Published in «The Literary Review», № 3, 1991(Madison, NJ, USA.).



Translated from the Russian by Claudia Novack-Jones


IT EXISTED THREE MONTHS IN ALL, that phantom publishing house on Ataman Street, the "Don Arsenal" of S.E. Kutyenikov. It released two brochures in May, followed by a skinny little volume with a pretentious half-title in July, and then vanished without a trace. By August, No. 14 Ataman Street (where the publisher had at one time been housed, occupying the entire first floor, an annex and an expansive basement) had already been appropriated--as can be ascertained from an advertisement in the Don Regional Gazette--by a French photography studio, fully rigged with the latest equipment from Paris as well as articles of colorful weaponry gleaned from medieval European armies. ("Have yourself immortalized in a Romantic setting by Jacques Michel de Larcon.") In September, the proprietor of the photography studio placed an irate notice in the same newspaper, stating that he hadn't the slightest idea about the existence of any publishing house called the "Don Arsenal"; furthermore, he requested that "messieurs the agents of the book trade" leave his establishment in peace and cease pestering him with questions as to the whereabouts of some "Monsieur Kutyenikov," who, in all likelihood, never existed in the first place. "As for the most esteemed public," de Larcon added in precise brevier, "Jacques Michel's establishment at 14 Ataman is open for its patronage every day of the week but Tuesday. For those wishing to alter their exterior, we have for your pleasure false moustaches and beards from the theatrical costume shops of Amsterdam."

The publisher S.E. Kutyenikov responded to this notice in an original manner. When the Christmas edition of The Commercial Herald of the Society of Merchant Cossacks came out, his portrait was on it. "Monsieur Jacques," ran the florid inscription,

in order to dispel your doubts as to my natural existence in this radiant, fairytale world (filled as it is with every conceivable form of life), and to prove to you beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am not a product of the imagination of "messieurs the agents of the book trade," I have placed here my photograph, taken at 14 Ataman. As you can see, your pushy assistant persuaded me to arm myself with a Danish sword and even to squander ten kopeks in order to glue on a set of those foul whiskers of yours from Amsterdam. I do hope, however, that this bit of folly which I allowed myself on the spur of a mischievous moment and a capricious turn of mind will not prevent my partners and much-esteemed fellow merchants from recognizing me and, furthermore, that they will not be too severe in their judgment of the publisher S. E. Kutyenikov, who has the honor of wishing a Merry Christmas to all the merchants in the Don Cossack Province!

In February 1912 Kutyenikov was heard from again. Although the "mischievous moment" he had snatched from the humdrum stream of time had lasted from just before Christmas until Candlemas, the "capricious turn of mind" had, it seems, gone too far to be stopped in midstream. In a word, he resolved to continue his battle-by-press with Jacques Michel.

The latter, meanwhile, had published a threatening ultimatum in the newspaper South[1] demanding that Mr. Kutyenikov, regardless of whether he existed or not, publicly apologize for the Christmas prank that had so infringed on his (Jacques Michel's) business; "or else," the aggrieved Frenchman wrote, "I will be compelled to bring the matter to the attention of the district court in order to seek recompense for the losses I have incurred, either from the elusive publisher or from The Commercial Herald, which indulged the not inoffensive libertinism of this fantastic personage." By way of response, Kutyertikov placed in all the Novocircassian newspapers, with the exception of the Don Diocesan Gazette and The Cossack Artillery Herald, a notice of rather odd, if not to say ridiculous, content:

The publisher S.E. Kutyenikov reports that, owing to certain mysterious violations of the eternal world order, the accustomed congruity of earthly space occupied by house No. 14 on Ataman Street -- where the publisher "Don Arsenal" is currently located and will be right through the year 1915 -- has been shaken. In some unfathomable manner this locale has been appropriated by master photographer Jacques Michel de Larcon, the existence of whose importunate establishment in this place and at this time[2] is, to the mind of the publisher, no more than fantasy and dust. Quite astonishingly, Monsieur Larcon holds the same opinion with regard to the "Don Arsenal," which is at present preparing a supplementary edition of Yeolampy Kharitonov's Historical Research on the Cossack Campaign against India. The fact that in the current cycle of reality Monsieur Larcon's establishment -- to all appearances -- possesses a greater degree of the fortunate quality of visibility than does the publisher's will by no eans have any effect on the magnificent appearance of our books, for which we have already purchased excellent and entirely tangible paper from the factory of Tokhausen and Co. in Ekaterinodar.

