It was as though I had received, in some dim, bewildered fashion, a warning. When the lights went up, it was some moments before I realised that the Baron was speaking to me, that a babel of chatter, like a sudden rain storm on a glass roof, had burst on every side of us, and that a huge Jewess, all bare back and sham pearls, was trying to pass me on her way to the corridor. The Baron talked away: "Very amusing, don't you think? After Reinhardt, of course, although they say now that Reinhardt got all his ideas from your man Craig. I'm sure I don't know whether that's so.... I hope you're more reassured to-night, Mr. Durward. You were full of alarms the other evening. Look around you and you'll see the true Russia...."
"I can't believe this to be the true Russia," I said. "Petrograd is not the true Russia. I don't believe that there is a true Russia."
"Well, there you are," he continued eagerly. "No true Russia! Quite so. Very observant. But we have to pretend there is, and that's what you foreigners are always forgetting. The Russian is an individualist—give him freedom and he'll lose all sense of his companions. He will pursue his own idea. Myself and my party are here to prevent him from pursuing his own idea, for the good of himself and his country. He may be discontented, he may grumble, but he doesn't realise his luck. Give him his freedom, and in six months you'll see Russia back in the Middle Ages."
"And another six months?" I asked.
"The Stone Age."
"Ah," he said, smiling, "you ask me too much, Mr. Durward. We are speaking of our own generation."
The curtain was up again and I was back in my other world. I cannot tell you anything of the rest of the play—I remember nothing. Only I know that I was actually living over again those awful days in the forest—the heat, the flies, the smells, the glassy sheen of the trees, the perpetual rumble of the guns, the desolate whine of the shells—and then Marie's death, Trenchard's sorrow, Trenchard's death, that last view of Semyonov... and I felt that I was being made to remember it all for a purpose, as though my old friend, rich now with his wiser knowledge, was whispering to me, "All life is bound up. You cannot leave anything behind you; the past, the present, the future are one. You had pushed us away from you, but we are with you always for ever. I am your friend for ever, and Marie is your friend, and now, once more, you have to take your part in a battle, and we have come to you to share it with you. Do not be confused by history or public events or class struggle or any big names; it is the individual and the soul of the individual alone that matters. I and Marie and Vera and Nina and Markovitch—our love for you, your love for us, our courage, our self-sacrifice, our weakness, our defeat, our progress—these are the things for which life exists; it exists as a training-ground for the immortal soul...."
With a sweep of colour the stage broke into a mist of movement. Masked and hooded figures in purple and gold and blue and red danced madly off into a forest of stinking, sodden leaves and trees as thin as tissue-paper burnt by the sun. "Oh—aye! oh—aye! oh—aye!" came from the wounded, and the dancers answered, "Tra-la-la-la! Tra-la-la-la,'" The golden screens were drawn forward, the lights were up again, and the whole theatre was stirring like a coloured paper ant heap.
Outside in the foyer I found Lawrence at my elbow.
"Go and see her," he whispered to me, "as soon as possible! Tell her—tell her—no, tell her nothing. But see that she's all right and let me know. See her to-morrow—early!"
I could say nothing to him, for the Baron had joined us.
"Good-night! Good-night! A most delightful evening!... Most amusing!... No, thank you, I shall walk!"
"Come and see us," said the Baroness, smiling.
"Very soon," I answered. I little knew that I should never see either of them again.
I awoke that night with a sudden panic that I must instantly see Vera. I, even in the way that one does when, one is only half awake, struggled out of bed and felt for my clothes. Then I remembered and climbed back again, but sleep would not return to me. The self-criticism and self-distrust that were always attacking me and paralysing my action sprang upon me now and gripped me. What was I to do? How was I to act? I saw Vera and Nina and Lawrence and, behind them, smiling at me, Semyonov. They were asking for my help, but they were, in some strange, intangible way, most desperately remote. When I read now in our papers shrill criticisms on our officials, our Cabinet, our generals, our propagandists, our merchants, for their failure to deal adequately with Russia, I say: Deal adequately? First you must catch your bird... and no Western snare has ever caught the Russian bird of paradise, and I dare prophesy that no Western snare ever will. Had I not broken my heart in the pursuit, and was I not as far as ever from attainment? The secret of the mystery of life is the isolation that separates every man from his fellow—the secret of dissatisfaction too; and the only purpose in life is to realise that isolation, and to love one's fellow-man because of it, and to show one's own courage, like a flag to which the other travellers may wave their answer; but we Westerners have at least the waiting comfort of our discipline, of our materialism, of our indifference to ideas. The Russian, I believe, lives in a world of loneliness peopled only by ideas. His impulses towards self-confession, towards brotherhood, towards vice, towards cynicism, towards his belief in God and his scorn of Him, come out of this world; and beyond it he sees his fellow-men as trees walking, and the Mountain of God as a distant peak, placed there only to emphasise his irony.
I had wanted to be friends with Nina and Vera—I had even longed for it—and now at the crisis when I must rise and act they were so far away from me that I could only see them, like coloured ghosts, vanishing into mist.
I would go at once and see Vera and there do what I could. Lawrence must return to England—then all would be well. Markovitch must be persuaded.... Nina must be told.... I slept and tumbled into a nightmare of a pursuit, down endless streets, of flying figures.
Next day I went to Vera. I found her, to my joy, alone. I realised at once that our talk would be difficult. She was grave and severe, sitting back in her chair, her head up, not looking at me at all, but beyond through the window to the tops of the trees feathery with snow against the sky of egg-shell blue. I am always beaten by a hostile atmosphere. To-day I was at my worst, and soon we were talking like a couple of the merest strangers.
She asked me whether I had heard that there were very serious disturbances on the other side of the river.
"I was on the Nevski early this afternoon," I said, "and I saw about twenty Cossacks go galloping down towards the Neva. I asked somebody and was told that some women had broken into the bakers' shops on Vassily Ostrov...."
"It will end as they always end," said Vera. "Some arrests and a few people beaten, and a policeman will get a medal."
There was a long pause. "I went to 'Masquerade' the other night," I said.
"I hear it's very good...."
"Pretentious and rather vulgar—but amusing all the same."
"Every one's talking about it and trying to get seats...."
"Yes. Meyerhold must be pleased."
"They discuss it much more than they do the war, or even politics. Every one's tired of the war."
I said nothing. She continued:
"So I suppose we shall just go on for years and years.... And then the Empress herself will be tired one day and it will suddenly stop." She showed a flash of interest, turning to me and looking at me for the first time since I had come in.
"Ivan Andreievitch, what do you stay in Russia for? Why don't you go back to England?"
I was taken by surprise. I stammered, "Why do I stay? Why, because—because I like it."
"You can't like it. There's nothing to like in Russia."
"There's everything!" I answered. "And I have friends here," I added. But she didn't answer that, and continued to sit staring out at the trees. We talked a little more about nothing at all, and then there was another long pause. At last I could endure it no longer, I jumped to my feet.
"Vera Michailovna," I cried, "what have I done?"
"Done?" she asked me with a look of self-conscious surprise. "What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean well enough," I answered. I tried to speak firmly, but my voice trembled a little. "You told me I was your friend. When I was ill the other day you came to me and said that you needed help and that you wanted me to help you. I said that I would—"
"Well?" she said, in a hard, unrelenting voice.
"Well—" I hesitated and stammered, cursing myself for my miserable cowardice. "You are in trouble now, Vera—great trouble—I came here because I am ready to do anything for you—anything—and you treat me like a stranger, almost like an enemy."
I saw her lip tremble—only for an instant. She said nothing.
"If you've got anything against me since you saw me last," I went on, "tell me and I'll go away. But I had to see you and also Lawrence—"
At the mention of his name her whole body quivered, but again only for an instant.
"Lawrence asked me to come and see you."
She looked up at me then gravely and coldly, and without the sign of any emotion either in her face or voice.
"Thank you, Ivan Andreievitch, but I want no help—I am in no trouble. It was very kind of Mr. Lawrence, but really—"
Then I could endure it no longer. I broke out:
"Vera, what's the matter. You know all this isn't true.... I don't know what idea you have now in your head, but you must let me speak to you. I've got to tell you this—that Lawrence must go back to England, and as soon as possible—and I will see that he does—"
That did its work. In an instant she was upon me like a wild beast, springing from her chair, standing close to me, her head flung back, her eyes furious.
