By Nikolai Gogol
On March 25th there took place, in Petersburg, an extraordinarily strange occurrence. The barber Ivan Yakovlevich, who lives on Voznesensky Avenue (his family name has been lost and even on his signboard, where a gentleman is depicted with a lathered cheek and the inscription “Also bloodletting,” there is nothing else)—the barber Ivan Yakovlevich woke up rather early and smelled fresh bread. Raising himself slightly in bed he saw his spouse, a rather respectable lady who was very fond of drinking coffee, take some newly baked loaves out of the oven.
“I won’t have any coffee to-day, Praskovya Osipovna,” said Ivan Yakovlevich. “Instead, I would like to eat a bit of hot bread with onion.” (That is to say, Ivan Yakovlevich would have liked both the one and the other, but he knew that it was quite impossible to demand two things at once, for Praskovya Osipovna very much disliked such whims.) “Let the fool eat the bread; all the better for me,” the wife thought to herself, “there will be an extra cup of coffee left.” And she threw a loaf onto the table.
For the sake of propriety Ivan Yakovlevich put a tailcoat on over his shirt and, sitting down at the table, poured out some salt, got two onions ready, picked up a knife and, assuming a meaningful expression, began to slice the bread. Having cut the loaf in two halves, he looked inside and to his astonishment saw something white. Ivan Yakovlevich poked it carefully with the knife and felt it with his finger. “Solid!” he said to himself. “What could it be?”
He stuck in his finger and extracted—a nose! Ivan Yakovlevich was dumbfounded. He rubbed his eyes and felt the object: a nose, a nose indeed, and a familiar one at that. Ivan Yakovlevich’s face expressed horror. But this horror was nothing compared to the indignation which seized his spouse.
“You beast, where did you cut off a nose?” she shouted angrily. “Scoundrel! drunkard! I’ll report you to the police myself. What a ruffian! I have already heard from three people that you jerk their noses about so much when shaving that it’s a wonder they stay in place.”
But Ivan Yakovlevich was more dead than alive. He recognized the nose as that of none other than Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov, whom he shaved every Wednesday and Sunday.
“Hold on, Praskovya Osipovna! I shall put it in a corner, after I’ve wrapped it in a rag: let it lie there for a while, and later I’ll take it away.”
“I won’t even hear of it. That I should allow a cut-off nose to lie about in my room? You dry stick! All he knows is how to strop his razor, but soon he’ll be in no condition to carry out his duty, the rake, the villain! Am I to answer for you to the police? You piece of filth, you blockhead! Away with it! Away! Take it anywhere you like! Out of my sight with it!”
Ivan Yakovlevich stood there as though bereft of senses. He thought and thought—and really did not know what to think. “The devil knows how it happened,” he said at last, scratching behind his ear with his hand. “Was I drunk or wasn’t I when I came home yesterday, I really can’t say. Whichever way you look at it, this is an impossible occurrence . After all, bread is something baked, and a nose is something altogether different. I can’t make it out at all.”
Ivan Yakovlevich fell silent. The idea that the police might find the nose in his possession and bring a charge against him drove him into a complete frenzy. He was already visualizing the scarlet collar, beautifully embroidered with silver, the saber—and he trembled all over. At last he got out his underwear and boots, pulled on all these tatters and, followed by rather weighty exhortations from Praskovya Osipovna, wrapped the nose in a rag and went out into the street.
He wanted to shove it under something somewhere, either into the hitching-post by the gate—or just drop it as if by accident and then turn off into a side street. But as bad luck would have it, he kept running into people he knew, who at once would ask him, “Where are you going?” or “Whom are you going to shave so early?” so that Ivan Yakovlevich couldn’t find the right moment. Once he actually did drop it, but a policeman some distance away pointed to it with his halberd and said: “Pick it up—you’ve dropped something there,” and Ivan Yakovlevich was obliged to pick up the nose and hide it in his pocket. He was seized with despair, all the more so as the number of people in the street constantly increased when the shops began to open.
But I am somewhat to blame for having so far said nothing about Ivan Yakovlevich, in many ways a respectable man.
Like any self-respecting Russian artisan, Ivan Yakovlevich was a terrible drunkard. And although every day he shaved other people’s chins his own was ever unshaven. Ivan Yakovlevich’s tailcoat (Ivan Yakovlevich never wore a frockcoat) was piebald, that is to say, it was all black but dappled with brownish-yellow and gray; the collar was shiny, and in place of three of the buttons hung just the ends of thread. Ivan Yakovlevich was a great cynic, and when Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov told him while being shaved, “Your hands, Ivan Yakovlevich, always stink,” Ivan Yakovlevich would reply with the question, “Why should they stink?” “I don’t know, my dear fellow,” the Collegiate Assessor would say, “but they do,” and Ivan Yakovlevich, after taking a pinch of snuff, would, in retaliation, lather all over his cheeks and under his nose, and behind his ear, and under his chin—in other words, wherever his fancy took him.
This worthy citizen now found himself on St. Isaac’s Bridge. To begin with, he took a good look around, then leaned on the railings as though to look under the bridge to see whether or not there were many fish swimming about, and surreptitiously tossed down the rag containing the nose. He felt as though all of a sudden a ton had been lifted off him: Ivan Yakovlevich even smirked. Instead of going to shave some civil servants’ chins he set off for an establishment bearing a sign “Snacks and Tea” to order a glass of punch when he suddenly noticed, at the end of the bridge, a police officer of distinguished appearance, with wide sideburns, wearing a three-cornered hat and with a sword. His heart sank: the officer was wagging his finger at him and saying, “Step this way, my friend.”
Knowing the etiquette, Ivan Yakovlevich removed his cap while still some way off, and approaching with alacrity said, “I wish your honor good health.”
