Yesterday I began with my work. First there was an uncountable number of notes to put in order. My friends have always laughed at me because my work is as detailed as a German professor’s is. It is not a disgrace, I believe, to be thorough when laying the foundation from which an entirely new science will arise.
Various types of notes formed this large quantity of papers. There was white paper, on which I had written down my experiments and singular thoughts; blue paper, on which the opposing opinions of other scholars were brought in and lastly yellow, on which I refuted these opinions. Everything had to fit into each other in an orderly manner…
But I scarcely began my work before having a small misfortune. Yesterday evening I had the first portion of these notes completely organized and laid out on the table. Today, as I rose out of my field cot early in the morning these hundreds of notes lay strewn all over the entire floor. They were very difficult to pick up from the cold marble floor and stuck to it as if they were attracted by static electricity.
During the night a gust of wind must have blown through the entrance slit and swept all these hundreds of pages down onto the floor. Now I must start my work all over from the beginning.
Ivan could certainly tell me more about his mistress if he only wanted to speak. But I still know absolutely nothing. He never has anything other to say than “Good day” and “Goodbye” and he speaks these words imperfectly with a rattling voice like a parrot or an old time gramophone from the time before what we now call a phonograph.
Twice a day he appears punctually with his little wagon. The aluminum pots and pans are sunken into it and kept warm with a little system of flames. He pushes the little wagon in front of him like an Italian street vendor pushes his cart through the streets. He slowly comes up the hill, stops in front of the tomb of his mistress and sets my meal on the table. Then he sits across from me on the floor with his legs crossed in the Tartar fashion and stares at me.
It is not very pleasant having someone stare at you while you are eating. I’ve tried getting him to chat, to get around his wide eyed gaping stare and bring some life into his features. But it is like trying to get an answer out of a fence post.
Ivan is a small fellow with bristling hair, which he tops with a Tartar cap in the summer time. If he were younger and more handsome I would say that he did it to have it fall off and make the foreign girls from Britain crazy about him. Just like the Russian students do with their pipe boots and tied up skirts to find some little sales clerk that will run around for them and do what they want.
But with Ivan this is guaranteed not to be the case. His face is a mountain range–with creases. Between pockmarks countless red pimples stand out, each with a white puss filled point in the middle. The hairs of his drooping mustache stick into his devastated skin as if they had no roots. There are no connections under them. They are like little twigs that children have stuck into a sand pile. The arrangement of these grotesque monsters is similar, only one is higher and looks as if it were awkwardly torn off and then stuck back on again.
This crusty Tartar is the only servant Madame Wassilska brought back with her out of her homeland. He was in charge of all her other personal servants and able to endure working for his Mistress. He must know all of her customs and would be in a position to describe many of her peculiarities to me. This Russian lady would show no restraint in front of this familiar servant.
I would gladly learn more from him about the strange provisions in the last will and testament of his Mistress. I can scarcely imagine that she had any incentive out of the goodness of her heart. It contradicts every feature of her character that she would be motivated by a higher impulse to leave any more to anyone than she had to.
There appear three possible reasons for these provisions in her last will and testament. It could simply be out of a fear of being buried alive. From time to time horrible reports appear in the newspapers of such cases. Perhaps she wanted to know that someone would be there that could hear her if she woke up once more in the narrow confines of her grave. Wait! But then she would only have needed to arrange for her tomb to be guarded immediately after her burial, not to have the applicant watch over her corpse for an entire year and not be allowed to leave the entrance.
Maybe it was out of concern for corpse robbing and body snatchers or perhaps she had once heard the case of Sergeant Bertrand. I, myself, had once seen the Sergeant’s atrocities acted out at the theater.
One day while viewing the corpse of a beautiful young girl the Sergeant had suddenly been seized with the impulse to embrace her. In the night after her burial he crept into the cemetery, tore up the fresh grave and rolled around with the dead girl. The atrocious lust and satisfaction from this desecration was so great that from that time on Bertrand would roam around cemeteries at night searching for corpses.
A year later in a court trial he was accused of digging up twelve to fifteen corpses in one night before finding a dead woman to throw himself upon, to kiss, to mutilate and bite to pieces. This monster was extraordinarily clever, almost incomprehensible and perpetuated his handiwork for a long time despite all safe guards and precautions. He was finally wounded by a hellish contraption while climbing over a cemetery wall and captured.
It could be that Madame Wassilska thought the idea of falling into the hands of such a beast was too embarrassing.
But there is still a third possibility and to me it appears to be the one best suited to the nature of this Asian tyrant. Perhaps she had these two hundred thousand Francs set out only for the purpose of anticipating with pleasure the torment, fear and horror the applicant would feel at being kept spell bound in a cemetery for so long and how it would wear on a person. Now if that was Madame Anna Feodorowna Wassilska’s real intention she will be thoroughly disappointed. I eat like a tiger and sleep like a rat.
It is late. I have drunken a bottle of burgundy and am in a good mood. I must take leave of my benefactor. I rise up, take a bow and knock on the bronze plaque with a curled finger.
“Good night Anna Feodorowna, good night!”
The entire tomb reverberated with the ringing of the bronze plaque, “Good night!”