"You wouldn't dare!" she cried. "It's none of your business, Ivan Andreievitch. You say you're my friend. You're not. You're my enemy—my enemy. I don't care for him, not in the very least—he is nothing to me—nothing to me at all. But he mustn't go back to England. It will ruin his career. You will ruin him for life, Ivan Andreievitch. What business is it of yours? You imagine—because of what you fancied you saw at Nina's party. There was nothing at Nina's party—nothing. I love my husband, Ivan Andreievitch, and you are my enemy if you say anything else. And you pretend to be his friend, but you are his enemy if you try to have him sent back to England.... He must not go. For the matter of that, I will never see him again—never—if that is what you want. See, I promise you never—never—" She suddenly broke down—she, Vera Michailovna, the proudest woman I had ever known, turning from me, her head in her hands, sobbing, her shoulders bent.
I was most deeply moved. I could say nothing at first, then, when the sound of her sobbing became unbearable to me, I murmured,
"Vera, please. I have no power. I can't make him go. I will only do what you wish. Vera, please, please—"
Then, with her back still turned to me, I heard her say,
"Please, go. I didn't mean—I didn't... but go now... and come back—later."
I waited a minute, and then, miserable, terrified of the future, I went.
Next night (it was Friday evening) Semyonov paid me a visit. I was just dropping to sleep in my chair. I had been reading that story of De la Mare's The Return—one of the most beautiful books in our language, whether for its spirit, its prose, or its poetry—and something of the moon-lit colour of its pages had crept into my soul, so that the material world was spun into threads of the finest silk behind which other worlds were more and more plainly visible. I had not drawn my blind, and a wonderful moon shone clear on to the bare boards of my room, bringing with its rays the mother-of-pearl reflections of the limitless ice, and these floated on my wall in trembling waves of opaque light. In the middle of this splendour I dropped slowly into slumber, the book falling from my hands, and I, on my part, seeming to float lazily backwards and forwards, as though, truly, one were at the bottom of some crystal sea, idly and happily drowned.
From all of this I was roused by a sharp knock on my door, and I started up, still bewildered and bemused, but saying to myself aloud, "There's some one there! there's some one there!..." I stood for quite a while, listening, on the middle of my shining floor, then the knock was almost fiercely repeated. I opened the door and, to my surprise, found Semyonov standing there. He came in, smiling, very polite of course.
"You'll forgive me, Ivan Andreievitch," he said. "This is terribly unceremonious. But I had an urgent desire to see you, and you wouldn't wish me, in the circumstances, to have waited."
"Please," I said. I went to the window and drew the blinds. I lit the lamp. He took off his Shuba and we sat down. The room was very dim now, and I could only see his mouth and square beard behind the lamp.
"I've no Samovar, I'm afraid," I said. "If I'd known you were coming I'd have told her to have it ready. But it's too late now. She's gone to bed."
"Nonsense," he said brusquely. "You know that I don't care about that. Now we'll waste no time. Let us come straight to the point at once. I've come to give you some advice, Ivan Andreievitch—very simple advice. Go home to England." Before he had finished the sentence I had felt the hostility in his voice; I knew that it was to be a fight between us, and strangely, at once the self-distrust and cowardice from which I had been suffering all those weeks left me. I felt warm and happy. I felt that with Semyonov I knew how to deal. I was afraid of Vera and Nina, perhaps, because I loved them, but of Semyonov, thank God, I was not afraid.
"Well, now, that's very kind of you," I said, "to take so much interest in my movements. I didn't know that it mattered to you so much where I was. Why must I go?"
"Because you are doing no good here. You are interfering in things of which you have no knowledge. When we met before you interfered, and you must honestly admit that you did not improve things. Now it is even more serious. I must ask you to leave my family alone, Ivan Andreievitch."
"Your family!" I retorted, laughing. "Upon my word, you do them great honour. I wonder whether they'd be very proud and pleased if they knew of your adoption of them. I haven't noticed on their side any very great signs of devotion."
He laughed. "No, you haven't noticed, Ivan Andreievitch. But there, you don't really notice very much. You think you see the devil of a lot and are a mighty clever fellow; but we're Russians, you know, and it takes more than sentimental mysticism to understand us. But even if you did understand us—which you don't—the real point is that we don't want you, any of you, patronising, patting us on the shoulder, explaining us to ourselves, talking about our souls, our unpunctuality, and our capacity for drink. However, that's merely in a general way. In a personal, direct, and individual way, I beg you not to visit my family again. Stick to your own countrymen."
Although he spoke obstinately, and with a show of assurance, I realised, behind his words, his own uncertainty.
"See here, Semyonov," I said. "It's just my own Englishmen that I am going to stick to. What about Lawrence? And what about Bohun? Will you prevent me from continuing my friendship with them?"
"Lawrence... Lawrence," he said slowly, in a voice quite other than his earlier one, and as though he were talking aloud to himself. "Now, that's strange... there's a funny thing. A heavy, dull, silent Englishman, as ugly as only an Englishman can be, and the two of them are mad about him—nothing in him—nothing—and yet there it is. It's the fidelity in the man, that's what it is, Durward...." He suddenly called out the word aloud, as though he'd made a discovery. "Fidelity... fidelity... that's what we Russians admire, and there's a man with not enough imagination to make him unfaithful. Fidelity!—lack of imagination, lack of freedom—that's all fidelity is.... But I'm faithful.... God knows I'm faithful—always! always!"
He stared past me. I swear that he did not see me, that I had vanished utterly from his vision. I waited. He was leaning forward, pressing both his thick white hands on the table. His gaze must have pierced the ice beyond the walls, and the worlds beyond the ice.
Then quite suddenly he came back to me and said very quietly,
"Well, there it is, Ivan Andreievitch.... You must leave Vera and Nina alone. It isn't your affair."
We continued the discussion then in a strange and friendly way. "I believe it to be my affair," I answered quietly, "simply because they care for me and have asked me to help them if they were in trouble. I still deny that Vera cares for Lawrence.... Nina has had some girl's romantic idea perhaps... but that is the extent of the trouble. You are trying to make things worse, Alexei Petrovitch, for your own purposes—and God only knows what they are."
He now spoke so quietly that I could scarcely hear his words. He was leaning forward on the table, resting his head on his hands and looking gravely at me.
"What I can't understand, Ivan Andreievitch," he said, "is why you're always getting in my way. You did so in Galicia, and now here you are again. It is not as though you were strong or wise—no, it is because you are persistent. I admire you in a way, you know, but now, this time, I assure you that you are making a great mistake in remaining. You will be able to influence neither Vera Michailovna nor your bullock of an Englishman when the moment comes. At the crisis they will never think of you at all, and the end of it simply will be that all parties concerned will hate you. I don't wish you any harm, and I assure you that you will suffer terribly if you stay.... By the way, Ivan Andreievitch," his voice suddenly dropped, "you haven't ever had—by chance—just by chance—any photograph of Marie Ivanovna with you, have you? Just by chance, you know...."
"No," I said shortly, "I never had one."
"No—of course—not. I only thought.... But of course you wouldn't—no—no.... Well, as I was saying, you'd better leave us all to our fate. You can't prevent things—you can't indeed." I looked at him without speaking. He returned my gaze.
"Tell me one thing," I said, "before I answer you. What are you doing to Markovitch, Alexei Petrovitch?"
"Markovitch!" He repeated the name with an air of surprise as though he had never heard it before. "What do you mean?"
"You have some plan with regard to him," I said. "What is it?"
He laughed then. "I a plan! My dear Durward, how romantic you always insist on being! I a plan! Your plunges into Russian psychology are as naive as the girl who pays her ten kopecks to see the Fat Woman at the Fair! Markovitch and I understand one another. We trust one another. He is a simple fellow, but I trust him."
"Do you remember," I said, "that the other day at the Jews' Market you told me the story of the man who tortured his friend, until the man shot him—simply because he was tired of life and too proud to commit suicide. Why did you tell me that story?"