“No, no, my good fellow, not ‘your honor.’ Just you tell me, what were you doing over there, standing on the bridge?”
“Honestly, sir, I’ve been to shave someone and only looked to see if the river were running fast.”
“You’re lying, you’re lying. This won’t do. Just be so good as to answer.”
“I am ready to shave your worship twice a week, or even three times, and no complaints,” replied Ivan Yakovlevich.
“No, my friend, all that’s nonsense. I have three barbers who shave me and deem it a great honor, too. Just be so good as to tell me, what were you doing over there?”
Ivan Yakovlevich turned pale.… But here the whole episode becomes shrouded in mist, and of what happened subsequently absolutely nothing is known.
Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov woke up rather early and made a “b-rr-rr” sound with his lips as he was wont to do on awakening, although he could not have explained the reason for it. Kovalyov stretched and asked for the small mirror standing on the table. He wanted to have a look at the pimple which had, the evening before, appeared on his nose.
But to his extreme amazement he saw that he had, in the place of his nose, a perfectly smooth surface. Frightened, Kovalyov called for some water and rubbed his eyes with a towel: indeed, no nose! He ran his hand over himself to see whether or not he was asleep. No, he didn’t think so. The Collegiate Assessor jumped out of bed and shook himself—no nose! He at once ordered his clothes to be brought to him, and flew off straight to the chief of police.
In the meantime something must be said about Kovalyov, to let the reader see what sort of man this collegiate assessor was. Collegiate assessors who receive their rank on the strength of scholarly diplomas can by no means be equated with those who make the rank in the Caucasus. They are two entirely different breeds. Learned collegiate assessors… But Russia is such a wondrous land that if you say something about one collegiate assessor all the collegiate assessors from Riga to Kamchatka will not fail to take it as applying to them, too. The same is true of all our ranks and titles. Kovalyov belonged to the Caucasus variety of collegiate assessors. He had only held that rank for two years and therefore could not forget it for a moment; and in order to lend himself added dignity and weight he never referred to himself as collegiate assessor but always as major. “Listen, my dear woman,” he would usually say on meeting in the street a woman selling shirt fronts, “come to my place, my apartment is on Sadovaya; just ask where Major Kovalyov lives, anyone will show you.” And if the woman he met happened to be a pretty one, he would also give some confidential instructions, adding, “You just ask, lovely, for Major Kovalyov’s apartment.”—That is why we, too, will henceforth refer to this collegiate assessor as Major.
Major Kovalyov was in the habit of taking a daily stroll along Nevsky Avenue. The collar of his dress shirt was always exceedingly clean and starched. His sidewhiskers were of the kind you can still see on provincial and district surveyors, or architects (provided they are Russians), as well as on those individuals who perform various police duties, and in general on all those men who have full rosy cheeks and are very good at boston; these sidewhiskers run along the middle of the cheek straight up to the nose. Major Kovalyov wore a great many cornelian seals, some with crests and others with Wednesday, Thursday, Monday, etc., engraved on them. Major Kovalyov had come to Petersburg on business, to wit, to look for a post befitting his rank; if he could arrange it, that of a vice-governor; otherwise, that of a procurement officer in some important government department. Major Kovalyov was not averse to getting married, but only in the event that the bride had a fortune of two hundred thousand. And therefore the reader can now judge for himself what this major’s state was when he saw, in the place of a fairly presentable and moderate-sized nose, a most ridiculous flat and smooth surface.
As bad luck would have it, not a single cab showed up in the street, and he was forced to walk, wrapped up in his cloak, his face covered with a handkerchief, pretending that his nose was bleeding. “But perhaps I just imagined all this—a nose cannot disappear in this idiotic way.” He stepped into a coffee-house just in order to look at himself in a mirror. Fortunately, there was no one there. Serving boys were sweeping the rooms and arranging the chairs; some of them, sleepy-eyed, were bringing out trays of hot turnovers; yesterday’s papers, coffee-stained, lay about on tables and chairs. “Well, thank God, there is no one here,” said the Major. “Now I can have a look.” Timidly he approached the mirror and glanced at it. “Damnation! How disgusting!” he exclaimed after spitting. “If at least there were something in place of the nose, but there’s nothing!”
Biting his lips with annoyance, he left the coffee-house and decided, contrary to his habit, not to look or to smile at anyone. Suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks before the door of a house. An inexplicable phenomenon took place before his very eyes: a carriage drew up to the entrance; the doors opened; a gentleman in uniform jumped out, slightly stooping, and ran up the stairs. Imagine the horror and at the same time the amazement of Kovalyov when he recognized that it was his own nose!
At this extraordinary sight everything seemed to whirl before his eyes; he felt that he could hardly keep on his feet. Trembling all over as though with fever, he made up his mind, come what may, to await the gentleman’s return to the carriage. Two minutes later the Nose indeed came out. He was wearing a gold-embroidered uniform with a big stand-up collar and doeskin breeches; there was a sword at his side. From his plumed hat one could infer that he held the rank of a state councillor. Everything pointed to his being on the way to pay a call. He looked right and left, shouted to his driver, “Bring the carriage round,” got in and was driven off.
Poor Kovalyov almost went out of his mind. He did not even know what to think of this strange occurrence. Indeed, how could a nose which as recently as yesterday had been on his face and could neither ride nor walk—how could it be in uniform? He ran after the carriage, which fortunately had not gone far but had stopped before the Kazan Cathedral. He hurried into the cathedral, made his way past the ranks of old beggarwomen with bandaged faces and two slits for their eyes, whom he used to make such fun of, and went inside. There were but few worshippers there: they all stood by the entrance. Kovalyov felt so upset that he was in no condition to pray and searched with his eyes for the gentleman in all the church corners. At last he saw him standing to one side. The Nose had completely hidden his face in his big stand-up collar and was praying in an attitude of utmost piety.
