When life returned, his head was still spinning gently, he felt slightly sick and it was as though he had no sore side, it had sunk into sweet oblivion. The dog opened a sleepy right eye and out of the corner of it perceived that he was tightly bandaged round the side and stomach.
So they did me after all, the sons of bitches, he thought vaguely. But they made a good job of it, I'll say that for them.
"From Seville to Granada ... in the still of the night," an absent-minded, out-of-tune voice struck up from above.
The dog opened both eyes in surprise and saw at two paces a male leg on a white stool. The trouser-leg and longjohns were rolled up and the bare shin was marred by dried blood and iodine.
Saints alive! thought the dog, that must be where I took a bite out of him. My work. Well, that'll mean a beating!
"You can hear the serenada and the clash of steel so bright! Why did you have to go and bite the doctor, you tramp? Eh? Why did you break the glass? Ah?"
"Oo-oo-oo," howled the dog pathetically.
"Ah, never mind! You've come to, so just lie there, stupid."
"How ever did you manage to lure such a nervous dog, Philip Philipovich?" asked a pleasant man's voice and the longjohns of knitted fabric descended. There was a smell of tobacco and a clink of glass phials in the cupboard.
"By kindness. The only way to deal with a living being. You'll never do anything with an animal by terror, at whatever stage of development. I have always said so, I do say so and I shall continue to say so. They are quite wrong to think that terror will help them. No, Sir, no, indeed, it won't help at all — be it white, red or even brown! Terror has a totally paralysing effect on the nervous system. Zina! I bought that good-for-nothing a piece of Cracow salami for one rouble forty kopecks. Be so good as to feed him once he stops being sick."
There was a crunching sound of glass being swept away and a woman's voice observed flirtatiously:
"Cracow salami! Gracious, the best he deserves is bits from the butcher's at twenty kopecks. I wouldn't mind the Cracow salami myself."
"Just you try. I won't have it! Poison to the human stomach, that's what it is. You a grown-up girl and you go putting all sorts of nasty things in your mouth like a child. Don't you dare! I warn you, neither I nor Doctor Bormental will have any sympathy if you get stomach-ache... All who claim that another can with thy loveliness compare..."
A gentle tinkling ringing sound went echoing through the entire flat and from far away in the hall came the spasmodic murmur of voices. The telephone rang. Zina disappeared.
Philip Philipovich tossed the stub of his cigarette into the bucket, buttoned up his smock before the mirror on the wall, straightened his downy moustache and called the dog:
"Phew! Phew! It's all right, now, it's all right. We'll go to reception."
The dog heaved himself up on uncertain legs but quickly recovered and set off in pursuit of the billowing hem of Philip Philipovich's smock. Again he traversed the narrow corridor but noticed this time that it was brightly lit by a ceiling lamp. When the varnished door opened he entered Philip Philipovich's study and was quite overcome by the decor. First and foremost it all blazed with light: a light burning from the moulded ceiling, another on the table, others on the wall and reflected from the glass cupboards. The light poured out over a mass of objects of which the most intriguing was a huge owl sitting on a leafless bough on the wall.
"Lie down," ordered Philip Philipovich.
The carved door opposite opened to admit the man he had bitten who could now, in the bright light, be seen to be very handsome, young, with a pointed beard. The man handed over a sheet of paper and pronounced:
"An old patient..."
Thereupon he vanished soundlessly and Philip Philipovich, spreading out the hem of his smock, took his place behind the vast writing-table and immediately assumed an air of the utmost dignity and importance.
No, it's not a hospital, I've landed up in some other place, thought the dog in some confusion and lay down on the patterned carpet by the leather sofa. We'll look into that owl later...
The door opened softly and in came a man who made such an impression on the dog that he gave a small bark, albeit very timidly...
"Quiet! Gracious me, you've changed beyond all recognition, my good man."
The man coming in bowed with respect and some embarrassment.
"He-he! You are a magician and a wonder-worker, Professor," he uttered shyly.
"Take off your trousers," Philip Philipovich commanded and got up.
Good Lord, thought the dog, what a creep!
