.  The physician said that this was nothing and advised Kovalev to move away from the wall a bit.  He then ordered him to turn his head to the right and, having felt about the nose's former spot, said "hmmm!"  Then he ordered him to turn his head to the left and, having felt about the nose's former spot, said "hmmm!" Finally he again pressed his thumb onto the smooth spot with such force that Kovalev yanked back his head like a horse being looked at in the mouth.  His test now complete, the doctor shook his head and said:

"No, it's not going to work.  You're better off staying the way you are, because you could make it worse.  Of course, it can be reattached; perhaps I could even reattach it for you right now.  Yet I am convinced that this would be worse for you."

"Well that's just swell!  What I am supposed to do without a nose?" said Kovalev.  "It can't get any worse than it is now.  Who knows what the hell it is!  Where could I possibly show myself with such an absurdity?  I know a large circle of people; this evening, for example, I was supposed to attend events at two different homes.  A great many people know me: the wife of the state councillor, Chekhtareva, Podtochina, the wife of the staff officer ... although after her most recent act I will no longer have any dealings with her apart from those conducted by the police.  Be so good as to tell me," said Kovalev with a pleading tone, "is there really no way?  Just stick it on; it doesn't matter how as long as it holds.  I could even prop it up with my hand in dangerous situations.  And I won't dance so as not to harm it by some careless movement.  Please be assured that with regard to my gratitude for your visit, all that my resources permit will be put to use ..."

"Believe me," said the doctor in neither a quiet nor a loud voice, but in a voice both extraordinarily tender and magnetic, "I never treat patients for mercenary reasons.  This is against my rules and my art.  True, I do take payments for house calls, but that is only so that I do not feel bad if I fail.  Of course, I would reattach your nose; and yet I tell you upon my honor – if you don't happen to take me on my word – that it will be much worse.  Leave that to nature itself.  Wash more often with cold water and I assure you that you without a nose will be just as healthy as if you still had a nose.  And I advise you to place your nose in a jar with some alcohol or, even better, pour in there two spoonfuls of sharp table vodka and a bit of heated vinegar.  And then you could get quite a pretty penny for it.  I could even take it off your hands if you don't ask too high a price ..." 

"No, no, I won't sell it for anything!"  screamed the desperate Major Kovalev.  "It would be better if it simply disappeared!"

"I beg your pardon!" said the doctor, taking his leave.  "I only wanted to do you a favor ... but what can I do?  At least you see that I made an attempt."

Having said this, the doctor left the room with a rather noble bearing about him.  Kovalev did not even notice his face, and in his profound numbness only saw the pure, snow-white sleeves of the doctor's shirt sticking out from under his frock coat.   

The next day he decided, before formally filing a complaint, to write to the wife of the staff officer as to whether she would agree, without a struggle, to return to him what she owed.  The contents of the letter were as follows:

"Dear Aleksandra Grigorevna!

Madam, I am still at a loss to understand an act on your part that I found strange.  Rest assured that you will gain nothing in taking such a measure; in no way will you oblige me to marry your daughter.  You should know that the story regarding my nose is well-known to me, just as it is known to me that you, and no other, are the main instigator in that affair.  This sudden departure from its habitual place, its flight and its masking in the guise of a functionary, and, ultimately, in its own guise, are nothing more than the consequences of sorcery performed by you or by those who practice those arts precious to you.  For my part I feel it my duty to warn you that if the aforementioned nose is not back in its place by today, I will be forced to resort to the defense and protection afforded me by the law.

Nevertheless, I have the great honor of remaining

Your most humble servant,

Platon Kovalev."

"Dear Platon Kuzmich!

Sir, I was extraordinarily surprised by your last letter.  I admit to you in all sincerity that I did not expect such a letter, and even less so the unjustified reproaches that you directed towards me.  I will have you know that I never accepted into my home the functionary whom you mention, neither masked nor in his real identity.  It is true that Filipp Ivanovich Potachnikov was at my house.  And although he sought the hand of my daughter and is of good, sober manners and the highest personal integrity, I never allowed him any hope.  You also mention the nose.  If by this you mean that I wish to put your nose out of joint, that is, give you a formal refusal, then I am surprised that you are even talking about this since I, as far as you know, was of the contrary opinion.  And if you now were to propose to her in accordance with the law, I would be prepared at this very minute to satisfy your request: for this has always comprised the subject of my most vivid desire, in the hope of which I remain

Most sincerely yours,

Aleksandra Podtochina."

"No," said Kovalev over and over again, having read the letter, "she is not guilty at all.  It cannot be!  The letter is written as no letter could possibly be written by someone guilty of a crime."  The collegiate assessor was well-versed in such matters because he had been sent out several times on investigations in the Caucasus region.  "How then, by what stroke of fate did this occur?  May the Devil take it all!" he said at length, dropping his arms.

Meanwhile rumors about this unusual occurrence spread to all corners of the capital, and, as is almost always the case, not without a few additions.  At that time everyone was in the mood for the extraordinary, and just recently had the effects of magnetism engrossed the public.  Moreover, the story of the dancing chairs in Konyushennaya street was still fresh in everyone's mind, so it was hardly surprising that people began talking as if the nose of collegiate assessor Kovalev was strolling along Nevsky avenue at precisely three in the afternoon.  Everyday a multitude of curious onlookers gathered.  Someone had said that the nose was purportedly in Junker's store – and so a crowd assembled by Junker's and became such a throng that the police had to intervene.  One whiskered spectator of very respectable appearance, having sold a number of dry baked goods at the entryway to the theater, intentionally set up some beautiful solid wood benches and offered a seat to curious onlookers for eighty kopecks.  One very distinguished colonel intentionally left his home early and, with no small effort, made his way through the crowd.  To his great chagrin, however, instead of a nose he espied in the shop window a run-of-the-mill woolen jersey, as well as a lithograph with the image of a girl mending a stocking and a young man with an open vest and burgeoning beard staring at her from behind a tree – a picture that had been hanging in the very same place for at least ten years.  Walking away, he said in disappointment: "How can people get so worked up about such idiotic and absurd rumors?"

Then the rumor spread that the nose of Major Kovalev was not out strolling on Nevsky avenue, but in the Tauride garden, and it seemed as if it had been there for a long time already; even that Khosrow Mirza was still living there and that he was very surprised at this odd whim of nature.  Several students from the surgeon's academy made their way there.  One prominent, honorable lady in a particular letter asked the caretaker of the garden whether he couldn't show this rare phenomenon to her children and, if possible, with a didactic and edifying explanation for youths their age.

All these events were especially pleasing to those worldly, unnecessary attendees of balls, those who loved to make ladies laugh and whose reserve of wit had been exhausted by that point.  A small group of honorable and well-intentioned people were extraordinarily unhappy.  One gentleman said with no small indignation that he did not understand how in our enlightened age such silly inventions could possibly gain any currency, and he was just as astonished that this had not garnered the attention of the government.  Obviously this fellow belonged to that rank of gentlemen who wanted to have the government interfere in everything, even in their daily quarrels with their wives.  As a result ...  and yet again the whole event is shrouded in fog, and what happened next is decidedly unknown.

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