“How am I to approach him?” thought Kovalyov. “From everything, from his uniform, from his hat, one can see that he is a state councillor. I’ll be damned if I know how to do it.”
He started clearing his throat, but the Nose never changed his devout attitude and continued his genuflections.
“My dear sir,” said Kovalyov, forcing himself to take courage, “my dear sir…”
“What is it you desire?” said the Nose turning round.
“It is strange, my dear sir … I think … you ought to know your place. And all of a sudden I find you—and where? In church. You’ll admit…”
“Excuse me, I cannot understand what you are talking about.… Make yourself clear.”
“How shall I explain to him?” thought Kovalyov and, emboldened, began: “Of course, I … however, I am a major. For me to go about without my nose, you’ll admit, is unbecoming. It’s all right for a peddler woman who sells peeled oranges on Voskresensky Bridge, to sit without a nose. But since I’m expecting—and besides, having many acquaintances among the ladies—Mrs. Chekhtaryova, a state councillor’s wife, and others… Judge for yourself… I don’t know, my dear sir…” (Here Major Kovalyov shrugged his shoulders.) “Forgive me, if one were to look at this in accordance with rules of duty and honor… you yourself can understand.…”
“I understand absolutely nothing,” replied the Nose. “Make yourself more clear.”
“My dear sir,” said Kovalyov with a sense of his own dignity, “I don’t know how to interpret your words… The whole thing seems to me quite obvious… Or do you wish… After all, you are my own nose!”—
The Nose looked at the major and slightly knitted his brows.
“You are mistaken, my dear sir, I exist in my own right. Besides, there can be no close relation between us. Judging by the buttons on your uniform, you must be employed in the Senate or at least in the Ministry of Justice. As for me, I am in the scholarly line.”
Having said this, the Nose turned away and went back to his prayers.
Kovalyov was utterly flabbergasted. He knew not what to do or even what to think. Just then he heard the pleasant rustle of a lady’s dress: an elderly lady, all in lace, had come up near him and with her, a slim one, in a white frock which agreeably outlined her slender figure, and in a straw-colored hat, light as a cream-puff. Behind them, a tall footman with huge sidewhiskers and a whole dozen collars, stopped and opened a snuff-box.
Kovalyov stepped closer, pulled out the cambric collar of his dress shirt, adjusted his seals hanging on a golden chain and, smiling in all directions, turned his attention to the ethereal young lady who, like a spring flower, bowed her head slightly and put her little white hand with its translucent fingers to her forehead. The smile on Kovalyov’s face grew even wider when from under her hat he caught a glimpse of her little round dazzling-white chin and part of her cheek glowing with the color of the first rose of spring. But suddenly he sprang back as though scalded. He remembered that there was absolutely nothing in the place of his nose, and tears came to his eyes. He turned round, intending without further ado to tell the gentleman in uniform that he was merely pretending to be a state councillor, that he was a rogue and a cad and nothing more than his, the major’s, own nose.… But the Nose was no longer there; he had managed to dash off, probably to pay another call.
This plunged Kovalyov into despair. He went back, stopped for a moment under the colonnade and looked carefully, this way and that, for the Nose to turn up somewhere. He remembered quite well that the latter had a plumed hat and a gold-embroidered uniform, but he had not noticed his overcoat, or the color of his carriage or of his horses, not even whether he had a footman at the back, and if so in what livery. Moreover, there was such a multitude of carriages dashing back and forth and at such speed that it was difficult to tell them apart; but even if he did pick one of them out, he would have no means of stopping it. The day was fine and sunny. There were crowds of people on Nevsky Avenue. A whole flowery cascade of ladies poured over the sidewalk, all the way down from Police Bridge to Anichkin Bridge. Here came a court councillor he knew, and was used to addressing as lieutenant-colonel, especially in the presence of strangers. Here, too, was Yarygin, a head clerk in the Senate, a great friend of his, who invariably lost at boston when he went up eight. Here was another major who had won his assessorship in the Caucasus, waving to Kovalyov to join him.…
“O hell!” said Kovalyov. “Hey, cabby, take me straight to the chief of police!”
Kovalyov got into the cab and kept shouting to the cabman, “Get going as fast as you can.”
“Is the chief of police at home?” he called out as he entered the hall.
“No, sir,” answered the doorman, “he has just left.”
“You don’t say.”
“Yes,” added the doorman, “he has not been gone long, but he’s gone. Had you come a minute sooner perhaps you might have found him in.”
Without removing the handkerchief from his face, Kovalyov got back into the cab and in a voice of despair shouted, “Drive on!”
“Where to?” asked the cabman.
“Drive straight ahead!”
“What do you mean straight ahead? There is a turn here. Right or left?”
This question nonplussed Kovalyov and made him think again. In his plight the first thing for him to do was to apply to the Police Department, not because his cause had anything to do directly with the police, but because they could act much more quickly than any other institution; while to seek satisfaction from the superiors of the department by which the Nose claimed to be employed would be pointless because from the Nose’s own replies it was obvious that this fellow held nothing sacred, and that he was capable of lying in this case, too, as he had done when he had assured Kovalyov that they had never met. Thus Kovalyov was on the point of telling the cabman to take him to the Police Department when the thought again occurred to him that this rogue and swindler, who had already treated him so shamelessly during their first encounter, might again seize his first chance to slip out of town somewhere, and then all search would be futile or might drag on, God forbid, a whole month. Finally, it seemed, heaven itself brought him to his senses. He decided to go straight to the newspaper office and, before it was too late, place an advertisement with a detailed description of the Nose’s particulars, so that anyone coming across him could immediately deliver him or at least give information about his whereabouts. And so, his mind made up, he told the cabby to drive to the newspaper office, and all the way down to it kept whacking him in the back with his first, saying, “Faster, you villain! faster, you rogue!—“Ugh, mister!” the cabman would say, shaking his head and flicking his reins at the horse whose coat was as long as a lapdog’s. At last the cab drew up to a stop, and Kovalyov, panting, ran into a small reception room where a gray-haired clerk in an old tailcoat and glasses sat at a table and, pen in his teeth, counted newly brought in coppers.