On the creep's head grew tufts of completely green hair but at the nape of the neck there was a rusty, tobacco-coloured gleam to them. The creep's face was covered with wrinkles, but the complexion was pale pink, like a baby's. The left leg was stiff, he had to drag it behind him across the carpet, but to make up for it the right leg jerked rhythmically. On the lapel of his splendid jacket a precious stone bulged like an eye.
The dog was so interested he no longer felt sick.
"Wuff-wuff!" he barked softly.
"Quiet! How do you sleep, my dear fellow?"
"He-he. Are we alone, Professor? It is beyond words," the visitor launched out bashfully. "Parole d'honneur — it's 25 years since anything of the sort," the type began undoing his trouser buttons, "would you believe it, Professor, every night — naked girls, swarms of them. I am quite enchanted. You are a conjuror."
"Hm," Philip Philipovich smiled absently as he examined the pupils of his visitor's eyes.
The latter had at last managed to undo his buttons and took off his striped trousers. Beneath them were the most extraordinary underpants. They were cream-coloured with black cats embroidered all over them and smelt of perfume.
The dog could not restrain himself at the sight of the cats and let out such a wuff that the guest jumped.
"I'll thrash you! Don't be afraid, he doesn't bite."
I don't bite? — the dog was taken aback.
From the pocket of his trousers the visitor dropped a small envelope on which there was a picture of a beautiful girl with flowing hair. The type gave a little skip, bent down and picked it up, blushing deeply.
"You be careful, though," warned Philip Philipovich shaking his finger. "Be careful, all the same, don't overdo it."
"I don't over..." the type muttered in embarrassment. "It was just an experiment, dear Professor."
"Well, and what happened? What was the result?" inquired Philip Philipovich severely.
The type gestured ecstatically.
"Twenty-five years, as God is my witness, Professor, there's been nothing of the sort. The last time was in 1899 in Paris on the Rue de la Paix."
"And why have you gone green?"
The guest's face grew overcast.
"That accursed Zhirkost! [Cosmetics factory.— Ed.] You can't imagine, Professor, what those good-for-nothings palmed me off with in the guise of hair-dye. Just look," muttered the individual, peering round for a mirror.
"I'd like to smash their faces in!" he added, waxing more and more indignant. "What am I to do now, Professor?" he demanded tearfully.
"Hm, shave your head."
"Professor," the visitor exclaimed pitifully, "it will grow grey again! Apart from which I won't dare show my face at work, as it is, this is the third day I've kept away. Ah, Professor, if only you could discover a way to restore youth to the hair."
"Not all at once, not all at once, my dear fellow," murmured Philip Philipovich.
Bending over the patient, eyes shining, he examined his naked stomach:
"Well now, that's splendid, everything is just as it should be. To tell the truth I had scarcely expected such a result. Streams of blood, and songs galore... You may get dressed, dear Sir."
"And to the one who's most enchanting!" the patient joined in in a voice as rattly as an old frying pan and, beaming, began to get back into his clothes. Having tidied himself up, skipping and exhaling perfume, he paid out a packet of white banknotes to Philip Philipovich, caught him by both hands and pressed them tenderly.
"You need not come for another check-up for two weeks," said Philip Philipovich, "but nevertheless I must ask you to be careful."
"Professor!" his voice sounded ecstatically from behind the door. "You may rest assured..." With a last delighted titter, he vanished.
The tinkling bell echoed through the flat, the varnished door opened and the bitten man handed Philip Philipovich a piece of paper and announced:
"The age is not filled in correctly. Probably between 54 and 55. Cardiac sounds are rather muffled."
He disappeared only to be replaced by a rustling lady in a dashingly angled hat and with a sparkling necklace on her flabby, creased neck. There were terrible black bags under her eyes and the cheeks were red like a doll's. She was very ill at ease.
"Madam! How old are you?" Philip Philipovich inquired sternly.
The lady took fright and even grew pale under the layer of rouge.
"Professor, I swear to you, if you only knew what I am going through!"
"Your age, Madam?" insisted Philip Philipovich more sternly still.
"On my honour ... well, forty-five..."
"Madam," Philip Philipovich raised his voice, "there are people waiting for me. Don't waste my time, if you please, you are not the only one!"
The lady's breast heaved with emotion.
"I will tell you and you only, as a luminary of science. But I swear to you, it is so appalling..."
"How old are you?" Philip Philipovich demanded in a furious falsetto, and his spectacles flashed.
