The Dream of Nikanor Ivanovich
It is not hard to guess that the fat man with the purple face who was
put into room No. 119 at the clinic was Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoi.
He had not, however, been put into Professor Stravinsky's care at once,
but had first spent some time in another place, of which he could remember
little except a desk, a cupboard and a sofa.
There some men had questioned Nikanor Ivanovich, but since his eyes
were clouded by a flux of blood and extreme mental anguish, the interview
was muddled and inconclusive.
' Are you Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoi,' they began, ' chairman of the house
committee of No. 302a, Sadovaya Street? '
Nikanor Ivanovich gave a wild peal of laughter and replied:
' Of course I'm Nikanor! But why call me chairman? '
' What do you mean? ' they asked, frowning.
' Well,' he replied,' if I'm a chairman I would have seen at once that
he was an evil spirit, wouldn't I? I should have realised, what with his
shaky pince-nez, his tattered clothes--how could he have been an
' Who are you talking about? '
' Koroviev! ' cried Nikanor Ivanovich. ' The man who's moved into No.
50. Write it down--Koroviev! You must find him and arrest him at once.
Staircase 6--write it down--that's where you'll find him.'
' Where did you get the foreign currency from? ' they asked
' As almighty God's my witness,' said Nikanor Ivanovich, ' I never
touched any and I never even suspected that it was foreign money. God will
punish me for my sin,' Nikanor Ivanovich went on feelingly, unbuttoning his
shirt, buttoning it up again and crossing himself. ' I took the money--I
admit that--but it was Soviet money. I even signed a receipt for it. Our
secretary Prolezhnov is just as bad--frankly we're all thieves in our house
committee. . . . But I never took any foreign money.'
On being told to stop playing the fool and to tell them how the dollars
found their way into his ventilation shaft, Nikanor Ivanovich fell on his
knees and rocked backwards and forwards with his mouth wide open as though
he were trying to swallow the wooden parquet blocks.
' I'll do anything you like,' he groaned, ' that'll make you believe I
didn't take the stuff. That Koroviev's nothing less than a devil!'
Everyone's patience has its limit; voices were raised behind the desk
and Nikanor Ivanovich was told that it was time he stopped talking
Suddenly the room was filled with a savage roar from Nikanor Ivanovich
as he jumped up from his knees:
' There he is! There--behind the cupboard! There--look at him grinning!
And his pince-nez . . . Stop him! Arrest him! Surround the building! '
The blood drained from Nikanor Ivanovich's face. Trembling, he made the
sign of the cross in the air, fled for the door, then back again, intoned a
prayer and then relapsed into complete delirium.
It was plain that Nikanor Ivanovich was incapable of talking
rationally. He was removed and put in a room by himself, where he calmed
down slightly and only prayed and sobbed.
Men were sent to the house on Sadovaya Street and inspected flat No.
50, but they found no Koroviev and no one in the building who had seen him
or heard of him. The flat belonging to Berlioz and Likhodeyev was empty and
the wax seals, quite intact, hung on all the cupboards and drawers in the
study. The men left the building, taking with them the bewildered and
crushed Prolezhnev, secretary of the house committee.
That evening Nikanor Ivanovich was delivered to Stravinsky's clinic.
There he behaved so violently that he had to be given one of Stravinsky's
special injections and it was midnight before Nikanor Ivanovich tell asleep
in room No. 119, uttering an occasional deep, tormented groan.
But the longer he slept the calmer he grew. He stopped tossing and
moaning, his breathing grew light and even, until finally the doctors left
Nikanor Ivanovich then had a dream, which was undoubtedly influenced by
his recent experiences. It began with some men carrying golden trumpets
leading him, with great solemnity, to a pair of huge painted doors, where
his companions blew a fanfare in Nikanor Ivanovich's honour. Then a bass
voice boomed at him from the sky :
' Welcome, Nikanor Ivanovich! Hand over your foreign currency! ' Amazed
beyond words, Nikanor Ivanovich saw in front of him a black loudspeaker.
Soon he found himself in an auditorium lit by crystal candelabra beneath a
gilded ceiling and by sconces on the walls. Everything resembled a small but
luxurious theatre. There was a stage, closed by a velvet curtain whose dark
cerise background was strewn with enlargements of gold ten-rouble pieces;
there was a prompter's box and even an audience.
