فصل 08

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فصل 08

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The Combat between the Professor and the Poet

At the same time that consciousness left Styopa in Yalta, that is, around half past eleven in the morning, it returned to Ivan Nikolaevich Homeless, who woke up after a long and deep sleep. He spent some time pondering how it was that he had wound up in an unfamiliar room with white walls, with an astonishing night table made of some light metal, and with white blinds behind which one could sense the sun.

Ivan shook his head, ascertained that it did not ache, and remembered that he was in a clinic. This thought drew after it the remembrance of Berlioz’s death, but today it did not provoke a strong shock in Ivan. Having had a good sleep, Ivan Nikolaevich became calmer and began to think more clearly. After lying motionless for some time in this most clean, soft and comfortable spring bed, Ivan noticed a bell button beside him. From a habit of touching things needlessly, Ivan pressed it. He expected the pressing of the button to be followed by some ringing or appearance, but something entirely different happened. A frosted glass cylinder with the word ‘Drink’ on it lit up at the foot of Ivan’s bed. After pausing for a while, the cylinder began to rotate until the word ’Nurse’ popped out. It goes without saying that the clever cylinder amazed Ivan. The word ‘Nurse’ was replaced by the words ’Call the Doctor.‘

‘Hm…’ said Ivan, not knowing how to proceed further with this cylinder. But here he happened to be lucky. Ivan pressed the button a second time at the word ‘Attendant’. The cylinder rang quietly in response, stopped, the light went out, and a plump, sympathetic woman in a clean white coat came into the room and said to Ivan:

‘Good morning!’

Ivan did not reply, considering such a greeting inappropriate under the circumstances. Indeed, they lock up a healthy man in a clinic, and pretend that that is how it ought to be!

The woman meanwhile, without losing her good-natured expression, brought the blinds up with one push of a button, and sun flooded the room through a light and wide-meshed grille which reached right to the floor. Beyond the grille a balcony came into view, beyond that the bank of a meandering river, and on its other bank a cheerful pine wood.

‘Time for our bath,’ the woman invited, and under her hands the inner wall parted, revealing behind it a bathroom and splendidly equipped toilet.

Ivan, though he had resolved not to talk to the woman, could not help himself and, on seeing the water gush into the tub in a wide stream from the gleaming faucet, said ironically:

‘Looky there! Just like the Metropol! …’

‘Oh, no,’ the woman answered proudly, ‘much better. There is no such equipment even anywhere abroad. Scientists and doctors come especially to study our clinic. We have foreign tourists every day.’

At the words ‘foreign tourists’, Ivan at once remembered yesterday’s consultant. Ivan darkened, looked sullen, and said:

‘Foreign tourists … How you all adore foreign tourists! But among them, incidentally, you come across all sorts. I, for instance, met one yesterday - quite something!’

And he almost started telling about Pontius Pilate, but restrained himself, realizing that the woman had no use for these stories, that in any case she could not help him.

The washed Ivan Nikolaevich was straight away issued decidedly everything a man needs after a bath: an ironed shirt, drawers, socks. And not only that: opening the door of a cupboard, the woman pointed inside and asked:

‘What would you like to put on — a dressing gown or some nice pyjamas?’

Attached to his new dwelling by force, Ivan almost clasped his hands at the woman’s casualness and silently pointed his finger at the crimson flannel pyjamas.

After this, Ivan Nikolaevich was led down the empty and noiseless corridor and brought to an examining room of huge dimensions. Ivan, having decided to take an ironic attitude towards everything to be found in this wondrously equipped building, at once mentally christened this room the ‘industrial kitchen’.

And with good reason. Here stood cabinets and glass cases with gleaming nickel-plated instruments. There were chairs of extraordinarily complex construction, some pot-bellied lamps with shiny shades, a myriad of phials, Bunsen burners, electric cords and appliances quite unknown to anyone.

In the examining room Ivan was taken over by three persons — two women and a man - all in white. First, they led Ivan to a comer, to a little table, with the obvious purpose of getting something or other out of him.