"Fifty-one!" writhing with terror, replied the lady.
"Take off your knickers, Madam," ordered Philip Philipovich with relief and pointed to a high white scaffold in the corner.
"I swear, Professor," murmured the lady, undoing some kind of press-studs on her belt with trembling fingers. "That Morris... I confess to you, honestly..."
"From Seville to Granada," Philip Philipovich struck up absent-mindedly and pressed a pedal of the marble washstand.
There was a sound of running water.
"I swear to God!" said the lady, and spots of real colour broke through the artificial ones on her cheeks. "I know this is my last passion. But he's such a bad man! Oh, Professor! He cheats at cards, all Moscow knows it. He can't resist a single disgusting little salesgirl. He is so devilish young," the lady muttered, casting out a screwed up tangle of lace from beneath her rustling petticoats.
The dog's vision blurred and he felt quite giddy.
To hell with you, he thought dimly, laying his head on his paws and dozing off for shame. I shan't even try to understand what it's all about — I won't understand anyway.
He awoke from the sound of tinkling to see Philip Philipovich throwing some glittering tubes into basin.
The spotted lady, hands clasped to her breast, was looking expectantly at Philip Philipovich. The latter, frowning importantly, sat down at his desk and wrote something down.
"I will graft you the ovaries of a monkey, Madam," he announced and gave her a minatory glance.
"When is the operation?" the lady asked in a weak voice, turning pale.
"From Seville to Granada... Hm ... on Monday. You will go into the clinic that morning. My assistant will prepare you."
"Oh, I don't want to go to the clinic. Could I not have it done here, Professor?"
"You must understand I only do operations here if there are very special circumstances. It will be very expensive — 500 roubles."
"I agree, Professor."
Again there was the sound of running water, the feathered hat dipped briefly, then there appeared a bald pate gleaming like china and embraced Philip Philipovich. The dog dozed off again, he no longer felt sick, he was luxuriating in the absence of pain in his flank and the warmth and even gave a little snore and dreamt a fragment of an agreeable dream in which he managed to pull a whole bunch of feathers from the tale of that owl ... then an excited voice sounded directly above his head.
"I am too well known in Moscow, Professor. What am I to do?"
"Gentlemen!" cried Philip Philipovich with indignation. "This is impossible. You must control yourselves. How old is she?"
"Fourteen, Professor ... you understand, it will be the end of me if this comes out. In a day or two I should be going abroad on a business trip."
"But I am not a lawyer, dear Sir... Well, wait a couple of years, then marry her."
"I am married, Professor."
"Oh, gentlemen, gentlemen!"
Doors opened, one face succeeded another, the instruments rattled in the cupboard and Philip Philipovich worked on without a break.
What a brothel of a flat, thought the dog, but what comfort! What the hell did he need me for, though? Will he let me live here? What an eccentric! He could have a breathtaking dog at the drop of a hat, anything he wanted. But there, perhaps I am good-looking. My luck, when you come to think of it! But that owl is trash... Cheeky.
The dog eventually came to late that evening when the bell had ceased tinkling and at the precise moment when the door opened to admit some special visitors. There were four of them all at once. All young men and all very modestly dressed.
What are those ones after? thought the dog in some surprise. Philip Philipovich met the guests with considerable hostility. He stood behind his desk and surveyed the intruders as a general the foe. The nostrils of his hawk-like nose expanded. The newcomers shifted from foot to foot.
"We have come to see you, Professor," said one whose shock of thick, dark hair rose at least six inches above his head, "on a matter of business..."
"You, my good sirs, are most unwise to be going around without galoshes in weather like this," Philip Philipovich interrupted him reprovingly. "In the first place, you will catch cold and, in the second, you have left dirty footprints all over my carpets, and all my carpets are Persian."
The one with a shock of hair was struck dumb and all four of them gazed at Philip Philipovich in amazement. The silence lasted for several seconds, only broken by the tap-tapping of Philip Philipovich's fingers on the painted wooden plate on his desk.
"In the first place, we're not gentlemen," pronounced the most youthful of the four who had peach-like complexion and was wearing a leather jacket.
"In the first place," Philip Philipovich interrupted him, "are you a man or a woman?"