Nikanor Ivanovich was surprised to notice that the audience was an
all-male one and that its members all wore beards. An odd feature of the
auditorium was that it had no seats and the entire assembly was sitting on
the beautifully polished and extremely slippery floor.
Embarrassed at finding himself in this large and unexpected company,
after some hesitation Nikanor Ivanovich followed the general example and sat
down Turkish-fashion on the parquet, wedging himself between a stout
redbeard and a pale and extremely hirsute citizen. None of the audience paid
any attention to the newcomer.
There came the gentle sound of a bell, the house-lights went out, the
curtains parted and revealed a lighted stage set with an armchair, a small
table on which was a little golden bell, and a heavy black velvet backdrop.
On to the stage came an actor, dinner-jacketed, clean-shaven, his hair
parted in the middle above a young, charming face. The audience grew lively
and everybody turned to look at the stage. The actor advanced to the
footlights and rubbed his hands.
' Are you sitting down? ' he enquired in a soft baritone and smiled at
' We are, we are,' chorused the tenors and basses.
' H'mm . . .' said the actor thoughtfully, ' I realise, of course, how
bored you must be. Everybody else is out of doors now, enjoying the warm
spring sunshine, while you have to squat on the floor in this stuffy
auditorium. Is the programme really worth while? Ah well, chacun a son
gout,' said the actor philosophically.
At this he changed the tone of his voice and announced gaily :
' And the next number on our programme is--Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoi,
tenants' committee chairman and manager of a diabetic restaurant. This way
please, Nikanor Ivanovich! '
At the sound of the friendly applause which greeted his name, Nikanor
Ivanovich's eyes bulged with astonishment and the compere, shading his eyes
against the glare of the footlights, located him among the audience and
beckoned him to the stage. Without knowing how, Nikanor Ivanovich found
himself on stage. His eyes were dazzled from above and below by the glare of
coloured lighting which blotted out the audience from his sight.
' Now Nikanor Ivanovich, set us an example,' said the young actor
gently and confidingly, ' and hand over your foreign currency.'
Silence. Nikanor Ivanovich took a deep breath and said in a low voice :
' I swear to God, I . . .'
Before he could finish, the whole audience had burst into shouts of
disapproval. Nikanor Ivanovich relapsed into uncomfortable silence. ' Am I
right,' said the compere, ' in thinking that you were about to swear by God
that you had no foreign currency?' He gave Nikanov Ivanovich a sympathetic
' That's right. I haven't any.'
' I see,' said the actor. ' But ... if you'll forgive the indelicacy .
. . where did those four hundred dollars come from that were found in the
lavatory of your flat, of which you and your wife are the sole occupants? '
' They were magic ones! ' said a sarcastic voice somewhere in the dark
' That's right, they were magic ones,' said Nikanor Ivanovich timidly,
addressing no one in particular but adding : ' an evil spirit, that
interpreter in a check suit planted them on me.'
Again the audience roared in protest. When calm was restored, the actor
' This is better than Lafontaine's fables! Planted four hundred
dollars! Listen, you're all in the currency racket--I ask you now, as
experts : is that possible? '
' We're not currency racketeers,' cried a number of offended voices
from the audience, ' but it's impossible! '
' I entirely agree,' said the actor firmly, ' and now I'd like to ask
you : what sort of things do people plant on other people? '
' Babies! ' cried someone at the back.
' Quite right,' agreed the compere. ' Babies, anonymous letters,
manifestos, time bombs and God knows what else, but no one would ever plant
four hundred dollars on a person because there just isn't anyone idiotic
enough to try.' Turning to Nikanor Ivanovich the artist added sadly and
reproachfully: ' You've disappointed me, Nikanor Ivanovich. I was relying on
you. Well, that number was a flop, I'm afraid.'
The audience began to boo Nikanor Ivanovich.
' He's in the currency black market all right,' came a shout from the
crowd, ' and innocent people like us have to suffer because of the likes of
' Don't shout at him,' said the compere gently. ' He'll repent.'
Turning his blue eyes, brimming with tears, towards Nikanor Ivanovich, he
said : ' Go back to your place Nikanor Ivanovich.'
After this the actor rang the bell and loudly announced:
' Interval! '
Shattered by his involuntary debut in the theatre, Nikanor Ivanovich
found himself back at his place on the floor. Then he began dreaming that
the auditorium was plunged into total darkness and fiery red words leaped
out from the walls ' Hand over all foreign cirrency! '
After a while the curtains opened again and the compere announced:
' Sergei Gerardovich Dunchill on stage, please! '
Dunchill was a good-looking though very stout man of about fifty.