“Who accepts advertisements here?” cried Kovalyov. “Ah, good morning!”
“How do you do,” said the gray-haired clerk, raising his eyes for a moment and lowering them again to look at the neat stacks of money.
“I should like to insert—”
“Excuse me. Will you wait a moment,” said the clerk as he wrote down a figure on a piece of paper with one hand and moved two beads on the abacus with the fingers of his left hand. A liveried footman, whose appearance suggested his sojourn in an aristocratic house, and who stood by the table with a note in his hand, deemed it appropriate to demonstrate his savoir-faire: “Would you believe it, sir, this little mutt is not worth eighty kopecks, that is, I wouldn’t even give eight kopecks for it; but the countess loves it, honestly she does—and so whoever finds it will get one hundred rubles! To put it politely, just as you and I are talking, people’s tastes differ: if you’re a hunter, keep a pointer or a poodle; don’t grudge five hundred, give a thousand, but then let it be a good dog.”
The worthy clerk listened to this with a grave expression while at the same time trying to count the number of letters in the note brought to him. All around stood a great many old women, salespeople and house porters with notes. One of them offered for sale a coachman of sober conduct; another, a little-used carriage brought from Paris in 1814; still others, a nineteen-year-old serf girl experienced in laundering work and suitable for other kinds of work; a sound droshky with one spring missing; a young and fiery dappled-gray horse seventeen years old; turnip and radish seed newly received from London; a summer residence with all the appurtenances—to wit, two stalls for horses and a place for planting a grove of birches or firs; there was also an appeal to those wishing to buy old boot soles, inviting them to appear for final bidding every day between eight and three o’clock. The room in which this entire company was crowded was small, and the air in it was extremely thick; but Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov was not in a position to notice the smell, because he kept his handkerchief pressed to his face and because his nose itself was goodness knows where.
“My dear sir, may I ask you…It is very urgent,” he said at last with impatience.
“Presently, presently! Two rubles forty-three kopecks! Just a moment! One ruble sixty-four kopecks,” recited the gray-haired gentleman, tossing the notes into the faces of the old women and the house porters. “What can I do for you?” he said at last, turning to Kovalyov.
“I wish…,” said Kovalyov. “There has been a swindle or a fraud… I still can’t find out. I just wish to advertise that whoever hands this scoundrel over to me will receive an adequate reward.”
“Allow me to inquire, what is your name?”
“What do you want my name for? I can’t give it to you. I have many acquaintances: Mrs. Chekhtaryova, the wife of a state councillor; Pelageya Grigoryevna Podtochina, the wife of a field officer… What if they suddenly were to find out? Heaven forbid! You can simply write down: a collegiate assessor or, still better, a person holding the rank of major.”
“And was the runaway your household serf?”
“What do you mean, household serf? That wouldn’t be such a bad swindle! The runaway was… my nose.…”
“Hmm! what a strange name! And did this Mr. Nosov rob you of a big sum?”
“My nose, I mean to say—You’ve misunderstood me. My nose, my very own nose has disappeared goodness knows where. The devil must have wished to play a trick on me!”
“But how did it disappear? I don’t quite understand it.”
“Well, I can’t tell you how; but the main thing is that it is now gallivanting about town and calling itself a state councillor. And that is why I am asking you to advertise that whoever apprehends it should deliver it to me immediately and without delay. Judge for yourself. How, indeed, can I do without such a conspicuous part of my body? It isn’t like some little toe which I put into my boot, and no one can see whether it is there or not. On Thursdays I call at the house of Mrs. Chekhtaryova, a state councillor’s wife. Mrs. Podtochina, Pelageya Grigoryevna, a field officer’s wife, and her very pretty daughter, are also very good friends of mine, and you can judge for yourself how can I now… I can’t appear at their house now.”
The clerk thought hard, his lips pursed tightly in witness thereof.
“No, I can’t insert such an advertisement in the papers,” he said at last after a long silence.
“How so? Why?”
“Well, the paper might lose its reputation. If everyone were to write that his nose had run away, why… As it is, people say that too many absurd stories and false rumors are printed.”
“But why is this business absurd? I don’t think it is anything of the sort.”
“That’s what you think. But take last week, there was another such case. A civil servant came in, just as you have, bringing a note, was billed two rubles seventy-three kopecks, and all the advertisement consisted of was that a black-coated poodle had run away. Doesn’t seem to amount to much, does it now? But it turned out to be a libel. This so-called poodle was the treasurer of I don’t recall what institution.”
“But I am not putting in an advertisement about a poodle—it’s about my very own nose; that is, practically the same as about myself.”
“No, I can’t possibly insert such an advertisement.”
“But when my nose actually has disappeared!”
“If it has disappeared, then it’s a doctor’s business. They say there are people who can fix you up with any nose you like. However, I observe that you must be a man of gay disposition and fond of kidding in company.”
“I swear to you by all that is holy! Perhaps, if it comes to that, why I’ll show you.”
“Why trouble yourself?” continued the clerk, taking a pinch of snuff. “However, if it isn’t too much trouble,” he added, moved by curiosity, “I’d like to have a look.”
The collegiate assessor removed the handkerchief from his face.
“Very strange indeed!” said the clerk. “It’s absolutely flat, like a pancake fresh off the griddle. Yes, incredibly smooth.”