It is not known what impression this notice made on the Frenchman. All that is known is that the military Ataman Pavel Ivanovich Mishchenko scribbled the word "Bah!!!" in blue pencil right on top of Kutyenikov's announcement (it had appeared in The Civic News -- a newspaper the Ataman customarily received at 7:30 in the morning) and promptly dispatched the Sergeant Major of the Cavalry to No. 14 Ataman Street with a mounted detachment.

The Sergeant Major, it goes without saying, found no publishing house whatsoever, neither at No. 14, nor in any of the neighboring buildings. In his account to the Ataman, however, he reported that he had

been successful in discovering a certain ambiguity in the insidious figure of the Frenchman J. M. de Larcon, which figure executes -- at 14 Ataman -- photographic portraits of individuals of all estates, though he himself is lacking in any distinguishing facial characteristics. Indeed at first glance he may as easily appear to resemble a pretty barmaid as a French fusilier. And as the aforementioned house is plunged demonically in the delusiveness of vanished lives and impossible times, so too the figure of the above-mentioned barmaid( . . . )

But it is unnecessary to quote this preposterous report any further: the Sergeant Major, according to a dispatch sent by the sotnik[*] on sentry duty, composed it in "a state of utter inebriation," in the guard-house, wearing the side-whiskers a la Franz Josef in which he had had himself photographed at Jacques Michel's (still wearing them, he afterwards rode about town all morning long, in search, as he put it "of some demonic publishing house of infernal characteristics," until he was finally taken into custody in Friedrich Brutz's restaurant on the corner of Skorodumovskaya and Mosovskaya). Worthy of more attention is the information[3] -- completely reliable, although set forth in virtuoso rhetoric -- that on the same day (i.e., February 2, Old Style) Jacques Michel's establishment was visited by the military Ataman himself. He showed up late that evening in a staff car, unannounced, in the company of two civilian adjutants, the district quartermaster and a suite of high-ranking officers who, with sa ers drawn, pranced merrily on either side of his slick "Russo-Baltic" (its melodious claxon woke the entire street). He proceeded with great care to inspect the mysterious house (which belonged, incidentally, to the Society of Credit Unions), first from the outside (circling it twice), then from the inside: he descended into the basement, peered into the wing, praised Jacques Michel for his diligent up-keep of the rented premises and then drove off, after having bought a Flemish gisarme for his personal weapon collection.

The next morning an official from the Ataman's office (the one in charge of special commissions) presented Jacques Michel with a parcel containing the side-whiskers removed from the Sergeant Major in the "refreshing chamber," and an order from the Chief of the Commissarial Division of the Military Staff, requiring all proprietors of photography studios operating businesses in the territory of the Don Cossack Province to comply with the following regulations:

1. All Cossacks, whether ordinary or administrative, commissioned or non-commissioned, and also staff-officers of the Cossack troops, are to be photographed only with regulation-issue weapons and in uniform as is appropriate to their rank.

2. The gluing-on of moustaches, beards or any other facial hair is to be eliminated from photographic practice, so that all military officials, active duty or retired, and also those Cossacks exempt from military services, will exhibit in the portrait only their God-given appearance.

3. All props and authentic articles, bearing any relation to the military affairs of foreign armies of any tune, are to be removed from photographic practice.

4. No clients, whether military or civilian, are to be portrayed against linen or screen backgrounds depicting fictitious battles or campaigns, or any historically documented military activities with which the Russian army had no connection.

Any photographer who violates these regulations will be fined a sum of two hundred rubles for the first offense (all proceeds will go to benefit the military treasury), and on the second offense he will be asked to withdraw beyond the borders of the Don Cossack Province.

One can imagine the despair that this unexpected order occasioned in the enterprising Frenchman. He had succeeded in organizing his affairs in such a way as to force out of business the oldest photography studio in town, Kikian and Maslov, which had been unable to withstand the competition. (Neither the gigantic battle axe they had hung in the window, nor the promise to photograph their clients in strelets[**] kaftans had been sufficient to entice the fickle public.) His despair now impelled Jacques Michel to settle posthaste with the hateful publisher, who, like an invulnerable paper ghost, was drifting about lightheartedly, somewhere above 14 Ataman Street. Having resolved to carry out the intention which he had announced in the druggists' South, he had already hired lawyers and had them draw up a complaint against Kutyenikov when, his loins girded for battle, he suddenly received a note from the Esaul[***] of the Guard, the civilian adjutant, Prince Stepan Andreyevich Cherkesov. Writting in nut-gall i k[4] (a kind that at the time was no longer to be found in offices) and sent in an ordinary envelope (without the military coat of arms), the note was without a doubt unofficial and was even jocular in spots, but nevertheless it could not cool Jacques Michel's litigious ardor.