' Sergei Gerardovich,' the compere addressed him, ' you have been
sitting here for six weeks now, firmly refusing to give up your remaining
foreign currency, at a time when your country has desperate need of it. You
are extremely obstinate. You're an intelligent man, you understand all this
perfectly well, yet you refuse to come forward.'
' I'm sorry, but how can I, when I have no more currency? ' was
Dunchill's calm reply.
' Not even any diamonds, perhaps? ' asked the actor.
' No diamonds either.'
The actor hung his head, reflected for a moment, then clapped his
hands. From the wings emerged a fashionably dressed middle-aged woman. The
woman looked worried as Dunchill stared at her without the flicker of an
' Who is this lady? ' the compere enquired of Dunchill.
' She is my wife,' replied Dunchill with dignity, looking at the woman
with a faint expression of repugnance.
' We regret the inconvenience to you, madame Dunchill,' said the
compere, ' but we have invited you here to ask you whether your husband has
surrendered all his foreign currency? '
' He handed it all in when he was told to,' replied madame Dunchill
' I see,' said the actor, ' well, if you say so, it must be true. If he
really has handed it all in, we must regretfully deprive ourselves of the
pleasure of Sergei Gerardovich's company. You may leave the theatre if you
wish, Sergei Gerardovich,' announced the compere with a regal gesture.
Calmly and with dignity Dunchill turned and walked towards the wings.
' Just a minute! ' The compere stopped him. ' Before you go just let me
show you one more number from our programme.' Again he clapped his hands.
The dark backdrop parted and a beautiful young woman in a ball gown
stepped on stage. She was holding a golden salver on which lay a thick
parcel tied with coloured ribbon, and round her neck she wore a diamond
necklace that flashed blue, yellow and red fire.
Dunchill took a step back and his face turned pale. Complete silence
gripped the audience.
' Eighteen thousand dollars and a necklace worth forty thousand gold
roubles,' the compere solemnly announced, ' belonging to Sergei Gerardovich
and kept for him in Kharkov in the flat of his mistress, Ida Herkulanovna
Vors, whom you have the pleasure of seeing before you now and who has kindly
consented to help in displaying these treasures which, priceless as they
are, are useless in private hands. Thank you very much, Ida Herkulanovna.'
The beauty flashed her teeth and fluttered her long eyelashes. ' And as
for you,' the actor said to Dunchill, ' we now know that beneath that
dignified mask lurks a vicious spider, a liar and a disgrace to our society.
For six weeks you have worn us all out with your stupid obstinacy. Go home
now and may the hell which your wife is preparing for you be your
Dunchill staggered and was about to collapse when a sympathetic pair of
arms supported him. The curtain then fell and bid the occupants of the stage
Furious applause shook the auditorium until Nikanor Ivanovich thought
the lamps were going to jump out of the candelabra. When the curtain rose
again there was no one on stage except the actor. To another salvo of
applause he bowed and said :
' We have just shown you a typically stubborn case. Only yesterday I
was saying how senseless it was to try and conceal a secret hoard of foreign
currency. No one who has one can make use of it. Take Dunchill for example.
He is well paid and never short of anything. He has a splendid flat, a wife
and a beautiful mistress. Yet instead of acting like a law-abiding citizen
and handing in his currency and jewellery, all that this incorrigible rogue
has achieved is public exposure and a family scandal. So who wants to hand
in his currency? Nobody? In that case, the next number on our programme will
be that famous actor Savva Potapovich Kurolesov in excerpts from " The
Covetous Knight" by the poet Pushkin.'
Kurolesov entered, a tall, fleshy, clean-shaven man in tails and white
tie. Without a word of introduction he scowled, frowned and began, squinting
at the golden bell, to recite in an unnatural voice :
' Hastening to meet Ills courtesan, the young gallant. . .'
Kurolesov's recital described a tale of evil. He confessed how an
unhappy widow had knelt weeping before him in the rain, but the actor's hard
heart had remained untouched.