“Well, will you go on arguing after this? You see yourself that you can’t refuse to print my advertisement. I’ll be particularly grateful and am very glad that this opportunity has given me the pleasure of making your acquaintance.…” The major, as we can see, decided this time to use a little flattery.
“To insert it would be easy enough, of course,” said the clerk, “but I don’t see any advantage to you in it. If you really must, give it to someone who wields a skillful pen and let him describe this as a rare phenomenon of nature and publish this little item in The Northern Bee” (here he took another pinch of snuff) “for the benefit of the young” (here he wiped his nose), “or just so, as a matter of general interest.”
The collegiate assessor felt completely discouraged. He dropped his eyes to the lower part of the paper where theatrical performances were announced. His face was about to break out into a smile as he came across the name of a pretty actress, and his hand went to his pocket to check whether he had a blue note, because in his opinion field officers ought to sit in the stalls—but the thought of his nose spoiled it all.
The clerk himself seemed to be moved by Kovalyov’s embarrassing situation. Wishing at least to ease his distress he deemed it appropriate to express his sympathy in a few words: “I really am grieved that such a thing happened to you. Wouldn’t you care for a pinch of snuff? It dispels headaches and melancholy; it’s even good for hemorrhoids.” With those words the clerk offered Kovalyov his snuff-box, rather deftly snapping open the lid which pictured a lady in a hat.
This unpremeditated action made Kovalyov lose all patience. “I can’t understand how you find this a time for jokes,” he said angrily. “Can’t you see that I lack the very thing one needs to take snuff? To hell with your snuff! I can’t bear the sight of it now, even if you offered me some râpé itself, let alone your wretched Berezin’s.” After saying this he left the newspaper office, deeply vexed, and went to visit the district police inspector, a man with a passion for sugar. In his house the entire parlor, which served also as the dining room, was stacked with sugar loaves which local tradesmen brought to him out of friendship. At the moment his cook was pulling off the inspector’s regulation topboots; his sword and all his military trappings were already hanging peacefully in the corners, and his three-year-old son was reaching for his redoubtable three-cornered hat, while the inspector himself was preparing to taste the fruits of peace after his day of warlike, martial pursuits.
Kovalyov came in at the moment when the inspector had just stretched, grunted and said, “Oh, for a couple of hours’ good snooze!” It was therefore easy to see that the collegiate assessor had come at quite the wrong time. And I wonder whether he would have been welcome even if he had brought several pounds of tea or a piece of cloth. The police inspector was a great patron of all arts and manufactures, but he preferred a bank note to everything else. “This is the thing,” he would usually say. “There can be nothing better than it—it doesn’t ask for food, it doesn’t take much space, it’ll always fit into a pocket, and if you drop it it won’t break.”
The inspector received Kovalyov rather coolly and said that after dinner was hardly the time to conduct investigations, that nature itself intended that man should rest a little after a good meal (from this the collegiate assessor could see that the aphorisms of the ancient sages were not unknown to the police inspector), that no real gentleman would allow his nose to be pulled off, and that there were many majors in this world who hadn’t even decent underwear and hung about in all sorts of disreputable places.
This last was too close for comfort. It must be observed that Kovalyov was extremely quick to take offense. He could forgive whatever was said about himself, but never anything that referred to rank or title. He was even of the opinion that in plays one could allow references to junior officers, but that there should be no criticism of field officers. His reception by the inspector so disconcerted him that he tossed his head and said with an air of dignity, spreading his arms slightly: “I confess that after such offensive remarks on your part, I’ve nothing more to add.…” and left the room.
He came home hardly able to stand on his feet. It was already dusk. After all this fruitless search his apartment appeared to him melancholy or extraordinarily squalid. Coming into the entrance hall he caught sight of his valet Ivan who, lying on his back on the soiled leather sofa, was spitting at the ceiling and rather successfully hitting one and the same spot. Such indifference on the man’s part infuriated him; he struck him on the forehead with his hat, saying, “You pig, always doing something stupid!”
Ivan jumped up abruptly and rushed to take off his cloak.
Entering his room the major, tired and sad, sank into an armchair and at last, after several sighs, said:
“O Lord, O Lord! What have I done to deserve such misery? Had I lost an arm or a leg, it would not have been so bad; had I lost my ears, it would have been bad enough but nevertheless bearable; but without a nose a man is goodness knows what; he’s not a bird, he’s not a human being; in fact, just take him and throw him out the window! And if at least it had been chopped off in battle or in a duel, or if I myself had been to blame; but it disappeared just like that, with nothing, nothing at all to show for it. But no, it can’t be,’ he added after some thought. “It’s unbelievable that a nose should disappear; absolutely unbelievable. I must be either dreaming or just imagining it. Maybe, somehow, by mistake instead of water I drank the vodka which I rub on my chin after shaving. That fool Ivan didn’t take it away and I probably gulped it down.”—To satisfy himself that he was not drunk the major pinched himself so hard that he cried out. The pain he felt fully convinced him that he was wide awake. He stealthily approached the mirror and at first half-closed his eyes, thinking that perhaps the nose would appear in its proper place; but the same moment he sprang back exclaiming, “What a caricature of a face!”
