There were a lot of people at the Ternikovsky house. Ternikovsky himself was dressed very grandly, in an unusually tailored military jacket, black with dark blue cuffs, blue breast pockets and a blue upright collar; the buttons were simple – metal, but with a swastika design, and Ternikovsky had a moon stone hanging around his neck on a thick chain, also with a swastika and some kind of Indian letters on it. There was only one lamp lit in the room, which also had an unusual appearance, Japanese, decorated with gilding, with red hieroglyphics. It was there under the lamp that people gave their speeches. Boris felt ill from the hubbub and stuffiness. He was seated next to a certain Sundukov (an unpleasant type, a grumbler).
They waited a long time for someone to come. People were arguing. Some of them jumped up and started walking around, continuing their arguments with the walls. Sundukov smiled cunningly, watched the speakers, and listened. His eyes glittered (he was savouring the scene).
After a brief introduction from Ternikovsky, the speakers started to appear. An envoy from Kazem-Bek read out a friendly greeting message from the Young Russians monarchist organisation. A letter from Australia was read out. There was a speech about the activities of Russian émigrés in Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and America. Before Dobrovolsky’s speech Kolegaev arrived – Rebrov was pleased to see him. Nikanor’s eyes shone crazily, he was even more emaciated than before, really badly dressed, in an old military pea-jacket, and his boots creaked or squelched, but even that damp leather sound somehow made Boris happy, and he winked at Nikanor, who smiled and coughed quietly into his fist. Dobrovolsky spoke without papers, briefly and rousingly, which no one expected of such a sickly and decrepit museum exhibit of a man, at the end of his address he introduced Syrtsov, a grey and dishevelled old man, and gave him the floor. The old man’s speech was long and painful, he read with a magnifying glass, his head shaking. He was small and frail, his long mane of hair and full beard made him completely out of proportion, he looked like a circus freak, the kind that they hide from everyone in some cramped room and show only on special occasions, so as to gather more people. He leaned on his stick and swayed. If he looked up it took him a long time to find the line he had missed, and he would peer at his papers, shaking, his stick wavering and knocking against something. Syrtsov quoted Rozanov a lot, spoke about the mystery of the sexes and marriage, jumped unnoticed from the sexual reflex to interbreeding, then a verbal hotchpotch ensued, some of the words got clumped together, the old man was seized by stuttering and mumbling, he began bleating like a goat, or shouting out something about the white man, the coloured enemies, and about language as the neural fabric of the people. Some unexpectedly indecent, unprintable, expressions burst out. At first it seemed to Boris that the old man was cursing, like a coachman sometimes does when trying to get into some narrow yard, no room this way or that, whipping his horse, and cursing. But listening closer the artist understood: the old man was deliberately inserting swear words into his speech (as examples of linguistic degeneration through unnatural interbreeding) and was giving a very detailed commentary. He started to speak about a new science which he had invented – coloured blood studies. It was a separate chapter in his life. The old man demanded that the blood of coloured and white people be studied thoroughly. He spoke about all this coherently and fluently, without papers and without his stick; he trod the floor where he stood, like a wizard during some incantation, occasionally spinning on his axis like a dervish. His eyes lit up manically, and he tugged at his beard with his withered, bony little hands – which, poking out of the sleeves of his tailcoat, looked as small as children’s hands, if it weren’t for their huge palms the colour of raw beef, and he waved them about in the air like a magician, jabbering away:
‘It’s not possible to say anything certain about the state of affairs in Russia until we know with certainty in what way and how badly a white man’s blood is influenced by the infusion of the blood of coloured…mmm…men. Until the condition of the white man’s blood is studied, it is hard to ascertain anything. Therefore I can now say that everyone – apart from me – has been engaged in nothing more than the study of an idea, of the psyche, and of language, in which the damaging infusion of international blood was reflected, that is why it is impossible to trust Spengler, or some Frenchman, who try to interpret the history of humanity and the current state of Europe, indeed of the whole world, as some kind of dream, or if not as some dream, as ravings, hallucination, speeches of these masked masons? We can discover the traces of how coloured blood influences the white man without the practical study of blood, by researching the sonic spectrum of alien languages in our native language, its distortion, such as I observed in Petrograd and the small border towns, which I infiltrated incognito, crossing the border more than once, in order to supplement my research materials, which attest to the catastrophic damage inflicted on the Russian language during the recent years of Bolshevik rule. The everyday language of modern Russians attests to the inexorable degeneration of the country’s populace. However, the study of the local press, and the language which I overheard and documented, is not enough! We need experimental material, we need experiments to advance blood studies….’