Until this dream, Nikanor Ivanovich knew nothing of the works of
Pushkin, although he knew his name well enough and almost every day he used
to make remarks like ' Who's going to pay the rent--Pushkin? ', or ' I
suppose Pushkin stole the light bulb on the staircase', or ' Who's going to
buy the fuel-oil for the boilers--Pushkin, I suppose? ' Now as he listened
to one of Pushkin's dramatic poems for the first time Nikanor Ivanovich felt
miserable, imagining the woman on her knees in the rain with her orphaned
children and he could not help thinking what a beast this fellow Kurolesov
The actor himself, his voice constantly rising, poured out his
repentance and finally he completely muddled Nikanor Ivanovich by talking to
someone who wasn't on the stage at all, then answered for the invisible man,
all the time calling himself first ' king ', then ' baron ', then ' father
', then ' son ' until the confusion was total. Nikanor Ivanovich only
managed to understand that the actor died a horrible death shouting ' My
keys! My keys! ', at which he fell croaking to the ground, having first
taken care to pull off his white tie.
Having died, Kurolesov got up, brushed the dust from his trousers,
bowed, smiled an insincere smile and walked off to faint applause. The
compere then said :
' In Sawa Potapovich's masterly interpretation we have just heard the
story of " The Covetous Knight". That knight saw himself as a Casanova; but
as you saw, nothing came of his efforts, no nymphs threw themselves at him,
the muses refused him their tribute, he built no palaces and instead he
finished miserably after an attack on his hoard of money and jewels. I warn
you that something of the kind will happen to you, if not worse, unless you
hand over your foreign currency! '
It may have been Pushkin's verse or it may have been the compere's
prosaic remarks which had such an effect; at all events a timid voice was
heard from the audience :
' I'll hand over my currency.'
' Please come up on stage,' was the compere's welcoming response as he
peered into the dark auditorium.
A short blond man, three weeks unshaven, appeared on stage.
' What is your name, please? ' enquired the compere.
' Nikolai Kanavkin ' was the shy answer.
' Ah! Delighted, citizen Kanavkin. Well? '
' I'll hand it over.'
' How much? '
' A thousand dollars and twenty gold ten-rouble pieces.'
' Bravo! Is that all you have? '
The compere stared straight into Kanavkin's eyes and it seemed to
Nikanor Ivanovich that those eyes emitted rays which saw through Kanavkin
like X-rays. The audience held its breath.
' I believe you! ' cried the actor at last and extinguished his gaze. '
I believe you! Those eyes are not lying! How many
times have I said that your fundamental error is to underestimate the
significance of the human eye. The tongue may hide the truth but the
eyes--never! If somebody springs a question you may not even flinch ; in a
second you are in control of yourself and you know what to say in order to
conceal the truth. You can be very convincing and not a wrinkle will flicker
in your expression, but alas! The truth will start forth in a flash from the
depths of your soul to your eyes and the game's up! You're caught!'
Having made this highly persuasive speech, the actor politely asked
' Where are they hidden? '
' At my aunt's, in Prechistenka.'
' Ah! That will be ... wait . . . yes, that's Claudia Ilyinishna
Porokhovnikova, isn't it? ' ' Yes.'
' Yes, yes, of course. A little bungalow, isn't it? Opposite a high
fence? Of course, I know it. And where have you put them? '
' In a box in the cellar.'
The actor clasped his hands.
' Oh, no! Really! ' he cried angrily. ' Its so damp there-- they'll
grow mouldy! People like that aren't to be trusted with money! What
child-like innocence. What will they do next?'
Kanavkin, realising that he was doubly at fault, hung his curly head.
' Money,' the actor went on, ' should be kept in the State Bank, in dry
and specially guarded strongrooms, but never in your aunt's cellar where
apart from anything else, the rats may get at it. Really, Kanavkin, you
should be ashamed : you--a grown man! '
Kanavkin did not know which way to look and could only twist the hem of
his jacket with his finger.
' All right,' the artist relented slightly, ' since you have owned up
we'll be lenient. . .' Suddenly he added unexpectedly : ' By the way . . .
we might as well kill two birds with one stone and not waste a car journey
... I expect your aunt has some of her own hidden away, hasn't she? '
Not expecting the conversation to take this turn, Kanavkin gave a start
and silence settled again on the audience.
' Ah, now, Kanavkin,' said the compere in a tone of kindly reproach, '
I was just going to say what a good boy you were I And now you have to go
and upset it all! That wasn't very clever, Kanavkin! Remember what I said
just now about your eyes? Well, I can see from your eyes that your aunt has
something hidden. Come on--don't tantalise us! '
' Yes, she has! ' shouted Kanavkin boldly.