The adjutant informed Jacques Michel that the misunderstanding which had arisen between him and Kutyenikov had not escaped the notice of the military command. "I have been instructed to look into the matter," wrote Cherkesov,

although not with the purpose of oppressing either of you. Rather, it is a matter of the Ataman's personal interest in your mysterious disagreement with Kutyenikov. Pavel Ivanovich believes there is something extraordinary behind it. I will tell you furthermore, he fully admits the possibility that Kutyenikov has not been joking at all. I hope that you will not regard this disclosure of mine as a request not to take steps against Kutyenikov. God forbid you should construe my words that way! My sole intent is to offer you some perfectly friendly and utterly worldly advice: do not rouse a scandal, and, insofar as is possible, be tolerant of the publisher's caprices. You know, his father, Efrem Afanas'evich--the one who served as our Quartermaster Sergeant and, under Samsonov, was even put in charge of the military arsenal!--was himself not unknown to be something of a joker and braggart. Just imagine, he once terrified a company of the sovereign's trumpeters, who had ridden into the Caucasus, with stories about a band of incredible brigands who allegedly feared not bullets but rather the half-moon of an axe, whose sacred crescent caused them to tremble in mystical horror, then the rascal armed the musicians (and most seriously at that) with bombardiers' halberds (replete with vouchers and manuals) which had been lying about in the corps de garde for God knows how long! He even wrote in his account to the Ataman: "This reassuring weaponry was issued to His Highness's valiant musicians as the very best equipment, to their understanding, for frightening off ill-intentioned mountaineers." It is said that Samsonov laughed till he cried, although he did turn the scoundrel over to the tribunal for prosecution anyway. I hope Monsieur Larcon, you will have no doubts as to the utility of my advice. It goes without saying, you are free to disregard it and to be influenced instead by considerations of your own, including those of commercial advantage. But if the question here is one of profit, then I should like to point out that the current prosperity of your photography studio is due, at least in part, to none other than Mr. Kutyenikov. Whether in jest or not, Kutyenikov has nonetheless attracted universal attention to No. 14 Ataman and, consequently, to your business. The public, especially its civilian populace, ever-fond of mystery, has you under siege from morning until night, to the extent that you, as I have heard, can scarcely keep up with the orders. Given such a turn of affairs, I do not think you could be seriously disturbed by the fact that your studio has, in common parlance, come to be called "Kutyenikov's," the more so as you yourself exerted no little effort in attempting to secure this end. I was driving down Ataman recently and saw in your window-I couldn't have been mistaken!-a huge portrait of Kutyenikov in whiskers and a monocle. What is more, I have in my possession reliable information that you bought out the entire stock of Don Arsenal titles at Sushchenkov's store, and, seizing the opportu ity, are selling them to your clients at a rather steep price; indeed if I am not mistaken, copies of Yevlampy Kharitonov's Historical Research on the Cossack: Campaign against India (whose date of publication was skillfully falsified by your assistant so that you could pass them off as that mythical, "supplementary edition" allegedly already published by Kutyenikov--God only knows where, in miraculous invisibility) have been going for fifteen rubles apiece. Incidentally, this matter does not concern me. In my official capacity I may point out only that you have, for an entire month now, been violating Point 4 of the regulations issued by the Chief of the Commissariat Division of the Military Staff. Bear in mind, he is a peremptory and implacable man. Even the Ataman's personal interest in you will not prevent him from banishing you, by way of example, to Voronezh Province where the rule is milder but the climate harsher, and commerce not nearly so lively as in our blessed capital!

March 6 of the current year, Civilian Adjutant to the Ataman of the Don Cossacks, Prince Cherkesov.