Ivan began to ponder the situation. Three ways stood before him. The first was extremely tempting: to hurl himself at all these lamps and sophisticated little things, make the devil’s own wreck of them, and thereby express his protest at being detained for nothing. But today’s Ivan already differed significantly from the Ivan of yesterday, and this first way appeared dubious to him: for all he knew, the thought might get rooted in them that he was a violent madman. Therefore Ivan rejected the first way. There was a second: immediately to begin his account of the consultant and Pontius Pilate. However, yesterday’s experience showed that this story either was not believed or was taken somehow perversely. Therefore Ivan renounced this second way as well, deciding to choose the third way — withdrawal into proud silence.

He did not succeed in realizing it fully, and had willy-nilly to answer, though charily and glumly, a whole series of questions. Thus they got out of Ivan decidedly everything about his past life, down to when and how he had fallen ill with scarlet fever fifteen years ago. A whole page having been covered with writing about Ivan, it was turned over, and the woman in white went on to questions about Ivan’s relatives. Some sort of humdrum started: who died when and why, and whether he drank or had venereal disease, and more of the same. In conclusion he was asked to tell about yesterday’s events at the Patriarch’s Ponds, but they did not pester him too much, and were not surprised at the information about Pontius Pilate.

Here the woman yielded Ivan up to the man, who went to work on him differently and no longer asked any questions. He took the temperature of Ivan’s body, counted his pulse, looked in Ivan’s eyes, directing some sort of lamp into them. Then the second woman came to the man’s assistance, and they pricked Ivan in the back with something, but not painfully, drew some signs on the skin of his chest with the handle of a little hammer, tapped his knees with the hammer, which made Ivan’s legs jump, pricked his finger and took his blood, pricked him inside his bent elbow, put some rubber bracelets on his arms …

Ivan just smiled bitterly to himself and reflected on how stupidly and strangely it had all happened. Just think! He had wanted to warn them all of the danger threatening from the unknown consultant, had intended to catch him, and all he had achieved was to wind up in some mysterious room, telling all sorts of hogwash about Uncle Fyodor, who had done some hard drinking in Vologda. Insufferably stupid!

Finally Ivan was released. He was escorted back to his room, where he was given a cup of coffee, two soft-boiled eggs and white bread with butter. Having eaten and drunk all that was offered him, Ivan decided to wait for whoever was chief of this institution, and from this chief to obtain both attention for himself and justice.

And he did come, and very soon after Ivan’s breakfast. Unexpectedly, the door of Ivan’s room opened, and in came a lot of people in white coats. At their head walked a man of about forty-five, as carefully shaven as an actor, with pleasant but quite piercing eyes and courteous manners. The whole retinue showed him tokens of attention and respect, and his entrance therefore came out very solemn. ‘Like Pontius Pilate!’ thought Ivan.

Yes, this was unquestionably the chief. He sat down on a stool, while everyone else remained standing.

‘Doctor Stravinsky,’ the seated man introduced himself to Ivan and gave him a friendly look.

‘Here, Alexander Nikolaevich,’ someone with a trim beard said in a low voice, and handed the chief Ivan’s chart, all covered with writing.

‘They’ve sewn up a whole case!’ Ivan thought. And the chief ran through the chart with a practised eye, muttered ‘Mm-hm, mm-hm …’, and exchanged a few phrases with those around him in a little-known language. ‘And he speaks Latin like Pilate,’ Ivan thought sadly. Here one word made him jump; it was the word ‘schizophrenia’ — alas, already uttered yesterday by the cursed foreigner at the Patriarch’s Ponds, and now repeated today by Professor Stravinsky. ’And he knew that, too!‘ Ivan thought anxiously.

The chief apparently made it a rule to agree with and rejoice over everything said to him by those around him, and to express this with the words ‘Very nice, very nice …’

‘Very nice!’ said Stravinsky, handing the chart back to someone, and he addressed Ivan:

‘You are a poet?’

‘A poet,’ Ivan replied glumly, and for the first time suddenly felt some inexplicable loathing for poetry, and his own verses, coming to mind at once, seemed to him for some reason distasteful.

Wrinkling his face, he asked Stravinsky in turn:

‘You are a professor?’

To this, Stravinsky, with obliging courtesy, inclined his head.

‘And you’re the chief here?’ Ivan continued.

Stravinsky nodded to this as well.

‘I must speak with you,’ Ivan Nikolaevich said meaningly.

That is what I’m here for,‘ returned Stravinsky.