The four of them again fell silent and their mouths fell open. This time the first to rally was the one with the shock of hair.
"What difference does that make, comrade?" he inquired proudly.
"I am a woman," admitted the youth with the peach-like complexion and blushed brightly. After him one of the other newcomers, a blonde in a high fur hat, for some reason best known to himself, blushed a deep red.
"In that case you may keep your cap on but I would request you, good sirs, to take off your hats," pronounced Philip Philipovich quellingly.
"Don't sir me," said the blonde, taking off his hat.
"We came to you," the one with the shock of hair began again.
"First and foremost, who are we?"
"We are the new house management committee for this block," said the black-haired fellow with controlled fury. "I am Shvonder, she is Vyazemskaya, he is Comrade Pestrukhin and that's Zharovkin. And now we..."
"It was you they settled into Fyodor Pavlovich Sablin's flat?"
"Are you joking, Professor?" Shvonder asked indignantly.
"It's no joking matter!" cried the Professor, then, in despair. "Whatever will happen to the central heating?"
"Are you making fun of us, Professor Preobrazhensky?"
"What is your business with me? Tell me and make it brief. I am about to go and dine."
"We, the house committee," Shvonder began with hatred, "have come to you after a general meeting of the inhabitants of our block at which the question of reallocation of living space stood..."
"Who stood on who?" Philip Philipovich raised his voice. "Be so good as to express yourself more clearly."
"The question of the reallocation of living space stood on the agenda."
"Enough! I understand! You know that according to the resolution of 12 August of this year my flat is excepted from any and every reallocation and resettlement?"
"We know that," replied Shvonder. "But the general meeting, after due consideration of the question, came to the conclusion that, by and large, you occupy too much space. Much too much. You live alone in seven rooms."
"I live alone and work in seven rooms," replied Philip Philipovich, "and I should very much like an eighth. It is quite essential to house my books."
The four were lost for words.
"An eighth room! O-ho-ho," said the blonde, stripping off his hat. "That's cool."
"That's indescribable!" exclaimed the youth who had turned out to be a woman.
"I have a reception room and note that it serves also as a library, a dining room, a study — 3. A consulting room for the examination of patients — 4. An operation theatre — 5. My bedroom — 6 and the maid's room — 7. On the whole — it's not enough. My flat is exempt and that is all there is to it. May I go and dine?"
"Excuse me," said the fourth who looked like a sturdy beetle.
"Excuse me," Shvonder interrupted him. "It is precisely about the consulting room and the dining room that we are here. Our general meeting requests you voluntarily, in the interest of labour discipline, to give up your dining room. Nobody in Moscow has a dining room."
"Not even Isadora Duncan," the woman affirmed in ringing tones.
Something came over Philip Philipovich as a result of which his face became a delicate crimson and he did not pronounce another word, waiting for further developments.
"And also that you should give up the consulting room," continued Shvonder. "Your study can double perfectly well as a consulting room."
"I see," Philip Philipovich murmured in a curious voice. "And where am I supposed to partake of food?"
"In the bedroom," all four replied in chorus.
Philip Philipovich's crimson flush took on a tinge of grey.
"To partake of food in the bedroom," he began in slightly muffled voice, "to read in the consulting room, to get dressed in the reception room, to perform operations in the maid's room and to examine people iii the dining room. I can well believe that Isadora Duncan does so. Possibly she has dinner in the study and dissects rabbits in the bathroom. But I am not Isadora Duncan!" he roared suddenly, and the crimson turned yellow. "I will continue to dine in the dining room and operate in the operating theatre. Pray inform the general meeting of this and I would humbly request you to get back to your own business and leave me to go on partaking of my meals where all normal people do so, that is in the dining room and not in the hall and not in the nursery."
"In that case, Professor, in view of your stubborn resistance, we shall complain of you to higher authorities."
"Aha," said Philip Philipovich. "Is that so?" and his voice took on a suspiciously courteous tone. "May I ask you to wait just one moment?"
What a fellow, the dog thought with enthusiasm. Just like me. Oh, he'll bite in a moment, how he'll bite. I don't know how yet, in what way, but he'll bite all right. At 'em! I could take that one with the bulging leg just above his boot in the tendons behind the knee ... gr-r-r..."