Strictly speaking, Photographer de Larc, on was not in fact violating Point 4 of the regulations issued by the Chief of the Commissariat Division of the Military Staff as Adjutant Cherkesov had thought. He had without delay removed the linens and screens "depicting fictitious battles and campaigns, or any other historically documented military activities with which the Russian army had no connection." And he had replaced them with others. They appeared to be, as the journal Photographic Kuren[*] expressed it, "a sort of page-by-page illustration for Yeolampy Khantonov's Historical Research on the Cossack Campaign against India, which Mr. Kutyenikov published last year in his scandalous but short-lived 'Don Arsenal'." It was precisely these screens that the Adjutant had had in mind when he had threatened the Frenchman with the biting Januaries and mosquito-ridden Julys of far-distant and languishing Voronezh Province. The fact was that the use of these screens, which had netted de Larc, on such fantastic rofit, did not violate Point 4 of the regulations at all. "It is no joke," wrote a caustic correspondent for the Photographic Kuren.

our citizens line up and pay, without a moment's hesitation, 10 rubles apiece just to shove their mugs into oval holes, becoming in this way imaginary participants in some historically impossible and, to all appearances, quite unruly scene, such as the crossing of the Cossacks into India and other such rubbish! Whatever is our military command doing when, in a supposed attempt to see to the moral purity of our photography industry, it does nothing more than issue laughable decrees?

Of course it could not be said that the Cossack campaign against India was altogether fictitious; nor could it be denied that forty Don regiments--twenty-three thousand Cossacks and Cossack officers who had sworn allegiance to the Russian throne--had taken part in it. The campaign began on February 27, 1801, upon the order of Emperor Pavel Petrovich who, from inside the ineradicably dank Mikhailovsky Fortress (which was at that moment shrouded in a Petersburg blizzard), had suddenly been seized by the ardent, comforting dream of conquering England's sundrenched colony, i.e., fire-scorched India. On that day, at two o'clock in the afternoon, after a celebration of the ceremonial liturgy in the military Cathedral of the Resurrection in Old Cherkass and a farewell prayer service in Ratnaja Square at the Church of the Transfiguration, the advance-guard of thirteen regiments, headed by the Cavalry General, Field Ataman Matvey Platov, set out for the East; behind them followed the artillery regiments at an ini ial distance of ten versts, then a caravan of transport carts laden with provisions, lead, fodder, powder, shot and entrenchment tools; finally, already at dusk, the mounted rear-guard set out from the town . . .

As a foreigner, and what's more a civilian, Jacques Michel de Larcon could not have been expected to know that the Cossack campaign against India had ended in some God-forsaken khutor[*] somewhere in southeast Orenburg province on the morning of March 24 in the year in which it began. As evidence documenting the historical authenticity of the scenes depicted on his screens, he could exhibit (and, in fact, did so in the literal sense of the word--right in his shop window) the book published by Kutyenikov, who made bold to declare in the foreword that he would assume

full responsibility for this publication, since its author, the retired sub-Esaul Yevlampy Makarovich Kharitonov[5] [had] passed away in the town of Pokrovskaja Stanitsa[**] before he was able to give formal consent to the publication of his research.

Neither could the Frenchman have been expected to know that the sources cited in the work in question were, to a large extent, dubious (although it would be obvious at first glance to any professor, even if not particularly fastidious): reference was made to some sort of "Bhutan manuscripts," dating from the beginning of the 19th century and allegedly translated by the author from the Bhotian language (of the Tibeto-Burman group), all sorts of "notes" written in various languages by travelers who had sojourned to Asia in 1801 and seen Cossack troops both in Persia and on the slopes of Kara-Kum, the "campaign journals" of an aged Sergeant-Major and other "evidence," obtained--no one knows quite how or where-by the inquisitive sub-Esaul. For Jacques Michel it sufficed that Kharitonov maintained in his Historical Research--written, as the publisher assures us, "on the basis of new and completely reliable information"--that the "Bonaparte of the Don" (as the author called General Matvey Platov) apparently le his Cossack regiments straight into the snow-covered Himalayas, and not to the Orenburg steppe, "as was previously thought." "The entire campaign" it is written on page 29,

ended brilliantly, completely in accordance with the plan conceived by Emperor Pavel, who had never intended to conquer India at all, but merely wanted to threaten self-important England with the spectre of Cossack sabers waving from Himalayan peaks.