The thing is,‘ Ivan began, feeling his hour had come, ’that I’ve been got up as a madman, and nobody wants to listen to me! …‘

‘Oh, no, we shall hear you out with great attention,’ Stravinsky said seriously and soothingly, ‘and by no means allow you to be got up as a madman.’

‘Listen, then: yesterday evening I met a mysterious person at the Patriarch’s Ponds, maybe a foreigner, maybe not, who knew beforehand about Berlioz’s death and has seen Pontius Pilate in person.’

The retinue listened to the poet silently and without stirring.

‘Pilate? The Pilate who lived in the time of Jesus Christ?’ Stravinsky asked, narrowing his eyes at Ivan.

The same.‘

‘Aha,’ said Stravinsky, ‘and this Berlioz died under a tram-car?’

‘Precisely, he’s the one who in my presence was killed by a tram-car yesterday at the Ponds, and this same mysterious citizen …’

The acquaintance of Pontius Pilate?‘ asked Stravinsky, apparently distinguished by great mental alacrity.

‘Precisely him,’ Ivan confirmed, studying Stravinsky. ‘Well, so he said beforehand that Annushka had spilled the sunflower oil … And he slipped right on that place! How do you like that?’ Ivan inquired significantly, hoping to produce a great effect with his words.

But the effect did not ensue, and Stravinsky quite simply asked the following question:

‘And who is this Annushka?’

This question upset Ivan a little; his face twitched.

‘Annushka is of absolutely no importance here,’ he said nervously. ‘Devil knows who she is. Just some fool from Sadovaya. What’s important is that he knew beforehand, you see, beforehand, about the sunflower oil! Do you understand me?’

‘Perfectly,’ Stravinsky replied seriously and, touching the poet’s knee, added: ‘Don’t get excited, just continue.’

‘To continue,’ said Ivan, trying to fall in with Stravinsky’s tone, and knowing already from bitter experience that only calm would help him, ‘so, then, this horrible type (and he’s lying that he’s a consultant) has some extraordinary power! … For instance, you chase after him and it’s impossible to catch up with him … And there’s also a little pair with him — good ones, too, but in their own way: some long one in broken glasses and, besides him, a cat of incredible size who rides the tram all by himself. And besides,’ interrupted by no one, Ivan went on talking with ever increasing ardour and conviction, ‘he was personally on Pontius Pilate’s balcony, there’s no doubt of it. So what is all this, eh? He must be arrested immediately, otherwise he’ll do untold harm.’

‘So you’re trying to get him arrested? Have I understood you correctly?’ asked Stravinsky.

‘He’s intelligent,’ thought Ivan. ‘You’ve got to admit, even among intellectuals you come across some of rare intelligence, there’s no denying it,’ and he replied:

‘Quite correctly! And how could I not be trying, just consider for yourself! And meanwhile I’ve been forcibly detained here, they poke lamps into my eyes, give me baths, question me for some reason about my Uncle Fedya! … And he departed this world long ago! I demand to be released immediately!’

‘Well, there, very nice, very nice!’ Stravinsky responded. ‘Now everything’s clear. Really, what’s the sense of keeping a healthy man in a clinic? Very well, sir, I’ll check you out of here right now, if you tell me you’re normal. Not prove, but merely tell. So, then, are you normal?’

Here complete silence fell, and the fat woman who had taken care of Ivan in the morning looked at the professor with awe. Ivan thought once again: ‘Positively intelligent!’

The professor’s offer pleased him very much, yet before replying he thought very, very hard, wrinkling his forehead, and at last said firmly:

‘I am normal.’

‘Well, how very nice,’ Stravinsky exclaimed with relief, ‘and if so, let’s reason logically. Let’s take your day yesterday.’ Here he turned and Ivan’s chart was immediately handed to him. ‘In search of an unknown man who recommended himself as an acquaintance of Pontius Pilate, you performed the following actions yesterday.’ Here Stravinsky began holding up his long fingers, glancing now at the chart, now at Ivan. ‘You hung a little icon on your chest. Did you?’

‘I did,’ Ivan agreed sullenly.

‘You fell off a fence and hurt your face. Right? Showed up in a restaurant carrying a burning candle in your hand, in nothing but your underwear, and in the restaurant you beat somebody. You were brought here-tied up. Having come here, you called the police and asked them to send out machine-guns. Then you attempted to throw yourself out the window. Right? The question is: can one, by acting in such fashion, catch or arrest anyone? And if you’re a normal man, you yourself will answer: by no means. You wish to leave here? Very well, sir. But allow me to ask, where are you going to go?’