"Please ... yes ... thank you ... give me Pyotr Alexandrovich, if you please. Professor Preobrazhensky. Pyotr Alexandrovich? So glad that I found you. Thank you, quite well. Pyotr Alexandrovich, your operation will have to be postponed. What? Indefinitely, I'm afraid, just like all the other operations. This is why. I am giving up my practice in Moscow, in Russia in general... Four people have just come in to see me, one of them a woman dressed as a man, two armed with revolvers, and are terrorising me in my own flat with the idea of taking part of it from me."
"Professor, what are you saying?" began Shvonder, his face changing.
"Pray hold me excused. I cannot bring myself to repeat everything they said. I have no taste for nonsense. Suffice it to say that they proposed that I should renounce my consulting room or in other words should perform operations in a room hitherto devoted to the dissection of rabbits. In such conditions it is not only that I cannot work, I have no right to do so. And so I shall cease my activities, close down the flat and leave for Sochi. I can leave the keys with Shvonder. Let him take over the operations."
The four stood rooted to the spot. The snow melted on their boots.
"Well, what can one do... I'm very distressed myself...
How? Oh, no, Pyotr Alexandrovich! Oh, no. I can't go on like this. My patience is at an end. This is already the second attempt since August. How? Hm... As you wish. At the least. But on one condition. I don't mind who, or where or what, but it must be the kind of paper the existence of which would keep Shvonder or whoever from even approaching the door of my flat. A paper to end all papers! Factual! Genuine! A warrant. There should be no mention of my name, even. An end to all this. As far as they are concerned I am dead. Yes, yes. Please. Who by? Well, that's another matter. Aha... Good. I'll give him the telephone. Be so kind," Philip Philipovich hissed at Shvonder. "They want a word with you."
"But, Professor," said Shvonder, now flushing, now turning pale, "you twisted our words."
"I must ask you not to use such expressions."
At a loss, Shvonder took the receiver and said: "Hullo. Yes... Chairman of the house committee. We were acting in accordance with the rules. The Professor has quite exceptional privileges anyway... We know about his work ... we intended to leave him no less than five rooms... Well, all right ... if that's the case ... all right..."
Red-faced, he hung up and turned round.
Ran rings round them! What a fellow! thought the dog with the utmost enthusiasm. Is it some special word he knows, I wonder? Now you can beat me black and blue if you like but I'm not leaving this place.
The three, mouths open, gaped at the humiliated Shvonder.
"Shameful, that's what it is!" he said uncertainly.
"If there were a discussion now," said the woman, flushing hotly, "I would prove to Pyotr Alexandrovich..."
"I beg your pardon, but do you wish to open the discussion this minute?" inquired Philip Philipovich politely.
The woman's eyes sparkled.
"I understand your irony, Professor, we will go now... Only I, as the chairman of cultural department of our house..."
"Chairwoman," Philip Philipovich corrected her.
"Would like to ask you," at this point the woman pulled out of her coat-front a few brightly coloured journals, still damp from the snow, "to take a few journals sold for the benefit of German children. 50 kopecks each."
"No, thank you," replied Philip Philipovich briefly, glancing at the journals.
The four indicated total amazement and the woman went the colour of cranberry juice.
"Why do you refuse?"
"I don't want them."
"You have no sympathy for the children of Germany?"
"On the contrary."
"You grudge fifty copecks?"
"I don't want them."
There was a short silence.
"Do you know what, Professor?" said the girl, heaving a deep sigh. "If you were not a luminary known to all Europe and if you had not been interceded for in the most disgraceful manner by... (the fair man tugged at the end of her jacket but she shook him off) by people who, I am quite sure, we will eventually get to the bottom of, you should be arrested."
"And what for?" inquired Philip Philipovich with some curiosity.
"You are a proletariat-hater!" said the woman proudly.
"Yes, I do dislike the proletariat," Philip Philipovich agreed sadly and pressed a knob. A bell sounded. A door opened somewhere in the corridor.
"Zina," called Philip Philipovich, "you may serve dinner. You will permit me, gentlemen?"
The four filed silently out of the study, silently traversed the reception room and the hall, then you could hear the front door closing heavily and resonantly behind them.
The dog stood up on its hind legs and made an act of prayerful obeisance to Philip Philipovich.