(On Jacques Michel's screen--as can be seen from the illustration in the Photographic Kuren--the event was depicted thus: a group of Cossacks, tightly bunched at the edge of a cloud-shrouded mountain peak, are gallantly brandishing their sabers and firing flint-locks and carbines, while George III, leaning out of a window in Buckingham Palace, gazes up at them in horror.) Later--on pages 44-53-- Yevlampy Makarovich goes on to recount in detail how"some gray-haired Sergeant Major, dressed in a cloak," persuaded Ataman Platov not to turn his regiments back as he had been ordered by the new Emperor, Alexander Pavlovich, but rather to fulfill the order of the previous one, Pavel Petrovich, who had passed away quite unexpectedly during the night of March 11-12. "Because the death of an orderer," said the gray-haired Sergeant-Major, "does not annul his order: in this, your excellency, lies the whole meaning of military valor." Two pages later, as if suddenly coming to his senses and realizing that General Plat v would more than likely have outfitted the gray-haired Sergeant-Major in shackles for such words, the retired sub-Esaul produced another version of the events, just to be on the safe side. In it the vanguard of the thirteen regiments (this time only the vanguard) continued the campaign against India because the messenger sent by General Orlov (it was Orlov who was in command of the rear-guard and had received the communique from Petersburg) never reached General Platov, "who had already penetrated deep into the eastern territory of Russia." The messenger had perished in the steppe. Thus the valiant General Platov never learned that young Alexander, "granting the Cossacks ownership of their ancestral home," had commanded that the campaign against resplendent India, undertaken by his father, be called to a halt . . .

In short, the overall thrust of the book would lead one to believe that the campaign--which, in the opinion of its not numerous investigators of the time, was the most ignominious in the history of the Don Cossacks--was instead brilliant and glorious. Of course there was no evil intent in the retired sub-Esaul's aspiration to depict the campaign in the best possible light in spite of everything. Perhaps Yevlampy Makarovich, if he really did exist and was not simply Mr. Kutyenikov's invention took part in the campaign himself (Kutyenikov writes in the foreword that he died at the age of 132); perhaps afterwards he bore a lifelong grudge both against Emperor Pavel (for having sent him on this expedition that was subsequently forgotten by all), and against Emperor Alexander, for not having allowed him the chance to brandish his saber on the Himalayan peaks. Perhaps, then, owing to the grudge, he conceived and wrote the book just before his death, sitting under the roof of some ancient hut, in spectacles and slippers, pen in hand. Whether this was the case or not, one thing is clear: the work should have gone unnoticed. In a report for the year 1911 put out by the Society for the Dissemination of Useful Books of the Don Cossack Province, Kharitonov's work was ranked among "those unofficial historical excurses written by retired military officers which are not much in demand today." However, the misunderstanding that had arisen between the publisher and the photographer, or, to quote one of our esteemed gentlemen of the press "the case of the bifurcation of No. 14 Ataman" (the fact that the matter had been secretly investigated by the Civilian Adjutant was, of course, known to the whole town) caused Yevlampy Kharitonov's Historical Research . . . to be ranked (only several months after its appearance, and then for the next three years) among those "books most widely read although of little use."


In July 1912 the Novocircassian correspondent for Balabanov's South, quoting a "highly informed personage in the military office," reported that Adjutant Cherkesov, who was supposedly in possession of some sensational facts connected with No. 14 Ataman, was preparing a special report on the matter for the Ataman. "It is not inconceivable," the note stated, "that we will soon receive some information from that very same personage concerning the contents of the report, and will thus learn how Mr. Kutyenikov is getting on in his supranatural world, from which he has been sending us his fantastic publications and clownish bits of news."

This was the last mention in print of the Don publisher S.E. Kutyenikov.

Judging by appearances, Adjutant Cherkesov wrote no special report of any kind for the Ataman; in any case, no one has managed to find this report or even any information about it that is more reliable than what we have in Balabanov's South. Therefore we must consider Cherkesov's letter to his daughter, who was then residing in Petersburg in the guest quarters of the Central Administration of the Cossack Army on Karavannaya, as the last manuscript source containing information about Kutyenikov. With the exception of half of the first page and the last two pages this letter, dated March 20, 1912, 6 iS devoted exclusively to the subject of the publisher, but since in the first five pages the Prince reports well-established facts,[6] would be best, for the sake of brevity, to quote him from the middle of page 6:

