- The Cherubina Affair, or Max and Lev Have a Duel
I’ll begin as I customarily do, with an explanation: Who was Gabriakh? Gabriakh was a sea monster, found in Koktebel, on the shore across from the Mal’chin peninsula. Fashioned by the waves out of the roots of a tangled grapevine, he had one arm, one foot, and the countenance of a dog, but one bearing a kind expression on its face.
He lived in my studio, on the bookshelf with the French poets, together with his sister—a headless girl likewise carved out of grapevine root but this one with long, wild hair—until that time when I presented him as a gift to Lilya, at which point he migrated to Petersburg and yet another bookshelf.
He was christened in Koktebel. Having riffled for a while through hell’s roster of saints (Bodin’s Demonology), Lilya and I finally settled upon the name “Gabriakh.” This was a “patron” demon, who protected supplicants against evil spirits. Such a role seemed to complement the good-natured expression on the imp’s face.
At the time, Lilya was nineteen. She was a diminutive young woman with attentive eyes and a protruding forehead. She was lame from birth and, from childhood, conditioned to think of herself as a monstrous deformity. When, as a child, her toys would constantly suffer the amputation of a leg, her brothers and sisters would say: “Since you yourself are lame, your dolls should be lame also.”
In the summer of 1909, Lilya lived in Koktebel. At the time, she attended the university and was a student of Alexander Veselovsky and of Old French and Old Spanish literature. In addition, she was the teacher of a preparatory class at one of the Petersburg academies. Her female students had once even distinguished themselves: Someone from the administration had come into the classroom and asked, “Girls, tell me, which of the Russian tsars do you love the most?” The class answered in unison, “Grishka Otrep’ev1, of course!” Fortunately, this did not result in any consequences for the teacher.
That summer, Lilya was composing simple, sentimentally sweet poems, and that is when I made her a gift of the Gabriakh devil, whom we informally referred to as “Gabryushka.”
This was also the year of the founding of the journal Apollo, the first issue of which came out in October–November. That summer, we gave a great deal of thought to the journal; I wanted to place in it my translations of French poets and was writing my own poems with this in mind, which Lilya thought [End Page 154] well-suited. The established Moscow journals Vesy and the Golden Fleece were already in decline. In the journals of that time, the editor in chief usually also served as the publisher. This was no businessman, but a person who succeeded in bamboozling some capitalist or other. Apollo’s editor, S. K. Makovsky, managed to attract the patronage of the Ushkovs.
Makovsky, or Papa Mako as we called him, was an exceptionally elegant and aristocratic man. I recall him consulting me on the subject of whether the journal should institute a policy that any contributor visiting the editorial offices be required to appear in nothing less than a tuxedo. An editorial office must per force be accessorized with fashionable ladies, and Papa Mako recruited all the ballerinas from the Petersburg ballet corps for this purpose.
Lilya—in no way elegant, rather, humble and with a limp—could not possibly have satisfied his requirements, and her poems were rejected by the journal.
And that is when we decided to invent a pseudonym for her, and to send in her poems along with a letter.
The letter was composed in very precise diction and in French, and for the pseudonym we adopted, as a good luck charm, the devil Gabriakh. But out of aristocratic pretensions, the imp designated his first name with an initial only, and in the French manner changed the ending of his last name, also appending the article “de”: Ch. de Gabriac.
Subsequently, the initial “Ch.” was further...