"Did I tell it you?" he asked indifferently. "I had forgotten. But it is of no importance. You know, Ivan Andreievitch, that what I told you before is true.... We don't want you here any more. I tell you in a perfectly friendly way. I bear you no malice. But we're tired of your sentimentality. I'm not speaking only for myself—I'm not indeed. We feel that you avoid life to a ridiculous extent, and that you have no right to talk to us Russians on such a subject. What, for instance, do you know about women? For years I slept with a different woman every night of the week—old and young, beautiful and ugly, some women like men, some like God, some like the gutter. That teaches you something about women—but only something. Afterwards I found that there was only one woman—I left all the others like dirty washing—I was supremely faithful... so I learnt the rest. Now you have never been faithful nor unfaithful—I'm sure that you have not. Then about God? When have you ever thought about Him? Why, you are ashamed to mention His name. If an Englishman speaks of God when other men are present every one laughs—and yet why? It is a very serious and interesting question. God exists undoubtedly, and so we must make up our minds about Him. We must establish some relationship—what it is does not matter—that is our individual 'case'—but only the English establish no relationship and then call it a religion.... And so in this affair of my family. What does it matter what they do? That is the only thing of which you think, that they should die or disgrace their name or be unhappy or quarrel.... Pooh! What are all those things compared with the idea behind them? If they wish to sacrifice happiness for an idea, that is their good luck, and no Russian would think of preventing them. But you come in with your English morality and sentiment, and scream and cry.... No, Ivan Andreievitch, go home! go home!"
I waited to be quite sure that he had finished, and then I said,
"That's all as it may be, Alexei Petrovitch. It may be as you say. The point is, that I remain here."
He got up from his chair. "You are determined on that?"
"I am determined," I answered.
"Nothing will change you?"
"Then it is a battle between us?"
"If you like."
"So be it."
I helped him on with his Shuba. He said, in an ordinary conversational tone,
"There may be trouble to-morrow. There's been shooting by the Nicholas Station this afternoon, I hear. I should avoid the Nevski to-morrow."
I laughed. "I'm not afraid of that kind of death, Alexei Petrovitch," I said.
"No," he said, looking at me. "I will do you justice. You are not."
He pulled his Shuba close about him.
"Good-night, Ivan Andreievitch," he said. "It's been a very pleasant talk."
"Very," I answered. "Good-night,"
After he had gone I drew back the blinds and let the moonlight flood the room.
I feel conscious, as I approach the centre of my story, that there is an appearance of uncertainty in the way that I pass from one character to another. I do not defend that uncertainty.
What I think I really feel now, on looking back, is that each of us—myself, Semyonov, Vera, Nina, Lawrence, Bohun, Grogoff, yes, and the Rat himself—was a part of a mysterious figure who was beyond us, outside us, and above us all. The heart, the lungs, the mouth, the eyes... used against our own human agency, and yet free within that domination for the exercise of our own free will. Have you never felt when you have been swept into the interaction of some group of persons that you were being employed as a part of a figure that without you would be incomplete? The figure is formed.... For an instant it remains, gigantic, splendid, towering above mankind, as a symbol, a warning, a judgement, an ideal, a threat. Dimly you recognise that you have played some part in the creation of that figure, and that living for a moment, as you have done, in some force outside your individuality, you have yet expressed that same individuality more nobly than any poor assertion of your own small lonely figure could afford. You have been used and now you are alone again.... You were caught up and united to your fellowmen. God appeared to you—not, as you had expected, in a vision cut off from the rest of the world, but in a revelation that you shared and that was only revealed because you were uniting with others. And yet your individuality was still there, strengthened, heightened, purified.
And the vision of the figure remains....
When I woke on Saturday morning, after my evening with Semyonov, I was conscious that I was relieved as though I had finally settled some affair whose uncertainty had worried me. I lay in bed chuckling as though I had won a triumph over Semyonov, as though I said to myself, "Well, I needn't be afraid of him any longer." It was a most beautiful day, crystal clear, with a stainless blue sky and the snow like a carpet of jewels, and I thought I would go and see how the world was behaving. I walked down the Morskaia, finding it quiet enough, although I fancied that the faces of the passers-by were anxious and nervous. Nevertheless, the brilliant sunshine and the clear peaceful beauty of the snow reassured me—the world was too beautiful and well-ordered a place to allow disturbance. Then at the corner of the English shop where the Morskaia joins the Nevski Prospect, I realised that something had occurred. It was as though the world that I had known so long, and with whom I felt upon such intimate terms, had suddenly screwed round its face and showed me a new grin.
The broad space of the Nevski was swallowed up by a vast crowd, very quiet, very amiable, moving easily, almost slothfully, in a slowly stirring stream.
As I looked up the Nevski I realised what it was that had given me the first positive shock of an altered world. The trams had stopped. I had never seen the Nevski without its trams; I had always been forced to stand on the brink, waiting whilst the stream of Isvostchicks galloped past and the heavy, lumbering, coloured elephants tottered along, amiable and slow and good-natured like everything else in that country. Now the elephants were gone; the Isvostchicks were gone. So far as my eye could see, the black stream flooded the shining way.
I mingled with the crowd and found myself slowly propelled in an amiable, aimless manner up the street.
"What's the matter?" I asked a cheerful, fat little "Chinovnik," who seemed to be tethered to me by some outside invincible force.
"I don't know...." he said. "They're saying there's been some shooting up by the Nicholas Station—but that was last night. Some women had a procession about food.... Tak oni gavoryat—so they say.... But I don't know. People have just come out to see what they can see...."
And so they had—women, boys, old men, little children. I could see no signs of ill-temper anywhere, only a rather open-mouthed wonder and sense of expectation.
A large woman near me, with a shawl over her head and carrying a large basket, laughed a great deal. "No, I wouldn't go," she said. "You go and get it for yourself—I'm not coming. Not I, I was too clever for that." Then she would turn, shrilly calling for some child who was apparently lost in the crowd. "Sacha!... Ah! Sacha!" she cried—and turning again, "Eh! look at the Cossack!... There's a fine Cossack!"
It was then that I noticed the Cossacks. They were lined up along the side of the pavement, and sometimes they would suddenly wheel and clatter along the pavement itself, to the great confusion of the crowd who would scatter in every direction.
They were fine-looking men, and their faces expressed childish and rather worried amiability. The crowd obviously feared them not at all, and I saw a woman standing with her hand on the neck of one of the horses, talking in a very friendly fashion to the soldier who rode it. "That's strange," I thought to myself; "there's something queer here." It was then, just at the entrance of the "Malaia Koniushennaia," that a strange little incident occurred. Some fellow—I could just see his shaggy head, his pale face, and black beard—had been shouting something, and suddenly a little group of Cossacks moved towards him and he was surrounded. They turned off with him towards a yard close at hand. I could hear his voice shrilly protesting; the crowd also moved behind, murmuring. Suddenly a Cossack, laughing, said something. I could not hear his words, but every one near me laughed. The little Chinovnik at my side said to me, "That's right. They're not going to shoot, whatever happens—not on their brothers, they say. They'll let the fellow go in a moment. It's only just for discipline's sake. That's right. That's the spirit!"
"But what about the police?" I asked.
"Ah, the police!" His cheery, good-natured face was suddenly dark and scowling. "Let them try, that's all. It's Protopopoff who's our enemy—not the Cossacks."
And a woman near him repeated.
"Yes, yes, it's Protopopoff. Hurrah for the Cossacks!"
I was squeezed now into a corner, and the crowd swirled and eddied about me in a tangled stream, slow, smiling, confused, and excited. I pushed my way along, and at last tumbled down the dark stone steps into the "Cave de la Grave," a little restaurant patronised by the foreigners and certain middle-class Russians. It was full, and every one was eating his or her meal very comfortably as though nothing at all were the matter. I sat down with a young American, an acquaintance of mine attached to the American Embassy.
"There's a tremendous crowd in the Nevski," I said.
"Guess I'm too hungry to trouble about it," he answered.
"Do you think there's going to be any trouble?" I asked.
"Course not. These folks are always wandering round. M. Protopopoff has it in hand all right."
"Yes, I suppose he has," I answered with a sigh.
"You seem to want trouble," he said, suddenly looking up at me.