( . . . ) As for me, Anyuta, I see nothing here but the philosophical pranks of Mr. Kutyenikov who, as I have learned, preaches his rather esoteric view on the phenomenon of time everywhere and in various guises, having even made it into the newspapers. He contends that time, as such, does not exist at all. Of this he tried to convince even me (in the spring I was still communicating with him by telephone: he himself occasionally phoned me at headquarters). That is to say, Anyuta, he doesn't so much deny the existence of time as say there is no past or future, but only one indivisible and eternal Present, or, as he puts it, a Present of the present, a Present of the past and a Present of the future. As he sees it, there is absolutely no difference among them, so that not only all things, but all people, events and actions too, possess the divine property of immortality. Everything is as it is and everything is forever: it never began to be, it has endured eternally and it will not cease to be fo all time. When he tried to propose this idea to the editor of The Diocesan Gazette (he was attempting to place his scandalous advertisement--I'm sending you a copy of it--in their paper as well), he was shown the Book of Genesis and then the door . . . But it got me thinking, Anyuta, was there really no Beginning, was there really no Creation of the World, will there really be no End? . . . But just hear what else Mr. Kutyenikov has to say: imperfect human reason, crippled by a senseless fear of death and consumed by a continuous flow of feeling, assumes quite presumptuously not only that it is moving through the ocean of an unending Present, but that it's moving in a certain direction--from the past to the future. Not unlike a dim lamp it--i.e., reason-illumines only insignificant flecks of light on the surface of the boundless ocean of Time and fails to see the entire sphere of its being, which consists of a myriad of such luminescent flecks. The darkness of ignorance conceals from man the exquisite plen tude of his endless and beginningless life, and thus he supposes that this pitiful glimmer of light--our precious here-and-now--is his sadly-desired lot, and that only in it, radiant and ephemeral, incessantly "uttering does he exist as a whole. This senseless faith in the transience of the present moment is, according to Kutyenikov, the Lord's punishment for our ancestors' Fall. But the Lord is merciful; He endows some of His children with a capacity for primary sight. Now, Anyuta, just imagine, Kutyenikov maintains not only that he is filled with a divine vision of the world as revealed in the eternal Present, but also that he has acquired the amazing ability to exist either entirely in the full sphere of his being, or in any one of its individual points. He tried to convince me that he was conversing with me over the telephone from the year 1915 and that only now, or then? or how should I put it, Anyuta? in a word, there, in 1915, he was closing his publishing house, thereupon vacating No. 14 Ataman to t e Frenchman. When I told him that here in our time, in 1912, the Frenchman was preparing to take him to court, he answered indifferently:

"If you prevent his doing so, Prince, you will have done an act of charity. The suit is not supposed to take place in the eternal world order, just as the Frenchman's establishment is not supposed to be at No. 14 Ataman until 1915. The fact that it does exist there, where you are, is the result of some unfortunate misunderstanding. Some day, Prince, everything will find its proper place."

He told me, Anyuta, that he experiences his whole life simultaneously: a serious injury beneath his clavicle that he received in some "great war" on account of which he now has to give up his publishing business; his first, baby steps on the polished parquet in his father's house on Kadetskaja; even his death throes in Luxembourg where he will be, or, to use his impossible language, where he is interred in the year 1927. And--just imagine - next to me! I'll supposedly be living with you in Luxembourg and I'll die there, though not of natural causes. Bizarrely enough I'll somehow shoot myself, in public, in the ear, homesick for the freedom of our Don countryside. Just what will we be seeking there in the Grand Duchy? Eh? Will we be at war? Or will some other purpose have brought us there? . . . So, Anyuta, we'll go. And we'll begin to feel homesick, and we'll write to the Ataman: Please, return us to the Don, and so forth and so on . . . What, have I made you sad, my Petersburg dragon-fly? But d n't you listen to me, old fool that I am. I'm only joking. It's because I'm bored: summer's already on the wane. If only you would come home soon ( . . . )


From the windows of the archivist's house on what used to be Caucacus Street the Alexandrov Church is clearly visible. On days when the elderly archivist forgets to go to work (as quite often happens, because he has for some time now ceased to be aware, as he is wont to express it, "of the variability of landscape along the banks of the temporal stream," that is to say, he can drift insensibly into the middle of July with some May day in his head), he sits at the window, gazing dreamily at the Alexandrov Church: won't some bustling angel come untangle the kite that's gotten snagged on the cross? And the lilac bush growing out from under the cupola, won't it fly up after the scudding clouds? Fortunate is the researcher who makes the archivist's acquaintance on such fleeting, syndetically blurred days as these. Thanks to constant impressions (the angels are idle, the bush motionless), Kuzma Ilyich's memory is vivified to an extraordinary degree. He might suddenly recall some rare source of abundant informa ion on a subject that heretofore seemed so elusive, so hopelessly forgotten, and sometimes simply so ephemeral, that you were ready to renounce your sweet claim to the right to be its first researcher. Unerringly he will point to an entry in the archive's inventory, and along with it the catalogue number--it's the coveted document without which all your theories would have remained shaky, if not extremely dubious, a document you had allowed yourself to dream of only in cautious fantasies. Kuzma Ilyich's fee for these indeed invaluable services is not high--a mention in the footnotes, parenthetical thanks, a reference in the commentary. Many researchers make ardent promises to afford him this recognition. But as a rule, they are shamelessly deceiving the old man. Not a single word is spared him, neither in articles, nor in the course of extensive reports (often constructed wholly on precious evidence extracted from the old man's enlivened memory on just such languid, drowsy days). Kuzma Ilyich, of course, d esn't know a thing about it. Were he to find out, however, he would probably not take great offense at these absent-minded scribblers. In any event, he would not make the kind of enthusiastic and passionate row with them that he does with the messengers from the archives, who are sent from time to time to lure him--somehow, often by means of deception--back to work.