It was indeed incomprehensible. If a button, a silver spoon, a watch, or some such thing had disappeared—but to disappear, and for whom to disappear? and besides in his own apartment, too!… After considering all the circumstances, Major Kovalyov was inclined to think that most likely it was the fault of none other than the field officer’s wife, Mrs. Podtochina, who wanted him to marry her daughter. He, too, liked to flirt with her but avoided a final showdown. And when the field officer’s wife told him point-blank that she wanted to marry her daughter off to him, he eased off on his attentions, saying that he was still young, that he had to serve another five years when he would be exactly forty-two. And so the field officer’s wife, presumably in revenge, had decided to put a curse on him and hired for this purpose some old witchwomen, because it was impossible even to suppose that the nose had been simply cut off: no one had entered his room; the barber, Ivan Yakovlevich, had shaved him as recently as Wednesday and throughout that whole day and even on Thursday his nose was all there—he remembered and knew it very well. Besides, he would have felt the pain and no doubt the wound could not have healed so soon and be as smooth as a pancake. Different plans of action occurred to him: should he formally summons Mrs. Podtochina to court or go to her himself and expose her in person? His reflections were interrupted by light breaking through all the cracks in the door, which told hïm that Ivan had lit the candle in the hall. Soon Ivan himself appeared, carrying it before him and brightly illuminating the whole room. Kovalyov’s first gesture was to snatch his handkerchief and cover the place where his nose had been only the day before, so that indeed the silly fellow would not stand there gaping at such an oddity in his master’s strange appearance.
Barely had Ivan gone into his cubbyhole when an unfamiliar voice was heard in the hall saying, “Does Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov live here?” “Come in. Major Kovalyov is here,” said Kovalyov, jumping up quickly and opening the door.
In came a police officer of handsome appearance with sidewhiskers that were neither too light nor too dark, and rather full cheeks, the very same who at the beginning of this story was standing at the end of St. Isaac’s Bridge.
“Did you happen to mislay your nose?”
“It has been recovered.”
“What are you saying!” exclaimed Major Kovalyov. He was tongue-tied with joy. He stared at the police officer standing in front of him, on whose full lips and cheeks the trembling light of the candle flickered. “How?”
“By an odd piece of luck—he was intercepted on the point of leaving town. He was about to board a stagecoach and leave for Riga. He even had a passport made out a long time ago in the name of a certain civil servant. Strangely enough, I also at first took him for a gentleman. But fortunately I had my glasses with me and I saw at once that it was a nose. You see, I am nearsighted and when you stand before me all I can see is that you have a face, but I can’t make out if you have a nose or a beard or anything. My mother-in-law, that is, my wife’s mother, can’t see anything, either.’
Kovalyov was beside himself. “Where is it? Where? I’ll run there at once.”
“Don’t trouble yourself. Knowing that you need it I have brought it with me. And the strange thing is that chïef villain in this business is that rascally barber from Voznesensky Street who is now in a lockup. I have long suspected him of drunkenness and theft, and as recently as the day before yesterday he stole a dozen buttons from a certain shop. Your nose is quite in order.”—With these words the police officer reached into his pocket and pulled out a nose wrapped up in a piece of paper.
“That’s it!” shouted Kovalyov. “That’s it, all right! Do join me in a little cup of tea today.”
“I would consider it a great pleasure, but I simply can’t: I have to drop in at a mental asylum.… All food prices have gone up enormously.… I have my mother-in-law, that’s my wife’s mother, living with me, and my children; the eldest is particularly promising, a very clever lad, but we haven’t the means to educate him.”
Kovalyov grasped his meaning and, snatching up a red banknote from the table, thrust it into the hands of the inspector who, clicking his heels, went out the door. Almost the very same instant Kovalyov heard his voice out in the street where he was admonishing with his fist a stupid peasant who had driven his cart onto the boulevard.
After the police officer had left, the collegiate assessor remained for a few minutes in a sort of indefinable state and only after several minutes recovered the capacity to see and feel: his unexpected joy had made him lose his senses. He carefully took the newly found nose in both his cupped hands and once again examined it thoroughly.
“That’s it, that’s it, all right,” said Major Kovalyov. “Here on the left side is the pimple which swelled up yesterday.” The major very nearly laughed with joy.
But there is nothing enduring in this world, and that is why even joy is not as keen in the moment that follows the first; and a moment later it grows weaker still and finally merges imperceptibly into one’s usual state of mind, just as a ring on the water, made by the fall of a pebble, merges finally into the smooth surface. Kovalyov began to reflect and realized that the whole business was not yet over: the nose was found but it still had to be affixed, put in its proper place.
“And what if it doesn’t stick?”
At this question, addressed to himself, the major turned pale.
Seized by unaccountable fear, he rushed to the table and drew the looking-glass closer, to avoid affixing the nose crookedly. His hands trembled. Carefully and deliberately, he put it in its former place. O horror! the nose wouldn’t stick.…He carried it to his mouth, warmed it slightly with his breath, and again brought it to the smooth place between his two cheeks; but the nose just wouldn’t stay on.
“Well, come on, come on, you fool!” he kept saying to it. But the nose was as though made of wood and plopped back on the table with a strange corklike sound. The major’s face was twisted in convulsion. “Won’t it really grow on?” he said fearfully. But no matter how many times he tried to fit it in its proper place, his efforts were unsuccessful as before.
He called Ivan and sent him for the doctor who occupied the best apartment on the first floor of the same house. The doctor was a fine figure of a man; he had beautiful pitch-black sidewhiskers, a fresh, healthy wife, ate raw apples first thing in the morning, and kept his mouth extraordinarily clean, rinsing it every morning for nearly three quarters of an hour and polishing his teeth with five different kinds of little brushes. The doctor came at once. After asking him how long ago the mishap had occurred, he lifted Major Kovalyov’s face by the chin and flicked him with his thumb on the very spot where the nose used to be, so that the major had to throw his head back with such force that he hit the back of it against the wall. The doctor said this didn’t matter and, suggesting that he move a little away from the wall, told him first to bend his head to the right, and, after feeling the spot where the nose had been, said “Hmm!” Then he told him to bend his head to the left and said “Hmm!”; and in conclusion he again flicked him with his thumb so that Major Kovalyov jerked his head like a horse whose teeth are being examined. Having carried out this test, the doctor shook his head and said: “No, can’t be done. You’d better stay like this, or we might make things even worse. Of course, it can be stuck on. I daresay, I could do it right now for you, but I assure you it’ll be worse for you.”