To the police, of course,‘ Ivan replied, no longer so firmly, and somewhat at a loss under the professor’s gaze.

‘Straight from here?’


‘Without stopping at your place?’ Stravinsky asked quickly.

‘I have no time to stop anywhere! While I’m stopping at places, he’ll slip away!’

‘So. And what will you tell the police to start with?’

‘About Pontius Pilate,’ Ivan Nikolaevich replied, and his eyes clouded with a gloomy mist.

‘Well, how very nice!’ the won-over Stravinsky exclaimed and, turning to the one with the little beard, ordered: ‘Fyodor Vassilyevich, please check Citizen Homeless out for town. But don’t put anyone in his room or change the linen. In two hours, Citizen Homeless will be back here. So, then,’ he turned to the poet, ‘I won’t wish you success, because I don’t believe one iota in that success. See you soon!’ He stood up, and his retinue stirred.

‘On what grounds will I be back here?’ Ivan asked anxiously.

Stravinsky was as if waiting for this question, immediately sat down, and began to speak:

‘On the grounds that as soon as you show up at the police station in your drawers and tell them you’ve seen a man who knew Pontius Pilate personally, you’ll instantly be brought here, and you’ll find yourself again in this very same room.’

‘What have drawers got to do with it?’ Ivan asked, gazing around in bewilderment.

‘It’s mainly Pontius Pilate. But the drawers, too. Because we’ll take the clinic underwear from you and give you back your clothes. And you were delivered here in your drawers. And yet you were by no means going to stop at your place, though I dropped you a hint. Then comes Pilate … and that’s it.’

Here something strange happened with Ivan Nikolaevich. His will seemed to crack, and he felt himself weak, in need of advice.

‘What am I to do, then?’ he asked, timidly this time.

‘Well, how very nice!’ Stravinsky replied. ‘A most reasonable question. Now I am going to tell you what actually happened to you. Yesterday someone frightened you badly and upset you with a story about Pontius Pilate and other things. And so you, a very nervous and high-strung man, started going around the city, telling about Pontius Pilate. It’s quite natural that you’re taken for a madman. Your salvation now lies in just one thing - complete peace. And you absolutely must remain here.’

‘But he has to be caught!’ Ivan exclaimed, imploringly now.

‘Very good, sir, but why should you go running around yourself? Explain all your suspicions and accusations against this man on paper. Nothing could be simpler than to send your declaration to the proper quarters, and if, as you think, we are dealing with a criminal, it will be clarified very quickly. But only on one condition: don’t strain your head, and try to think less about Pontius Pilate. People say all kinds of things! One mustn’t believe everything.’

‘Understood!’ Ivan declared resolutely. ‘I ask to be given pen and paper.’

‘Give him paper and a short pencil,’ Stravinsky ordered the fat woman, and to Ivan he said: ‘But I don’t advise you to write today.’

‘No, no, today, today without fail!’ Ivan cried out in alarm.

‘Well, all right. Only don’t strain your head. If it doesn’t come out today, it will tomorrow.’

‘Hell escape.’

‘Oh, no,’ Stravinsky objected confidently, ‘he won’t escape anywhere, I guarantee that. And remember that here with us you’ll be helped in all possible ways, and without us nothing will come of it. Do you hear me?’ Stravinsky suddenly asked meaningly and took Ivan Nikolaevich by both hands. Holding them in his own, he repeated for a long time, his eyes fixed on Ivan’s: ‘You’ll be helped here … do you hear me? … You’ll be helped here … you’ll get relief … it’s quiet here, all peaceful … you’ll be helped here …’

Ivan Nikolaevich unexpectedly yawned, and the expression on his face softened.

‘Yes, yes,’ he said quietly.

‘Well, how very nice!’ Stravinsky concluded the conversation in his usual way and stood up: ‘Goodbye!’ He shook Ivan’s hand and, on his way out, turned to the one with the little beard and said: ‘Yes, and try oxygen … and baths.’

A few moments later there was no Stravinsky or his retinue before Ivan. Beyond the window grille, in the noonday sun, the joyful and springtime pine wood stood beautiful on the other bank and, closer by, the river sparkled.

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