"Are you, sir, out of your mind?!" he shouts at a solid mustachio in a poison orange construction helmet who has introduced himself as a work superintendent. "What, take me for a fool, do you?! Papers . . . he's unearthed some papers! I recognized you right off. You're from the copy division. Your name is Petryakov!"

"Not Petryakov. Petryanov." The mustachio removes his hard hat in embarrassment. "One ought to get to work, Kuzma Ilyich. Work. W-O-R-K." He annunciates clearly, as though talking to a foreigner.

"So how've they blundered this time?" the archivist demands. "Probably turned 'em up with a bulldozer?!"

"What the . . . that is . . . Kuzma Ilyich? . . ."

"Silence! Silence! I know your kind . . . always going overboard . . . with a bulldozer. Really! . . . A document's a delicate, intricate thing . ...What, is it General Bogayevsky's archives, eh?! It seems that he lived for a time on Sverdlov, that is to say, the Devil take you! on Gorbataya . . . What house did you raze there? . . . The number! Tell me the number!" he shouts excitedly. It is no longer dear whether Kuzma Ilyich is for some reason (in revenge? out of mischief?) continuing his interrupted performance, or whether he has, in fact, in some strange way, accepted the already identified messenger as a work superintendent after all.

For him, anyone who shows up unannounced at his door must be a messenger, the object of his constant vigilance and good-natured hatred. I remember how, upon our first encounter, he somehow too cheerfully leapt from his chair, and, running up to me with both his index fingers leveled at my beard, cried out gleefully:

"Glued on! Glued on! I recognized you right off. You're Sokolov! The fan operator! Have you no shame? . . ."

Two weeks later, when my work with Kuzma Ilyich was already in full swing (he, seated at his favorite window--the one with a sliver of a crack in its crystal, outer pane--had been endlessly quoting indispensable material to me from all kinds of pre-revolutionary newspapers, even recalling in what type point they had been set), his fan operator (that is to say of course not a fan operator but an engineer from the technical service of the archives by name of Sokolenko) really did show up. The man's desperate air and intentionally muddled report of some terrible accident (a collapsed building? a burst pipe?), which had allegedly ruined priceless documents, did not make even the slightest impression on Kuzma Ilyich. The archivist was far away. So far away that here in the present, where a part of his being still remained visible and audible, the only thing that could rouse him was a sudden change in the fixed, familiar picture, double-framed in the vaulted window, which he had taken to contemplating incessan ly. But there, thank God, everything appeared as it had in 1912. Or at least, everything remained in its place: the gloomy little flat-roofed stone houses--built by Platov's sergeant majors--still ascended stepwise from Caucacus Street up Krasnaya Hill along the bumpy, haphazardly paved cobblestone path; crowning the Hill loomed the southern arch of the Ataman garden, spread with darkened lime which had accumulated to the level of the fence; and the Alexander Nevsky Church (majestic even now, although overgrown with grass and covered with shrubbery) that towered above the surrounding rotundas and viewing mounds, above the pavilions and all the other structures of the Ataman garden. There, in vernal twilight, to the strains of an Uhlan mazurka, among the limes and chestnuts illuminated by glittering reflections cast by florid military salutes, the publisher S.E. Kutyenikov and the photographer J.M. de Larcon, must have strolled . . .

"No, no," the archivist observes absent-mindedly, "one of them positively did not exist. Either Jacques Michel dreamed up Mr. Kutyenikov for commercial purposes . . . or Mr. Kutyenikov Jacques Michel. But I don't know. Perhaps neither one of them existed. Be sure to write to Princess Cherkesova in Luxembourg again. Don't forget to ask her if it wasn't perhaps her father who placed the notice in the papers. Or maybe it was she herself who was playing a practical joke on No. 14 Ataman? . . . As the cavalry Sergeant-Major wrote . . . a pretty barmaid? Anything is possible. Everything is changeable. There is no eternal world order. Kutyenikov is a liar . . ."