"No, I don't want trouble," I answered. "But I'm sick of this mess, this mismanagement, thievery, lying—one's tempted to think that anything would be better—"
"Don't you believe it," he said brusquely. "Excuse me, Durward, I've been in this country five years. A revolution would mean God's own upset, and you've got a war on, haven't you?"
"They might fight better than ever," I argued.
"Fight!" he laughed. "They're dam sick of it all, that's what they are. And a revolution would leave 'em like a lot of silly sheep wandering on to a precipice. But there won't be no revolution. Take my word."
It was at that moment that I saw Boris Grogoff come in. He stood in the doorway looking about him, and he had the strangest air of a man walking in his sleep, so bewildered, so rapt, so removed was he. He stared about him, looked straight at me, but did not recognise me; finally, when a waiter showed him a table, he sat down still gazing in front of him. The waiter had to speak to him twice before he ordered his meal, and then he spoke so strangely that the fellow looked at him in astonishment. "Guess that chap's seen the Millennium," remarked my American. "Or he's drunk, maybe."
This appearance had the oddest effect on me. It was as though I had been given a sudden conviction that after all there was something behind this disturbance. I saw, during the whole of the rest of that day, Grogoff's strange face with the exalted, bewildered eyes, the excited mouth, the body tense and strained as though waiting for a blow. And now, always when I look back I see Boris Grogoff standing in the doorway of the "Cave de la Grave" like a ghost from another world warning me.
In the afternoon I had a piece of business that took me across the river. I did my business and turned homewards. It was almost dark, and the ice of the Neva was coloured a faint green under the grey sky; the buildings rose out of it like black bubbles poised over a swamp. I was in that strange quarter of Petrograd where the river seems, like some sluggish octopus, to possess a thousand coils. Always you are turning upon a new bend of the ice, secretly stretching into darkness; strange bridges suddenly meet you, and then, where you had expected to find a solid mass of hideous flats, there will be a cluster of masts and the smell of tar, and little fierce red lights like the eyes of waiting beasts.
I seemed to stand with ice on every side of me, and so frail was my trembling wooden bridge that it seemed an easy thing for the ice, that appeared to press with tremendous weight against its banks, to grind the supports to fragments. There was complete silence on every side of me. The street to my left was utterly deserted. I heard no cries nor calls—only the ice seemed once and again to quiver as though some submerged creature was moving beneath it. That vast crowd on the Nevski seemed to be a dream. I was in a world that had fallen into decay and desolation, and I could smell rotting wood, and could fancy that frozen blades of grass were pressing up through the very pavement stones. Suddenly an Isvostchick stumbled along past me, down the empty street, and the bumping rattle of the sledge on the snow woke me from my laziness. I started off homewards. When I had gone a little way and was approaching the bridge over the Neva some man passed me, looked back, stopped and waited for me. When I came up to him I saw to my surprise that it was the Rat. He had his coat-collar turned over his ears and his dirty fur cap pulled down over his forehead. His nose was very red, and his thin hollow cheeks a dirty yellow colour.
"Good-evening, Barin," he said, grinning.
"Good-evening," I said. "Where are you slipping off to so secretly?"
"Slipping off?" He did not seem to understand my word. I repeated it.
"Oh, I'm not slipping off," he said almost indignantly. "No, indeed. I'm just out for a walk like your Honour, to see the town."
"What have they been doing this afternoon?" I asked. "There's been a fine fuss on the Nevski."
"Yes, there has...." he said, chuckling. "But it's nothing to the fuss there will be."
"Nonsense," I said. "The police have got it all in control already. You'll see to-morrow...."
"And the soldiers, Barin?"
"Oh, the soldiers won't do anything. Talk's one thing—action's another."
He laughed to himself and seemed greatly amused. This irritated me.
"Well, what do you know?" I asked.
"I know nothing," he chuckled. "But remember, Barin, in a week's time, if you want me I'm your friend. Who knows? In a week I may be a rich man."
"Some one else's riches," I answered.
"Certainly," he said. "And why not? Why should he have things? Is he a better man than I? Possibly—but then it is easy for a rich man to keep within the law. And then Russia's meant for the poor man. However," he continued, with great contempt in his voice, "that's politics—dull stuff. While the others talk I act."
"And what about the Germans?" I asked him. "Does it occur to you that when you've collected your spoils the Germans will come in and take them?"
"Ah, you don't understand us, Barin," he said, laughing. "You're a good man and a kind man, but you don't understand us. What can the Germans do? They can't take the whole of Russia. Russia's a big country.... No, if the Germans come there'll be more for us to take."
We stood for a moment under a lamp-post. He put his hand on my arm and looked up at me with his queer ugly face, his sentimental dreary eyes, his red nose, and his hard, cruel little mouth.
"But no one shall touch you—unless it's myself if I'm very drunk. But you, knowing me, will understand afterwards that I was at least not malicious—"
I laughed. "And this mysticism that they tell us about in England. Are you mystical, Rat? Have you a beautiful soul?"
He sniffed and blew his nose with his hand.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Barin—I suppose you haven't a rouble or two on you?"
"No, I haven't," I answered. He looked up and down the bridge as though he were wondering whether an attack on me was worth while. He saw a policeman and decided that it wasn't.
"Well, good-night, Barin," he said cheerfully. He shuffled off. I looked at the vast Neva, pale green and dim grey, so silent under the bridges. The policeman, enormous under his high coat, the sure and confident guardian of that silent world, came slowly towards me, and I turned away home.
The next day, Sunday, I have always called in my mind Nina's day, and so I propose to deal with it here, describing it as far as possible from her point of view and placing her in the centre of the picture.
The great fact about Nina, at the end, when everything has been said, must always be her youth. That Russian youthfulness is something that no Western people can ever know, because no Western people are accustomed, from their very babyhood, to bathe in an atmosphere that deals only with ideas.
In no Russian family is the attempt to prevent children from knowing what life really is maintained for long; the spontaneous impetuosity of the parents breaks it down. Nevertheless the Russian boy and girl, when they come to the awkward age, have not the least idea of what life really is. Dear me, no! They possess simply a bundle of incoherent ideas, untested, ill-digested, but a wonderful basis for incessant conversation. Experience comes, of course, and for the most part it is unhappy experience.
Life is a tragedy to every Russian simply because the daily round is forgotten by him in his pursuit of an ultimate meaning. We in the West have learnt to despise ultimate meanings as unpractical and rather priggish things.
Nina had thought so much and tested so little. She loved so vehemently that her betrayal was the more inevitable. For instance, she did not love Boris Grogoff in the least, but he was in some way connected with the idea of freedom. She was, I am afraid, beginning to love Lawrence desperately—the first love of her life—and he too was connected with the idea of freedom because he was English. We English do not understand sufficiently how the Russians love us for our easy victory over tyranny, and despise us for the small use we have made of our victory—and then, after all, there is something to be said for tyranny too....
But Nina did not see why she should not capture Lawrence. She felt her vitality, her health, her dominant will beat so strongly within her that it seemed to her that nothing could stop her. She loved him for his strength, his silence, his good-nature, yes, and his stupidity. This last gave her a sense of power over him, and of motherly tenderness too. She loved his stiff and halting Russian—it was as though he were but ten years old.
I am convinced, too, that she did not consider that she was doing any wrong to Vera. In the first place she was not as yet really sure that Vera cared for him. Vera, who had been to her always a mother rather than a sister, seemed an infinite age. It was ridiculous that Vera should fall in love—Vera so stately and stern and removed from passion. Those days were over for Vera, and, with her strong sense of duty and the fitness of things, she would realise that. Moreover Nina could not believe that Lawrence cared for Vera. Vera was not the figure to be loved in that way. Vera's romance had been with Markovitch years and years ago, and now, whenever Nina looked at Markovitch, it made it at once impossible to imagine Vera in any new romantic situation.
Then had come the night of the birthday party, and suspicion had at once flamed up again. She was torn that night and for days afterwards with a raging jealousy.
She hated Vera, she hated Lawrence, she hated herself. Then again her mood had changed. It was, after all, natural that he should have gone to protect Vera; she was his hostess; he was English, and did not know how trivial a Russian scene of temper was. He had meant nothing, and poor Vera, touched that at her matronly age any one should show her attention, had looked at him gratefully.