Dobrovolsky started coughing, and got up.
‘I think that at this point, Terenty Paramonovich, we can take a pause, since…’
The old man paid no attention. He continued bellowing:
‘Those infrequent yet priceless experiments conducted by myself are still not sufficient, but already on the basis of the work done I can assert uncompromisingly, and with complete precision, that it has been established by myself as a result of experiments, that the reflex of the white man rejects the blood mass of the coloured race, since the latter affects the white man’s psyche like opium, and the actual collision of the two bloods instantly reduces the work capacity of the white man and leads to inevitable degeneration, and in the course of his life that person, who has embarked on an interbreeding escapade, loses the grace of God, and becomes a cursed man, a failure, and ill fortune befalls him, like Judas.
Dobrovolsky hugged the old man around his shoulders, sat him down, and said that preparations were currently under way for Syrtsov’s book to be published, that is where the grateful listeners could find out about all the experiments and the true nature of this science; and he told the listeners again about the old man’s life, how he researched animals, where and how long he studied, and added a few words about the legendary printing press: it was said that Syrtsov had put it together piece by piece over several years, that he had personally cast the type face, and that was what he used to print his works, which could be obtained there. He pointed at a suitcase (someone readily opened it). And then there were the brochures. Someone grey and unremarkable, like a shadow, started snapping away with a document binder, fixing the pages together, which were all a bright red colour. Dobrovolsky said that since the old man didn’t have any printing ink he had prepared some himself. They started passing round his works. Rebrov leafed through them, but couldn’t understand exactly what stone it was that the old man had used to prepare the ink. What kind of mixtures?..It was a remarkable red, carmine colour, with a corral tint. What could it be?..
Dobrovolsky made way for another speaker, but the old man still stood up several times to say something, looking round at the others from his chair.
Others appeared under the lamp…spoke for a bit…and said their piece. Sundukov smirked, commented mockingly under his breath, and made criticisms, slightly leaning his head towards his shoulder, so that it seemed to Rebrov that he was talking to him, although it was also possible that he was talking to himself. A tall one-armed man with a beard, in an officer’s uniform, with crosses on his chest, read out a short speech about Vonsyatsky; he had no papers, just a small card in his hand, so small that it was impossible to see it; from time to time he looked into his fist and added something. He was somehow wooden, tense and stiff, and was noticeably nervous, his voice trembled, although it trembled melodically, as if he were reading poetry; it seemed as if he was sharing his nostalgic memories with the listeners. He raised his eyebrows, fixed a sad gaze into the distance, and sighed…If someone started playing the violin, the artist thought, it would be like a literary reading:
We served together in the hussars regiment…
I remember the endless march to Yekaterinodar…
I took him to Yalta in a bad state….