With these words, as I recall, Kuzma Ilyich rose from his chair, started back from the window, and, glancing at me with that wickedly-merry, exultant look reserved for ill-fated messengers, he cried out:

"Hurry! Hurry! The Princess must be over ninety! The swift messenger of the angel Azrael may beat you to the punch! To me he . . . But here he comes, here he comes! Just look at him hurrying! He's already descending Krasnaya Hill..."

[1] From November 1911 to January 1912 two different newspapers in the Don Cossack Province bore the name South. One, in Rostov-on-the-Don, was published by Minas Ilyich Balabanov. The other, in Novocircassia, was founded by the Association of German Druggists (publishers Roller and Frettig). It is known that on several occasions Balabanov requested that the druggists change the name of their publication, but they refused every time, suggesting instead that the controversy be resolved by juridical means. Balabanov would undoubtedly have won a court case, since his paper--formerly the Don Bee-had had the name South since 1893. He, however, preferred private chicanery to an official solution. He bought the druggists' publishing rights, released, without changing the title, three issues (in one of which Jacques Michel had his notice printed), and then shut the paper down. All this Balabanov did, it would appear, only in order to announce, on the front page of his own South, that "the druggists' Sou h, which, like ether, emerged by chance from a bottle in Novocircassia, has now evaporated into thin air!" --Author's note.

[2.] The words "in this place and at this fume" are set in pica in all editions of the newspapers of this era. "Letters of this type size," as the Compositor's Pocket Dictionary (Novocircassia, 1904) notes with an utterly misplaced poeticalness, "appear against a background of brevier or minute nonpariel like ungainly beetles fallen into the capitivity of a colony of ants." -- Author's note.

[3.] Cf.: "A Chronicle of All Ceremonial, Ordinary and Private Excursions undertaken by the 23rd Designated Ataman of the Almighty Don Cossacks, Pavel Ivanovich Mishchenko, in the Four-cylinder Automobile of the Russo-Baltic Make, Given to the Military Staff by the Great Prince Nikolay Nikolayevich in Commemoration of the Fifth Anniversary of the Heroic Cossack Cavalry Raid on Yingkow." The Don Delta, 1913, No. 86. Signed --"Mechanic," -- S.M. Krasnov(?) -- Author's note.

[4.] In the presence of sunlight and low humidity it fades faster than alizarin, sometimes leaving behind for the researcher only golden traces -- a ghost of the imperishable, but alas taciturn spirit of words. On the other hand, in damp conditions, as specialists maintain, this ink (made by the decoction of Cecidomyia) acquires a remarkable durability! One cunning old man (who, incidentally is an experienced archivist and helped me both with advice and deed) once said, in a chat over tea: "If it hadn't been for a damp basement," -- he gestured with his nickel-silver teaspoon in the direction of Ataman (now Soviet) Street, where Cherkesov's note was unearthed during construction in 1969 --"then you, sir, would most likely have had to fabricate this entire document." -- Author's note.

[*] a Cossack officer in the tsar's army, equivalent in rank to a lieutenant -- Translator's note.

[**] A soldier in the regular army in 16th-17th century Russia --Translator's note.

[***] A Cossack officer in the Tsar's army, equivalent in rank to a captain -- Translator's note.

[*] a unit of Zaporogian Cossack troops--Translator's note.

[*] a small peasant settlement in the Ukraine, the Don or the Kuban--Translator's note.

[5] There is no E.M. Kharitonov to be found on the lists of commissioned officers of the Don Cossacks who were drawing retirement pensions in the years 1900 1911. No information about him could be turned up in other sources either, as is true as well for the authors of the "Don Arsenal's" May brochures--Stepan Kharuzin's Great Drum-Majors and Pavel Turkin's Secrets of the Art of the Pointsman -- Author's note.

[**] a large Cossack village-Translator's note.

[6] I should like to take this opportunity to express my profound gratitude and best wishes to the ever-prospering Princess Anna Stepanovna Cherkesova, who sent me a photocopy of this letter from Luxembourg (where she keeps a tiny and affecting museum of glass gewgaws!). I also offer my sincerest thanks to her former governess Ekaterina Mandrykina, who, entirely of her own accord, vouched for me in a letter to the Princess, informing her that I, in my "private and somewhat dreamy investigation of some old-time publisher," was by no means pursuing any "avocational objective by slandering or in any way misrepresenting Stepan Andreyevich's activity in the capacity of Civilian Adjutant." --Author's note.

Translated from the Russian by Claudia Novack-Jones


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