That was all. She loved Vera; she would not hurt her with such ridiculous suspicions, and, on that Friday evening when Semyonov had come to see me, she had been her old self again, behaving to Vera with all the tenderness and charm and affection that were her most delightful gifts.
On this Sunday morning she was reassured; she was gay and happy and pleased with the whole world. The excitement of the disturbances of the last two days provided an emotional background, not too thrilling to be painful, because, after all, these riots would, as usual, come to nothing, but it was pleasant to feel that the world was buzzing, and that without paying a penny one might see a real cinematograph show simply by walking down the Nevski.
I do not know, of course, what exactly happened that morning until Semyonov came in, but I can see the Markovitch family, like ten thousand other Petrograd families, assembling somewhere about eleven o'clock round the Samovar, all in various stages of undress, all sleepy and pale-faced, and a little befogged, as all good Russians are when, through the exigencies of sleep, they've been compelled to allow their ideas to escape from them for a considerable period. They discussed, of course, the disturbances, and I can imagine Markovitch portentously announcing that "It was all over, he had the best of reasons-for knowing...."
As he once explained to me, he was at his worst on Sunday, because he was then so inevitably reminded of his lost youth.
"It's a gloomy day, Ivan Andreievitch, for all those who have not quite done what they expected. The bells ring, and you feel that they ought to mean something to you, but of course one's gone past all that.... But it's a pity...."
Nina's only thought that morning was that Lawrence was coming in the afternoon to take her for a walk. She had arranged it all. After a very evident hint from her he had suggested it. Vera had refused, because some aunts were coming to call, and finally it had been arranged that after the walk Lawrence should bring Nina home, stay to half-past six dinner, and that then they should all go to the French theatre. I also was asked to dinner and the theatre. Nina was sure that something must happen that afternoon. It would be a crisis.... She felt within her such vitality, such power, such domination, that she believed that to-day she could command anything.... She was, poor child, supremely confident, and that not through conceit or vanity, but simply because she was a fatalist and believed that destiny had brought Lawrence to her feet....
It was the final proof of her youth that she saw the whole universe working to fulfil her desire.
The other proof of her youth was that she began, for the first time, to suffer desperately. The most casual mention of Lawrence's name would make her heart beat furiously, suffocating her, her throat dry, her cheeks hot, her hands cold. Then, as the minute of his arrival approached, she would sit as though she were the centre of a leaping fire that gradually inch by inch was approaching nearer to her, the flames staring like little eyes on the watch, the heat advancing and receding in waves like hands. She hoped that no one would notice her agitation. She talked nonsense to whomsoever was near to her with little nervous laughs; she seemed to herself to be terribly unreal, with a fierce hostile creature inside her who took her heart in his hot hands and pressed it, laughing at her.
And then the misery! That little episode at the circus of which I had been a witness was only the first of many dreadful ventures. She confessed to me afterwards that she did not herself know what she was doing. And the final result of these adventures was to encourage her because he had not repelled her. He must have noticed, she thought, the times when her hand had touched his, when his mouth had been, so close to hers that their very thoughts had mingled, when she had felt the stuff of his coat, and even for an instant stroked it. He must have noticed these things, and still he had never rebuffed her. He was always so kind to her; she fancied that his voice had a special note of tenderness in it when he spoke to her, and when she looked at his ugly, quiet, solid face, she could not believe that they were not meant for one another. He must want her, her gaiety, happiness, youth—it would be wrong for him not to! There could be no girls in that stupid, practical, far-away England who would be the wife to him that she would be.
Then the cursed misery of that waiting! They could hear in their sitting-room the steps coming up the stone stairs outside their flat, and every step seemed to be his. Ah, he had come earlier than he had fixed. Vera had stupidly forgotten, perhaps, or he had found waiting any longer impossible. Yes, surely that was his footfall; she knew it so well. There, now he was turning towards the door; there was a pause; soon there would be the tinkle of the bell!...
No, he had mounted higher; it was not Lawrence—only some stupid, ridiculous creature who was impertinently daring to put her into this misery of disappointment. And then she would wonder suddenly whether she had been looking too fixedly at the door, whether they had noticed her, and she would start and look about her self-consciously, blushing a little, her eyes hot and suspicious.
I can see her in all these moods; it was her babyhood that was leaving her at last. She was never to be quite so spontaneously gay again, never quite so careless, so audacious, so casual, so happy. In Russia the awkward age is very short, very dramatic, often enough very tragic. Nina was as helpless as the rest of the world.
At any rate, upon this Sunday, she was sure of her afternoon. Her eyes were wild with excitement. Any one who looked at her closely must have noticed her strangeness, but they were all discussing the events of the last two days; there were a thousand stories, nearly all of them false and a few; true facts.
No one in reality knew anything except that there had been some demonstrations, a little shooting, and a number of excited speeches. The town on that lovely winter morning seemed absolutely quiet.
Somewhere about mid-day Semyonov came in, and without thinking about it Nina suddenly found herself sitting in the window talking to him. This conversation, which was in its results to have an important influence on her whole life, continued the development which that eventful Sunday was to effect in her. Its importance lay very largely in the fact that her uncle had never spoken to her seriously like a grown-up woman before. Semyonov was, of course, quite clever enough to realise the change which was transforming her, and he seized it, at once, for his own advantage. She, on her side, had always, ever since she could remember, been intrigued by him. She told me once that almost her earliest memory was being lifted into the air by her uncle and feeling the thick solid strength of his grasp, so that she was like a feather in the air, poised on one of his stubborn fingers; when he kissed her each hair of his beard seemed like a pale, taut wire, so stiff and resolute was it. Her Uncle Ivan was a flabby, effeminate creature in comparison. Then, as she had grown older, she had realised that he was a dangerous man, dangerous to women, who loved and feared and hated him. Vera said that he had great power over them and made them miserable, and that he was, therefore, a bad, wicked man. But this only served to make him, in Nina's eyes, the more a romantic figure.
However, he had never treated her in the least seriously, had tossed her in the air spiritually just as he had done physically when she was a baby, had given her chocolates, taken her once or twice to the cinema, laughed at her, and, she felt, deeply despised her. Then came the war and he had gone to the Front, and she had almost forgotten him. Then came the romantic story of his being deeply in love with a nurse who had been killed, that he was heartbroken and inconsolable and a changed man. Was it wonderful that on his return to Petrograd she should feel again that old Byronic (every Russian is still brought up on Byron) romance? She did not like him, but—well—Vera was a staid old-fashioned thing.... Perhaps they all misjudged him; perhaps he really needed comfort and consolation. He certainly seemed kinder than he used to be. But, until to-day, he had never talked to her seriously.
How her heart leapt into her throat when he began, at once, in his quiet soft voice,
"Well, Nina dear, tell me all about it. I know, so you needn't be frightened. I know and I understand."
She flung a terrified glance around her, but Uncle Ivan was reading the paper at the other end of the room, her brother-in-law was cutting up little pieces of wood in his workshop, and Vera was in the kitchen.
"What do you mean?" she said in a whisper. "I don't understand."
"Yes, you do," he answered, smiling at her. "You know, Nina, you're in love with the Englishman, and have been for a long time. Well, why not? Don't be so frightened about it. It is quite time that you should be in love with some one, and he's a fine strong young man—not over-blessed with brains, but you can supply that part of it. No, I think it's a very good match. I like it. Believe me, I'm your friend, Nina." He put his hand on hers.
He looked so kind, she told me afterwards, that she felt as though she had never known him before; her eyes were filled with tears, so overwhelming a relief was it to find some one at last who sympathised and understood and wanted her to succeed. I remember that she was wearing that day a thin black velvet necklet with a very small diamond in front of it. She had been given it by Uncle Ivan on her last birthday, and instead of making her look grown-up it gave her a ridiculously childish appearance as though she had stolen into Vera's bedroom and dressed up in her things. Then, with her fair tousled hair and large blue eyes, open as a rule with a startled expression as though she had only just awakened into an astonishingly exciting world, she was altogether as unprotected and as guileless and as honest as any human being alive. I don't know whether Semyonov felt her innocence and youth—I expect he considered very little beside the plans that he had then in view.... and innocence had never been very interesting to him. He spoke to her just as a kind, wise, thoughtful uncle ought to speak to a niece caught up into her first love-affair. From the moment of that half-hour's conversation in the window Nina adored him, and believed every word that came from his mouth.