All these years we never lost sight of each other…
Anastasy Andreyevich writes often and in great detail…
Here are some extracts from his letters…
Rebrov got carried away listening, observing him: his boots, crosses and buttons shone, his sleeve was carefully pinned back at the side with ladies’ pins. The lady with whom he had come was sitting at the front; she sat with a straight back and looked very important. Sundukov quietly inserted his commentary: oh really…yes well…let’s suppose…but that’s for the best….It was clear that he agreed with Vonsyatsky on some points, but would debate some others; Sundukov got worked up, he cleared his throat repeatedly, his legs started shifting under the chair, his thick wet lips started quivering like caterpillars. The speaker was followed by Kablukov, who read out an article by his brother; it was all the same stuff: progress towards national self-awareness through the Orthodox faith, and everywhere there was the enemy, again Byzantium, and this time the Russian people was bestowed the honour of saving humanity from the invisible enemy….which feeds on human fears, steals oil from the lamps, and instils false thoughts…
The artist got bored. A feeling of sickness came upon him. He had to eat something, and quickly. If he hadn’t been hungry, he would never have come. But how simple it was: living with an invisible enemy, believing that God was watching over you, and that some enemy was lying in wait for you, like a thief in the passageway. It was so simple – to convince yourself that you are the lamp and that you need to preserve your oil in order to save yourself – so simple to think, that something is keeping an eye on you, that you are singled out and that someone there needs you, your people are the Chosen People, and you yourself are the messiah! It was much harder to live and believe in nothing – that was where loneliness was, real loneliness, impenetrable like the night. To be deserted, without a crutch or any support, without anyone to guide you. Most probably Aleksey thought up an enemy for himself, which would look after him, so that he didn’t have to fear loneliness, so that at least something was by his side…
Ternikovsky spoke with an air of importance, without the earlier fuss, as he recounted his correspondence with General Araki, raising his eyes to the lamp with hieroglyphics on it, spreading his palms out wide as if in prayer, dragging out his words, speaking with a breathy voice, almost in a whisper. He released a puff of occult smoke and suddenly in that cloud Boris unexpectedly and not without some pleasure discovered that Ternikovsky was juggling with the thought which the artist had shared with him during a chance argument: history is the movement of the unconscious masses, politics is the art of manipulating those masses (and the comparison of politicians with cardsharps!). But the main thing which Rebrov had said to Ternikovsky that time: that man is nothing in the current of history, history rolls on in its own way, - Ternikovsky left that out, and what’s more, as he gradually got more worked up he said the exact opposite: a person who has recognised his national belonging, a person who knows his roots, who recognises the mission given to him by God, only that person creates history and is transformed from a tiny insect into a giant! Into a Superman! Into Prometheus! Like a conjurer he produced a portrait of Mussolini and continued in the customary tone: he worked himself up to a fit of coughing, and clenched his fists until his knuckles went white, and anti-Semitic slogans flew out of him, like coins from a shaking moneybox.
The artist hunched up; he was ashamed, just a minute beforehand he had looked around at the people in a self-satisfied way, a bit proud of himself, - he had looked at Ternikovsky and thought: he had really managed to influence him!..But as soon as the portrait appeared, and spittle began to fly in all directions, he wanted to leave…
People came to life. They fidgeted and nodded to each other. Sundukov smiled. There was a smell of sweat. Rebrov couldn’t stand it and quietly left for the kitchen. There was a half-open door there which lead to some boudoir, and Rebrov noticed the edge of a satin bed canopy with muslin, and a large mirror, in the depths of which a woman’s silhouette could be seen, - at that moment the door slammed shut. He took some breaths by the window. He felt better. Kolegaev came out as well. The girl who had greeted them in the entrance hall darted out from behind his back and made them tea. Rebrov and Nikanor each greedily ate a roll.
‘I got here late’ said Nikanor shaking his head, ‘I just couldn’t find the place. I knew it was somewhere behind the factory, and I worked there for three years, until they booted me out, I looked and looked, but you can’t make out a damn thing in the dark. The lamps aren’t working for some reason. I shot past the place twice. And those puddles..! And the ice..!’
‘Yes, yes’, nodded Rebrov, ‘the ice, and the puddles…’
‘I hate it! What horrible damp weather! I wanted to speak as well, look,’ he showed his papers, ‘I even prepared something, but when I began to listen I realised that I wouldn’t. They were saying such stupid things that there is no sense in even starting.’
‘So why did you come then?’ asked Sundokov, coming out from behind a cupboard, clinking the spoon inside his cup. Ivan stood next to him chewing his bun, tapping the ground with one foot. Kolegaev was not lost for words.
‘Well basically to look at what happened to the person who arrested the honourable General Yudenich’, said the anarchist caustically, standing tall and smiling, with his long locks of white hair falling on to his large forehead, and the muscles of his face twitching.
‘W-who are you t-talking about?’
