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Great Short Works of Fyodor Dostoevsky
A Poem of St. Petersburg
Translated by George Bird
It was a little before eight when Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin, a minor civil servant, came to, yawned, stretched, and finally opened his eyes wide after a long night's rest. For two minutes or so he lay motionless in bed, like a man as yet uncertain whether he is awake or still asleep, whether all at present going on about him is reality or a continuation of his disordered dreams. But in a short while Mr. Golyadkin's senses began recording their usual everyday impressions more clearly. Everything looked back at him familiarly: the messy green walls of his little room, begrimed with soot and dust, his mahogany chest of drawers, his imitation mahogany chairs, the red painted table, the reddish oilcloth-covered ottoman patterned with sickly green flowers, and lastly the clothing he had hastily discarded the night before and thrown in a heap onto the ottoman. And then the foul, murky, grey autumnal day peered in at him through the dirty panes in such a sour, ill-humoured way, that Mr. Golyadkin had no longer any possible ground for doubting that he lay, not in some distant fairy realm, but in his own rooms on the fourth floor of a large tenement house in Shestilavochnaya Street, in the capital city of St. Petersburg. Having made a discovery of such importance, Mr. Golyadkin twitched his eyes shut again, as though regretting his recently-ended slumbers and wishing to recall them for a moment. But an instant later, having in all likelihood at last stumbled upon the one idea about which his scattered and inconsequent thoughts had been revolving, he bounded out of bed, and ran to a small round mirror standing on the chest of drawers. Although the sleepy, weak-sighted and rather bald image reflected was of so insignificant a character as to be certain of commanding no great attention at a first glance, its possessor remained well pleased with all that he beheld in the mirror.
"A fine thing it would be if there was something wrong with me today," said Mr. Golyadkin under his breath.
"A fine thing if something untoward had happened, and a strange pimple had come up, or something equally unpleasant. Still, I don't look too bad. So far all's well."
Taking a great pleasure in the fact that all was well, Mr. Golyadkin replaced the mirror, and though barefoot and still dressed in the manner in which he was accustomed to retire to bed, ran to the window and began looking intently for something in the courtyard below. What he saw was evidently also to his satisfaction, for his face lit with a self-contented smile. Then, after first peeping behind. the partition into the closet occupied by his servant Petrushka, and assuring himself of his absence, be tiptoed to the table, unlocked one of the drawers, and rummaging in a far corner, finally produced from beneath some old yellow-stained papers and other rubbish a worn green note-case, carefully opened it, and looked cautiously and with manifest enjoyment into the most remote of its secret pockets. And probably the bundle of nice green, grey, blue, red and particoloured notes it contained looked up at Mr. Golyadkin with equal approval and affability, for, with face beaming, he placed the open note-case in front of him on the table, and rubbed his hands energetically in a manner betokening extreme pleasure. At last he drew out his comforting bundle of banknotes, and for the hundredth time since the day before, began counting them, rubbing each carefully between finger and thumb.
"Seven hundred and fifty roubles in notes!" he breathed finally in a half-whisper. 'Seven hundred and fifty roubles. A good sum! A pleasant sum,' he continued, his voice trembling and somewhat weakened by the emotion of his gratification, the wad of notes clenched in his hands, and his face wreathed in smiles. "A very pleasant sum indeed! A pleasant enough sum for anyone! I'd like to see the man now who'd think it wasn't. A man can go a long way on a sum like this!"
"But what's this, where's Petrushka got to?" thought Mr. Golyadkin, and clad as he was, took another look behind the partition. Petrushka was still nowhere to be seen, but on the floor where it had been set, quite beside itself, fuming, working itself into a passion, and threatening the whole while to boil over, was the samovar; and what it was probably saying as it burred and lisped away furiously at Mr. Golyadkin in its own strange tongue was:
"Come along and fetch me, good people, I'm quite ready, you see."
"To hell with him!" thought Mr. Golyadkin. "That lazy lump is enough to drive a man out of his wits. Where's he disappeared to?"
Seething with righteous indignation, he went out into the hail, which consisted of a small corridor terminated by the door of the entrance, and caught sight of his servant surrounded by a whole crowd of menials and riff-raff. Petrushka was busy recounting something, the others were all attention. Clearly neither the subject of conversation nor the conversation itself were to Mr. Golyadkin's liking, for he immediately called to Petrushka, and went back into the room looking thoroughly displeased, and even disturbed.
"That wretch would betray anyone for a song, his master especially," he thought. "And he's betrayed me, I'm certain of that-for a miserable farthing, I wouldn't mind betting ... Well?"
"They've brought the livery, sir."
"Put it on, and come here."
Having done so, Petrushka came into his master's room grinning foolishly. His costume was odd in the extreme. He was attired in green footman's livery, trimmed with gold braid and very much worn, that had obviously been intended for someone a good two feet taller. He held a hat decorated with green feathers and also trimmed with gold braid, and wore at his side a footman's sword in a leather scabbard.Great Short Works of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Copyright © by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.