"You see, Nina dear," he went on, "I've not spoken to you before because you neither liked me nor trusted me. Quite rightly you listened to what others said about me—"
"Oh no," interrupted Nina. "I never listen to anybody."
"Well then," said Semyonov, "we'll say that you were very naturally influenced by them. And quite right—perfectly right. You were only a girl then—you are a woman now. I had nothing to say to you then—now I can help you, give you a little advice perhaps—"
I don't know what Nina replied. She was breathlessly pleased and excited.
"What I want," he went on, "is the happiness of you all. I was sorry when I came back to find that Nicholas and Vera weren't such friends as they used to be. I don't mean that there's anything wrong at all, but they must be brought closer together—and that's what you and I, who know them and love them, can do—"
"Yes, yes," said Nina eagerly. Semyonov then explained that the thing that really was, it seemed to him, keeping them apart were Nicholas's inventions. Of course Vera had long ago seen that these inventions were never going to come to anything, that they were simply wasting Nicholas's time when he might, by taking an honest clerkship or something of the kind, be maintaining the whole household, and the very thought of him sitting in his workshop irritated her. The thing to do, Semyonov explained, was to laugh Nicholas out of his inventions, to show him that it was selfish nonsense his pursuing them, to persuade him to make an honest living.
"But I thought," said Nina, "you approved of them. I heard you only the other day telling him that it was a good idea, and that he must go on—"
"Ah!" said Semyonov. "That was my weakness, I'm afraid. I couldn't bear to disappoint him. But it was wrong of me—and I knew it at the time."
Now Nina had always rather admired her brother-in-law's inventions. She had thought it very clever of him to think of such things, and she had wondered why other people did not applaud him more.
Now suddenly she saw that it was very selfish of him to go on with these things when they never brought in a penny, and Vera had to do all the drudgery. She was suddenly indignant with him. In how clear a light her uncle placed things!
"One thing to do," said Semyonov, "is to laugh at him about them. Not very much, not unkindly, but enough to make him see the folly of it."
"I think he does see that already, poor Nicholas," said Nina with wisdom beyond her years.
"To bring Nicholas and Vera together," said Semyonov, "that's what we have to do, you and I. And believe me, dear Nina, I on my side will do all I can to help you. We are friends, aren't we?—not only uncle and niece."
"Yes," said Nina breathlessly. That was all that there was to the conversation, but it was quite enough to make Nina feel as though she had already won her heart's desire. If any one as clever as her uncle believed in this, then it must be true. It had not been only her own silly imagination—Lawrence cared for her. Her uncle had seen it, otherwise he would never have encouraged her—Lawrence cared for her....
Suddenly, in the happy spontaneity of the moment she did what she very seldom did, bent forward and kissed him.
She told me afterwards that that kiss seemed to displease him.
He got up and walked away.
I do not know exactly what occurred during that afternoon. Neither Lawrence nor Nina spoke about it to me. I only know that Nina returned subdued and restrained. I can imagine them going out into that quiet town and walking along the deserted quay; the quiet that afternoon was, I remember, marvellous. The whole world was holding its breath. Great events were occurring, but we were removed from them all. The ice quivered under the sun and the snowclouds rose higher and higher into the blue, and once and again a bell chimed and jangled.... There was an amazing peace. Through this peaceful world Nina and Lawrence walked. His mind must, I know, have been very far away from Nina, probably he saw nothing of her little attempts at friendship; her gasping sentences that seemed to her so daring and significant he scarcely heard. His only concern was to endure the walk as politely as possible and return to Vera.
Perhaps if she had not had that conversation with her uncle she would have realised more clearly how slight a response was made to her, but she thought only that this was his English shyness and gaucherie—she must go slowly and carefully. He was not like a Russian. She must not frighten him. Ah, how she loved him as she walked beside him, seeing and not seeing the lovely frozen colours of the winter day, the quickly flooding saffron sky! The first bright star, the great pearl-grey cloud of the Neva as it was swept into the dark. In the dark she put, I am sure, her hand on his arm, and felt his strength and took her small hurried steps beside his long ones. He did not, I expect, feel her hand on his sleeve at all. It was Vera whom he saw through the dusk. Vera watching the door for his return, knowing that his eyes would rush to hers, that every beat of his heart was for her....
I found them all seated at dinner when I entered. I brought them the news of the shooting up at the Nicholas Station.
"Perhaps, we had better not go to the theatre," I said. "A number of people were killed this afternoon, and all the trams are stopped."
Still it was all remote from us. They laughed at the idea of not going to the theatre. The tickets had been bought two weeks ago, and the walk would be pleasant. Of course we would go. It would be fun, too, to see whether anything were happening.
With how strange a clarity I remember the events of that evening. It is detached and hangs by itself among the other events of that amazing time, as though it had been framed and separated for some especial purpose. My impression of the colour of it now is of a scene intensely quiet.
I saw at once on my arrival that Vera was not yet prepared to receive me back into her friendship. And I saw, too, that she included Lawrence in this ostracism. She sat there, stiff and cold, smiling and talking simply because she was compelled, for politeness sake, to do so. She would scarcely speak to me at all, and when I saw this I turned and devoted myself to Uncle Ivan, who was always delighted to make me a testing-ground for his English.
But poor Jerry! Had I not been so anxious lest a scene should burst upon us all I could have laughed at the humour of it. Vera's attitude was a complete surprise to him. He had not seen her during the preceding week, and that absence from her had heightened his desire until it burnt his very throat with its flame. One glance from her, when he came in, would have contented him. He could have rested then, happily, quietly; but instead of that glance she had avoided his eye, her hand was cold and touched his only for an instant. She had not spoken to him again after the first greeting. I am sure that he had never known a time when his feelings threatened to be too much for him. His hold on himself and his emotions had been complete. "These fellers," he once said to me about some Russians, "are always letting their feelings overwhelm them—like women. And they like it. Funny thing!" Well, funny or no, he realised it now; his true education, like Nina's, like Vera's, like Bohun's, like Markovitch's, perhaps like my own, was only now beginning. Funny and pathetic, too, to watch his broad, red, genial face struggling to express a polite interest in the conversation, to show nothing but friendliness and courtesy. His eyes were as restless as minnows; they darted for an instant towards Vera, then darted off again, then flashed back. His hand moved for a plate, and I saw that it was shaking. Poor Jerry! He had learnt what suffering was during those last weeks. But the most silent of us all that evening was Markovitch. He sat huddled over his food and never said a word. If he looked up at all he glowered, and so soon as he had finished eating he returned to his workshop, closing the door behind him. I caught Semyonov looking at him with a pleasant, speculative smile....
At last Vera, Nina, Lawrence, and I started for the theatre. I can't say that I was expecting a very pleasant evening, but the deathlike stillness, both of ourselves and the town did, I confess, startle me. Scarcely a word was exchanged by us between the English Prospect and Saint Isaac's Square. The square looked lovely in the bright moonlight, and I said something about it. It was indeed very fine, the cathedral like a hovering purple cloud, the old sentry in his high peaked hat, the black statue, and the blue shadows over the snow. It was then that Lawrence, with an air of determined strength, detached Vera from us and walked ahead with her. I saw that he was talking eagerly to her.
Nina said, with a little shudder, "Isn't it quiet, Durdles? As though there were ghosts round every corner."
"Hope you enjoyed your walk this afternoon," I said.
"No, it was quiet then. But not like it is now. Let's walk faster and catch the others up. Do you believe in ghosts, Durdles?"
"Yes, I think I do."
"So do I. Was it true, do you think, about the people being shot at the Nicholas Station to-day?"
"Perhaps all the dead people are crowding round here now. Why isn't any one out walking?"
"I suppose they are all frightened by what they've heard, and think it better to stay at home."
We were walking down the Morskaia, and our feet gave out a ringing echo.