‘You don’t know whose tea you are drinking? Whose bread you’re eating?’ asked the anarchist, continuing to talk in riddles. ‘Ternikovsky! He was one of Balakhovich’s men, and remains one to this day. Just look at how he’s dressed himself up. Gathered people around him so that they could admire him. Did you see the precious stone with the cross on his chest? That’s a tiger’s eye. It’s Baron Ungern’s stone! What a time that was…’ he said in the direction of the artist. ‘The baron bartered it for something with a village elder from Central Asia, it’s a valuable piece, brings good luck….Balakhovich won it from the baron in a game of cards in Chita. I don’t know what honourable duties Ternykovsky performed for it to end up on his chest. If only he knew what sights that stone has seen…Eh hey…’
Nikanor had withdrawn into himself, he stood remembering something, sighing and smiling sadly. Ivan stopped tapping with his foot. Sundukov blurted out that even if Vonsyatsky himself had been there, he would definitely ask him a couple of questions.
‘But he just sits there in his America, sends letters, and they get read out here, their contents passed on by word of mouth. Where’s the newspaper? Why is there no organisational centre? No financing? The name of the party is sort of strange, and what’s more none if it is confirmed, not thought through like it should be, and not original. By the way, none of the speakers said a word about the fact that there is famine in Russia, which is important and very good news!
‘What’s good about it? Kolegaev became indignant. ‘People are dying…’
‘It’s really good that people are dying’ said Sundukov. ‘Now people will understand what kind of leaders they chose, they will understand what wasteful incompetent scoundrels have got their hands on the country…and how they are robbing it! Plundering it! Thieves! That’s who the people have given the country to! Commissars who don’t have a clue about economics!’
People began to come out. The speeches had finished. They went to drink tea. They started chattering. The artist’s head was throbbing. He wanted to smoke. The sound of clinking teaspoons could be heard. There wasn’t enough boiling water for everyone. They asked for the cups to be handed back. Rebrov quickly handed his in, and Nikanor too, but Sundukov drank on, dragging it out, smacking his lips and mocking the Soviet government, telling anecdotes… and adding again and again:
‘Never mind, never mind, the day will soon come when the people will come to their senses, and they will strangle and hang the commissars!’
Someone said to him:
‘And what’s so good about that? Hanging, and strangling…’
Sundokov again said a lot of vile things, giggling with every one of them. Rebrov was angry. Kolegaev could not restrain himself, and in a dry, harsh voice said loud enough for everyone to hear:
‘Even if people in Russia realise something, it won’t change anything. You need to know what Russia is like. In Russia even if they realise something, it doesn’t mean that they will begin to do anything about it. And they should have realised it long ago, after all that nightmare has been going on since 1919, and I remember very well what Petrograd was like in the winter of 1919. It was some kind of phantom. Not a city, but a dead man!’
‘Most probably they have all realised everything already’ someone said in support, and Sundukov hunched up.
‘The Russian people are like a Russian woman, they forgive everything, tolerate everything…’
‘Yes, yes, they’ll never hang anyone from the street lanterns….even the commissars…’
‘Don’t you understand anything at all?’ yelled Sundukov angrily. ‘What woman?! We’re talking about the masses here! In France the masses stormed the hell out of the Bastille! But first of all they have to recognise their mission…’
‘In France….’ said Kolegaev with a grin.
‘And in any case that is if they can recognise their mission’ added Rebrov. ‘Although I doubt whether there really is any mission.’
Sundukov turned towards Rebrov, frowned in disdain and said caustically:
‘Tell me, you didn’t come here to eat by any chance?’
Ivan hemmed. Rebrov lifted his chin and, without saying a word, walked towards the door. Kolegaev, followed him, coughing. He spent a long time looking for his overcoat. Kolegaev buttoned up his pea-jacket tight, and shoved a red brochure into his pocket.
‘I’m going to show it to my people’, he said, noticing the artist looking at him. ‘I’ll read it out at the meeting – we’ll have a laugh…’
The next day Boris went to see Nikolay Trofimovich. They were getting ready to go to a concert at the Solovyevs’ neighbours. They had lunch. Nikolay Trofimovich commented that Boris looked bad, - the artist lied that he had a lot of work on.
As they drank coffee Nikolay Trofimovich read from a newspaper that yesterday night a large commercial zeppelin had crashed, which as well as several tons of cargo was carrying the mail. The zeppelin crew had managed to land successfully in some juniper bushes. No one had died.