“I like that! How am I to remain without a nose?” said Kovalyov. “It couldn’t possibly be worse than now. This is simply a hell of a thing! How can I show myself anywhere in such a scandalous state? I have acquaintances in good society; why, this evening, now, I am expected at parties in two houses. I know many people: Mrs. Chekhtaryova, a state councillor’s wife, Mrs. Podtochina, a field officer’s wife…although after what she’s done now I’ll have nothing more to do with her except through the police. I appeal to you,” pleaded Kovalyov, “is there no way at all? Fix it on somehow, even if not very well, just so it stays on; in an emergency, I could even prop it up with my hand. And besides, I don’t dance, so I can’t do any harm by some careless movement. As regards my grateful acknowledgment of your visits, be assured that as far as my means allow.…”
“Would you believe it,” said the doctor in a voice that was neither loud nor soft but extremely persuasive and magnetic, “I never treat people out of self-interest. This is against my principles and my calling. It is true that I charge for my visits, but solely in order not to offend by my refusal. Of course I could affix your nose; but I assure you on my honor, if you won’t take my word for it, that it will be much worse. Rather, let nature take its course. Wash the place more often with cold water, and I assure you that without a nose you’ll be as healthy as if you had one. As for the nose itself, I advise you to put the nose in a jar with alcohol, or, better still, pour into the jar two tablespoonfuls of aqua fortis and warmed-up vinegar—and then you can get good money for it. I’ll buy it myself, if you don’t ask too much.”
“No, no! I won’t sell it for anything!” exclaimed Major Kovalyov in desperation. “Let it rather go to blazes!”
“Excuse me!” said the doctor, bowing himself out, “I wanted to be of some use to you.… Never mind! At least you saw my good will.” Having said this the doctor left the room with a dignified air. Kovalyov didn’t even notice his face and in his benumbed state saw nothing but the cuffs of his snow-white shirt peeping out of the sleeves of his black tailcoat.
The very next day he decided, before lodging a complaint, to write to Mrs. Podtochina requesting her to restore him his due without a fight. The letter ran as follows:
Dear Madam Alexandra
Grigoryevna, I fail to understand your strange behavior. Be assured that, acting in this way, you gain nothing and certainly will not force me to marry your daughter. Believe me that the incident with my nose is fully known to me, just as is the fact that you—and no one else—are the principal person involved. Its sudden detachment from its place, its flight and its disguise, first as a certain civil servant, then at last in its own shape, is nothing other than the result of a spell cast by you or by those who engage like you in such noble pursuits. I for my part deem it my duty to forewarn you that if the abovementioned nose is not back in its place this very day I shall be forced to resort to the defense and protection of the law.
Whereupon I have the honor to remain, with my full respect,
Your obedient servant
Your letter came as a complete surprise to me. I frankly confess that I never expected it, especially as regards your unjust reproaches. I beg to inform you that I never received in my house the civil servant you mention, neither in disguise nor in his actual shape. It is true that Filipp Ivanovich Potanchikov had been visiting me. And though he did indeed seek my daughter’s hand, being himself of good sober conduct and great learning, I never held out any hopes to him. You also mention your nose. If by this you mean that I wanted to put your nose out of joint, that is, to give you a formal refusal, then I am surprised to hear you mention it, for I, as you know, was of the exactly opposite opinion, and if you now seek my daughter in marriage in the lawful way, I am ready to give you immediate satisfaction, for this has always been the object of my keenest desire, in the hope of which I remain always at your service,
“No,” said Kovalyov, after he had read the letter. “She certainly isn’t guilty. Impossible! The letter is written in a way no person guilty of a crime can write.”—The collegiate assessor was an expert in this matter, having been sent several times to take part in a judicial investigation while still serving in the Caucasus.—“How then, how on earth could this have happened? The devil alone can make it out,” he said at last in utter dejection.
In the meantime rumors about this extraordinary occurrence had spread all over the capital and, as is usual in such cases, not without some special accretions. In those days the minds of everybody were particularly inclined toward things extraordinary: not long before, the whole town had shown an interest in experiments with the effects of hypnotism. Moreover, the story of the dancing chairs in Konyushennaya Street was still fresh in memory, and one should not be surprised therefore that soon people began saying that Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov’s nose went strolling along Nevsky Avenue at precisely three o’clock. Throngs of curious people came there every day. Someone said that the Nose was in Junker’s store: and such a crowd and jam was created outside Junker’s that the police had to intervene. One profitseeker of respectable appearance, with sidewhiskers, who sold a variety of dry pastries at the entrance to a theater, had specially constructed excellent, sturdy wooden benches, on which he invited the curious to mount for eighty kopecks apiece. One veteran colonel made a point of leaving his house earlier than usual and with much difficulty made his way through the crowd, but to his great indignation saw in the window of the shop instead of the nose an ordinary woollen undershirt and a lithograph showing a young girl straightening her stocking and a dandy, with a lapeled waistcoat and a small beard, peeping at her from behind a tree—a picture which had been hanging in the same place for more than ten years. Moving away he said with annoyance, “How can they confound the people by such silly and unlikely rumors?”—Then a rumor went round that Major Kovalyov’s nose was out for a stroll, not on Nevsky Avenue but in Taurida Gardens, that it had been there for ages; that when Khosrev-Mirza lived there he marveled greatly at this strange freak of nature. Some students from the Surgical Academy went there. One aristocratic, respectable lady, in a special letter to the Superintendent of the Gardens, asked him to show her children this rare phenomenon, accompanied, if possible, with an explanation edifying and instructive for the young.