"Let's keep up with them," Nina said. When we had joined the others I found that they were both silent—Lawrence very red, Vera pale. We were all feeling rather weary. A woman met us. "You aren't allowed to cross the Nevski," she said; "the Cossacks are stopping everybody." I can see her now, a stout, red-faced woman, a shawl over her head, and carrying a basket. Another woman, a prostitute I should think, came up and joined us.
"What is it?" she asked us.
The stout woman repeated in a trembling, agitated voice, "You aren't allowed to cross the Nevski. The Cossacks are stopping everybody."
The prostitute shook her head in her alarm, and little flakes of powder detached themselves from her nose. "Bozhe moi—bozhe moi!" she said, "and I promised not to be late."
Vera then, very calmly and quietly, took command of the situation. "We'll go and see," she said, "what is really the truth."
We turned up the side street to the Moika Canal, which lay like powdered crystal under the moon. Not a soul was in sight.
There arrived then one of the most wonderful moments of my life. The Nevski Prospect, that broad and mighty thoroughfare, stretched before us like a great silver river. It was utterly triumphantly bare and naked. Under the moon it flowed, with proud tranquillity, so far as the eye could see between its high black banks of silent houses.
At intervals of about a hundred yards the Cossack pickets, like ebony statues on their horses, guarded the way. Down the whole silver expanse not one figure was to be seen; so beautiful was it under the high moon, so still, so quiet, so proud, that it was revealing now for the first time its real splendour. At no time of the night or day is the Nevski deserted. How happy it must have been that night!...
For us, it was as though we hesitated on the banks of a river. I felt a strange superstition, as though something said to me, "You cross that and you are plunged irrevocably into a new order of events. Go home, and you will avoid danger." Nina must have had something of the same feeling, because she said:
"Let's go home. They won't let us cross. I don't want to cross. Let's go home."
But Vera said firmly, "Nonsense! We've gone so far. We've got the tickets. I'm going on."
I felt the note in her voice, superstitiously, as a kind of desperate challenge, as though she had said:
"Well, you see nothing worse can happen to me than has happened."
Lawrence said roughly, "Of course, we're going on."
The prostitute began, in a trembling voice, as though we must all of necessity understand her case:
"I don't want to be late this time, because I've been late so often before.... It always is that way with me... always unfortunate...."
We started across, and when we stepped into the shining silver surface we all stopped for an instant, as though held by an invisible force.
"That's it," said Vera, speaking it seemed to herself. "So it always is with us. All revolutions in Russia end this way—"
An unmounted Cossack came forward to us.
"No hanging about there," he said. "Cross quickly. No one is to delay."
We moved to the other side of the Moika bridge. I thought of the Cossacks yesterday who had assured the people that they would not fire—well, that impulse had passed. Protopopoff and his men had triumphed.
We were all now in the shallows on the other bank of the canal. The prostitute, who was still at our side, hesitated for a moment, as though she were going to speak. I think she wanted to ask whether she might walk with us a little way. Suddenly she vanished without sound, into the black shadows.
"Come along," said Vera. "We shall be dreadfully late." She seemed to be mastered by an overpowering desire not to be left alone with Lawrence. She hurried forward with Nina, and Lawrence and I came more slowly behind. We were now in a labyrinth of little streets and black overhanging flats. Not a soul anywhere—only the moonlight in great broad flashes of light—once or twice a woman hurried by keeping in the shadow. Sometimes, at the far end of the street, we saw the shining, naked Nevski.
Lawrence was silent, then, just as we were turning into the square where the Michailovsky Theatre was he began:
"What's the matter?... What's the matter with her, Durward? What have I done?"
"I don't know that you've done anything," I answered.
"But don't you see?" he went on. "She won't speak to me. She won't look at me. I won't stand this long. I tell you I won't stand it long. I'll make her come off with me in spite of them all. I'll have her to myself. I'll make her happy, Durward, as she's never been in all her life. But I must have her.... I can't live close to her like this, and yet never be with her. Never alone, never alone. Why is she behaving like this to me?"
He spoke really like a man in agony. The words coming from him in little tortured sentences as though they were squeezed from him desperately, with pain at every breath that he drew.
"She's afraid of herself, I expect, not of you." I put my hand on his sleeve. "Lawrence," I said, "go home. Go back to England. This is becoming too much for both of you. Nothing can come of it, but unhappiness for everybody."
"No!" he said. "It's too late for any of your Platonic advice, Durward. I'm going to have her, even though the earth turns upside down."
We went up the steps and into the theatre. There was, of course, scarcely any one there. The Michailovsky is not a large theatre, but the stalls looked extraordinarily desolate, every seat watching one with a kind of insolent wink as though, like the Nevski ten minutes before it said, "Well, now you humans are getting frightened, you're all stopping away. We're coming back to our own!"
There was some such malicious air about the whole theatre. Above, in the circle, the little empty boxes were dim and shadowy, and one fancied figures moved there, and then saw that there was no one. Someone up in the gallery laughed, and the laugh went echoing up and down the empty spaces. A few people came in and sat nervously about, and no one spoke except in a low whisper, because voices sounded so loud and impertinent.
Then again the man in the gallery laughed, and every one looked up frowning. The play began. It was, I think, Les Idees de Francoise, but of that I cannot be sure. It was a farce of the regular French type, with a bedroom off, and marionettes who continually separated into couples and giggled together. The giggling to-night was of a sadly hollow sort. I pitied and admired the actors, spontaneous as a rule, but now bravely stuffing any kind of sawdust into the figures in their hands, but the leakage was terrible, and the sawdust lay scattered all about the stage. The four of us sat as solemn as statues—I don't think one of us smiled. It was during the second Act that I suddenly laughed. I don't know that anything very comic was happening on the stage, but I was aware, with a kind of ironic subconsciousness, that some of the superior spirits in their superior Heaven must be deriving a great deal of fun from our situation. There was Vera thinking, I suppose, of nothing but Lawrence, and Lawrence thinking of nothing but Vera, and Nina thinking of nothing but Lawrence, and the audience thinking of their safety, and the players thinking of their salaries, and Protopopoff at home thinking of his victory, and the Czar in Tsarskoe thinking of his Godsent autocracy, and Europe thinking of its ideals, and Germany thinking of its militarism—all self-justified, all mistaken, and all fulfilling some deeper plan at whose purpose they could not begin to guess. And how intermingled we all were! Vera and Nina, M. Robert and Mdlle. Flori on the other side of the footlights, Trenchard and Marie killed in Galicia, the Kaiser and Hindenburg, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the postmaster of my village in Glebeshire.
The curtain is coming down, the fat husband is deceived once again, the lovers are in the bedroom listening behind the door, the comic waiter is winking at the chamber-maid....
The lights are up and we are alone again in the deserted theatre.
Towards the end of the last interval I went out into the passage behind the stalls to escape from the chastened whispering that went trembling up and down like the hissing of terrified snakes. I leaned against the wall in the deserted passage and watched the melancholy figure of the cloak-room attendant huddled up on a chair, his head between his hands.
Suddenly I saw Vera. She came up to me as though she were going to walk past me, and then she stopped and spoke. She talked fast, not looking at me, but beyond, down the passage.
"I'm sorry, Ivan Andreievitch," she said. "I was cross the other day. I hurt you. I oughtn't to have done that."
"You know," I said, "that I never thought of it for a minute."
"No, I was wrong. But I've been terribly worried during these last weeks. I've thought it all out to-day and I've decided—" there was a catch in her breath and she paused; she went on—"decided that there mustn't be any more weakness. I'm much weaker than I thought. I would be ashamed if I didn't think that shame was a silly thing to have. But now I am quite clear; I must make Nicholas and Nina happy. Whatever else comes I must do that. It has been terrible, these last weeks. We've all been angry and miserable, and now I must put it right. I can if I try. I've been forgetting that I chose my own life myself, and now I mustn't be cowardly because it's difficult. I will make it right myself...."
She paused again, then she said, looking me straight in the face,
"Ivan Andreievitch, does Nina care for Mr. Lawrence?"
She was looking at me, with large black eyes so simply, with such trust in me, that I could only tell her the truth.
"Yes," I said, "she does."
Her eyes fell, then she looked up at me again.