' Bravo! ' cried the compere.
' Bravo! ' roared the audience.
When the noise had died down the compere congratulated Kanavkin, shook
him by the hand, offered him a car to take him home and ordered somebody in
the wings to go and see the aunt in the same car and invite her to appear in
the ladies' section of the programme.
' Oh yes, I nearly forgot to ask you--did your aunt tell you where she
has hidden hers? ' enquired the compere, offering Kanavkin a cigarette and a
lighted match. His cigarette lit, the wretched man gave an apologetic sort
' Of course, I believe you. You don't know,' said the actor with a
sigh. ' I suppose the old skinflint wouldn't tell her nephew. Ah well, we
shall just have to try and appeal to her better nature. Perhaps we can still
touch a chord in her miserly old heart. Goodbye, Kanavkin--and good luck! '
Kanavkin departed relieved and happy. The actor then enquired whether
anyone else wished to surrender his foreign currency, but there was no
' Funny, I must say! ' said the compere with a shrug of his shoulders
and the curtain fell.
The lights went out, there was darkness for a while, broken only by the
sound of a quavering tenor voice singing :
' Heaps of gold--and mine, all mine ...'
After a burst of applause, Nikanor Ivanovich's red-bearded neighbour
suddenly announced :
' There's bound to be a confession or two in the ladies' programme.'
Then with a sigh he added: ' oh, if only they don't get my geese! I have a
flock of geese at Lianozov, you see. They're savage birds, but I'm afraid
they'll die if I'm not there. They need a lot of looking after . . . Oh, if
only they don't take my geese! They don't impress me by quoting Pushkin . .
.' and he sighed again.
The auditorium was suddenly flooded with light and Nikanor Ivanovich
began dreaming that a gang of cooks started pouring through all the doors
into the auditorium. They wore white chef's hats, carried ladles and they
dragged into the theatre a vat full of soup and a tray of sliced black
bread. The audience livened up as the cheerful cooks pushed their way down
the aisle pouring the soup into bowls and handing out bread.
' Eat up, lads,' shouted the cooks, ' and hand over your currency! Why
waste your time sitting here? Own up and you can all go home! '
' What are you doing here, old man?' said a fat, red-necked cook to
Nikanor Ivanovich as he handed him a bowl of soup with a lone cabbage leaf
floating in it.
' I haven't got any! I haven't, I swear it,' shouted Nikanor Ivanovich
in a terrified voice.
' Haven't you? ' growled the cook in a fierce bass. ' Haven't you? ' he
enquired in a feminine soprano. ' No, I'm sure you haven't,' he muttered
gently as he turned into the nurse Praskovya Fyodorovna.
She gently shook Nikanor Ivanovich by the shoulder as he groaned in his
sleep. Cooks, theatre, curtain and stage dissolved. Through the tears in his
eyes Nikanor Ivanovich stared round at his hospital room and at two men in
white overalls. They turned out not to be cooks but doctors, standing beside
Praskovya Fyodorovna who instead of a soup-bowl was holding a gauze-covered
white enamelled dish containing a hypodermic syringe.
' What are you doing? ' said Nikanor Ivanovich bitterly as they gave
him an injection. ' I haven't any I tell you! Why doesn't Pushkin hand over
his foreign currency? I haven't got any! '
' No, of course you haven't,' said kind Praskovya Fyodorovna, ' and no
one is going to take you to court, so you can forget it and relax.'
After Ms injection Nikanor Ivanovich calmed down and fell into a
His unrest, however, had communicated itself to No. 120 where the
patient woke up and began looking for his head; No. 118 where the nameless
master wrung his hands as he gazed at the moon, remembering that last bitter
autumn night, the patch of light under the door in his basement and the
girl's hair blown loose.
The anxiety from No. 118 flew along the balcony to Ivan, who woke up
and burst into tears.
The doctor soon calmed all his distraught patients and they went back
to sleep. Last of all was Ivan, who only dozed off as dawn began to break
over the river. As the sedative spread through his body, tranquillity
covered him like a slow wave. His body relaxed and his head was filled with
the warm breeze of slumber. As he fell asleep the last thing that he heard
was the dawn chorus of birds in the wood. But they were soon silent again
and he began dreaming that the sun had already set over Mount Golgotha and
that the hill was ringed by a double cordon. ...
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