All the men about town, the habitués of society parties, who liked to amuse ladies and whose resources had by that time been exhausted, were extremely glad of all these goings-on. A small percentage of respectable and well-meaning people were extremely displeased. One gentleman said indignantly that he could not understand how in this enlightened age such senseless stories could spread and that he was surprised at the government’s failure to take heed of it. This gentleman apparently was one of those gentlemen who would like to embroil the government in everything, even in their daily quarrels with their wives. After that…but here again the whole incident is shrouded in fog, and what happened afterwards is absolutely unknown.
Utterly nonsensical things happen in this world. Sometimes there is absolutely no rhyme or reason in them: suddenly the very nose which had been going around with the rank of a state councillor and created such a stir in the city, found itself again, as though nothing were the matter, in its proper place, that is to say, between the two cheeks of Major Kovalyov. This happened on April 7th. Waking up and chancing to look in the mirror, he sees—his nose! He grabbed it with his hand—his nose indeed! “Aha!” said Kovalyov, and in his joy he very nearly broke into a barefooted dance round the room, but Ivan’s entry stopped him. He told Ivan to bring him some water to wash in and, while washing, glanced again at the mirror—his nose! Drying himself with his towel, he again glanced at the mirror—his nose!
“Take a look, Ivan, I think there’s a pimple on my nose,” he said, and in the meantime thought, “How awful if Ivan says: ‘Why, no sir, not only there is no pimple but also the nose itself is gone!’ ”
But Ivan said: “Nothing, sir, no pimple—your nose is fine!”
“That’s great, damn it!” the major said to himself, snapping his fingers. At that moment the barber Ivan Yakovlevich peeped in at the door but as timidly as a cat which had just been whipped for stealing lard.
“First you tell me—are your hands clean?” Kovalyov shouted to him before he had approached.
“I swear they are, sir.”
“Well, we’ll see.”
Kovalyov sat down. Ivan Yakovlevich draped him with a napkin and instantly, with the help of a shaving brush, transformed his chin and part of his cheek into the whipped cream served at merchants’ namesday parties. “Well, I never!” Ivan Yakovlevich said to himself, glancing at his nose, and then cocked his head on the other side and looked at it sideways: “Look at that! Just you try and figure that out,” he continued and took a good look at his nose. At last, gently, with the greatest care imaginable, he raised two fingers to grasp it by the tip. Such was Ivan Yakovlevich’s method.
“Now, now, now, look out there!” cried Kovalyov. Dumbfounded and confused as never before in his life, Ivan Yakovlevich let his hands drop. At last he began cautiously tickling him with the razor under the chin, and although it wasn’t at all handy for him and difficult to shave without holding on to the olfactory portion of the face, nevertheless, somehow bracing his gnarled thumb against the cheek and the lower jaw, he finally overcame all obstacles and finished shaving him.
When everything was ready, Kovalyov hastened to dress, hired a cab and went straight to the coffee- house. Before he was properly inside the door he shouted, “Boy, a cup of chocolate!” and immediately made for the mirror: the nose was there. He turned round cheerfully and looked ironically, slightly screwing up one eye, at two military gentlemen one of whom had a nose no bigger than a waistcoat button. After that he set off for the office of the department where he was trying to obtain the post of a vice-governor or, failing that, of a procurement officer. Passing through the reception room, he glanced in the mirror: the nose was there. Then he went to visit another collegiate assessor or major, a great wag, to whom he often said in reply to various derisive remarks: “Oh, come off it, I know you, you’re a kidder.” On the way there he thought: “If the major doesn’t explode with laughter on seeing me, it’s a sure sign that everything is in its proper place.” The collegiate assessor did not explode. “That’s great, that’s great, damn it!” Kovalyov thought to himself. On the street he met Mrs. Podtochina, the field officer’s wife, together with her daughter, bowed to them and was hailed with joyful exclamations, and so everything was all right, no part of him was missing. He talked with them a very long time and, deliberately taking out his snuff- box, right in front of them kept stuffing his nose with snuff at both entrances for a very long time, saying to himself: “So much for you, you women, you stupid hens! I won’t marry the daughter all the same. Anything else, par amour—by all means.” And from that time on, Major Kovalyov went strolling about as though nothing had happened, both on Nevsky Avenue, and in the theaters, and everywhere. And his nose too, as though nothing had happened, stayed on his face, betraying no sign of having played truant. And thereafter Major Kovalyov was always seen in good humor, smiling, running after absolutely all the pretty ladies, and once even stopping in front of a little shop in Gostinny Dvor and buying himself the ribbon of some order, goodness knows why, for he hadn’t been decorated with any order.
That is the kind of affair that happened in the northern capital of our vast empire. Only now, on second thoughts, can we see that there is much that is improbable in it. Without speaking of the fact that the supernatural detachment of the nose and its appearance in various places in the guise of a state councillor is indeed strange, how is it that Kovalyov did not realize that one does not advertise for one’s nose through the newspaper office? I do not mean to say that advertising rates appear to me too high: that’s nonsense, and I am not at all one of those mercenary people. But it’s improper, embarrassing, not nice! And then again—how did the nose come to be in a newly baked loaf, and how about Ivan Yakovlevich? … No, this is something I can’t understand, positively can’t understand. But the strangest, the most incomprehensible thing of all, is how authors can choose such subjects. I confess that this is quite inconceivable; it is indeed … no, no, I just can’t understand it at all! In the first place, there is absolutely no benefit in it for the fatherland; in the second place … but in the second place, there is no benefit either. I simply don’t know what to make of it. …
And yet, in spite of it all, though, of course, we may assume this and that and the other, perhaps even … And after all, where aren’t there incongruities?—But all the same, when you think about it, there really is something in all this. Whatever anyone says, such things happen in this world; rarely, but they do.