"I thought so," she said. "And does he care for her?"
"No," I said, "he does not."
"He must," she said. "It would be a very happy thing for them to marry."
She spoke very low, so that I could scarcely hear her words.
"Wait, Vera," I said. "Let it alone. Nina's very young. The mood will pass. Lawrence, perhaps, will go back to England."
She drew in her breath and I saw her hand tremble, but she still looked at me, only now her eyes were not so clear. Then she laughed. "I'm getting an old woman, Ivan Andreievitch. It's ridiculous...." She broke off. Then held out her hand.
"But we'll always be friends now, won't we? I'll never be cross with you again."
I took her hand. "I'm getting old too," I said. "And I'm useless at everything. I only make a bungle of everything I try. But I'll be your true friend to the end of my time—"
The bell rang and we went back into the theatre.
And yet, strangely enough, when I lay awake that night in my room on my deserted island, it was of Markovitch that I was thinking. Of all the memories of the preceding evening that of Markovitch huddled over his food, sullen and glowering, with Semyonov watching him, was predominant.
Markovitch was, so to speak, the dark horse of them all, and he was also when one came to look at it all the way round the centre of the story. And yet it was Markovitch with his inconsistencies, his mysteries, his impulses, and purposes, whom I understood least of them all. He makes, indeed, a very good symbol of my present difficulties.
In that earlier experience of Marie in the forests of Galicia the matter had been comparatively easy. I had then been concerned with the outward manifestation of war—cannon, cholera, shell, and the green glittering trees of the forest itself. But the war had made progress since then. It had advanced out of material things into the very souls of men. It was no longer the forest of bark and tinder with which the chiefs of this world had to deal, but, to adapt the Russian proverb itself, "with the dark forest of the hearts of men."
How much more baffling and intangible this new forest, and how deeply serious a business now for those who were still thoughtlessly and selfishly juggling with human affairs.
"There is no ammunition," I remember crying desperately in Galicia. We had moved further than the question of ammunition now.
I had a strange dream that night. I saw my old forest of two years before—the very woods of Buchatch with the hot painted leaves, the purple slanting sunlight, the smell, the cries, the whirr of the shell. But in my dream the only inhabitant of that forest was Markovitch. He was pursued by some animal. What beast it was I could not see, always the actual vision was denied to me, but I could hear it plunging through the thickets, and once I caught a glimpse of a dark crouching body like a shadow against the light.
But Markovitch I saw all the time, sweating with heat and terror, his clothes torn, his eyes inflamed, his breath coming in desperate pants, turning once and again as though he would stop and offer defiance, then hasting on, his face and hands scratched and bleeding. I wanted to offer him help and assistance, but something prevented me; I could not get to him. Finally he vanished from my sight and I was left alone in the painted forest....
All the next morning I sat and wondered what I had better do, and at last I decided that I would go and see Henry Bohun.
I had not seen Bohun for several weeks. I myself had been, of late, less to the flat in the English Prospect, but I knew that he had taken my advice that he should be kind to Nicholas Markovitch with due British seriousness, and that he had been trying to bring some kind of relationship about. He had even asked Markovitch to dine alone with him, and Markovitch, although he declined the invitation was, I believe, greatly touched.
So, about half-past one, I started off for Bohun's office on the Fontanka. I've said somewhere before, I think, that Bohun's work was in connection with the noble but uphill task of enlightening the Russian public as to the righteousness of the war, the British character, and the Anglo-Russian alliance. I say "uphill," because only a few of the real population of Russia showed the slightest desire to know anything whatever about any country outside their own. Their interest is in ideas not in boundaries—and what I mean by "real" will be made patent by the events of this very day. However, Bohun did his best, and it was not his fault that the British Government could only spare enough men and money to cover about one inch of the whole of Russia—and, I hasten to add, that if that same British Government had plastered the whole vast country from Archangel to Vladivostock with pamphlets, orators, and photographs it would not have altered, in the slightest degree, after events.
To make any effect in Russia England needed not only men and money but a hundred years' experience of the country. That same experience was possessed by the Germans alone of all the Western peoples—and they have not neglected to use it.
I went by tram to the Fontanka, and the streets seemed absolutely quiet. That strange shining Nevski of the night before was a dream. Some one in the tram said something about rifle-shots in the Summer Garden, but no one listened. As Vera had said last night we had, none of us, much faith in Russian revolutions.
I went up in the lift to the Propaganda office and found it a very nice airy place, clean and smart, with coloured advertisements by Shepperson and others on the walls, pictures of Hampstead and St. Albans and Kew Gardens that looked strangely satisfactory and homely to me, and rather touching and innocent. There were several young women clicking away at typewriters, and maps of the Western front, and a colossal toy map of the London Tube, and a nice English library with all the best books from Chaucer to D.H. Lawrence and from the Religio Medici to E.V. Lucas' London.
Everything seemed clean and simple and a little deserted, as though the heart of the Russian public had not, as yet, quite found its way there. I think "guileless" was the adjective that came to my mind, and certainly Burrows, the head of the place—a large, red-faced, smiling man with glasses—seemed to me altogether too cheerful and pleased with life to penetrate the wicked recesses of Russian pessimism.
I went into Bohun's room and found him very hard at work in a serious, emphatic way which only made me feel that he was playing at it. He had a little bookcase over his table, and I noticed the Georgian Book of Verse, Conrad's Nostromo, and a translation of Ropshin's Pale Horse.
"Altogether too pretty and literary," I said to him; "you ought to be getting at the peasant with a pitchfork and a hammer—not admiring the Intelligentzia."
"I daresay you're right," he said, blushing. "But whatever we do we're wrong. We have fellows in here cursing us all day. If we're simple we're told we're not clever enough; if we're clever we're told we're too complicated. If we're militant we're told we ought to be tender-hearted, and if we're tender-hearted we're told we're sentimental—and at the end of it all the Russians don't care a damn."
"Well, I daresay you're doing some good somewhere," I said indulgently.
"Come and look at my view," he said, "and see whether it isn't splendid."
He spoke no more than the truth. We looked across the Canal over the roofs of the city—domes and towers and turrets, grey and white and blue, with the dark red walls of many of the older houses stretched like an Arabian carpet beneath white bubbles of clouds that here and there marked the blue sky. It was a scene of intense peace, the smoke rising from the chimneys, Isvostchicks stumbling along on the farther banks of the Canal, and the people sauntering in their usual lazy fashion up and down the Nevski. Immediately below our window was a skating-rink that stretched straight across the Canal. There were some figures, like little dolls, skating up and down, and they looked rather desolate beside the deserted band-stands and the empty seats. On the road outside our door a cart loaded with wood slowly moved along, the high hoop over the horse's back gleaming with red and blue.
"Yes, it is a view!" I said. "Splendid!—and all as quiet as though there'd been no disturbances at all. Have you heard any news?"
"No," said Bohun. "To tell the truth I've been so busy that I haven't had time to ring up the Embassy. And we've had no one in this morning. Monday morning, you know," he added; "always very few people on Monday morning"—as though he didn't wish me to think that the office was always deserted.
I watched the little doll-like men circling placidly round and round the rink. One bubble cloud rose and slowly swallowed up the sun. Suddenly I heard a sharp crack like the breaking of a twig. "What's that?" I said, stepping forward on to the balcony. "It sounded like a shot."
"I didn't hear anything," said Bohun. "You get funny echoes up here sometimes." We stepped back into Bohun's room and, if I had had any anxieties, they would at once, I think, have been reassured by the unemotional figure of Bohun's typist, a gay young woman with peroxide hair, who was typing away as though for her very life.
"Look here, Bohun, can I talk to you alone for a minute?" I asked.
The peroxide lady left us.
"It's just about Markovitch I wanted to ask you," I went on. "I'm infernally worried, and I want your help. It may seem ridiculous of me to interfere in another family like this, with people with whom I have, after all, nothing to do. But there are two reasons why it isn't ridiculous. One is the deep affection I have for Nina and Vera. I promised them my friendship, and now I've got to back that promise. And the other is that you and I are really responsible for bringing Lawrence into the family. They never would have known him if it hadn't been for us. There's danger and trouble of every sort brewing, and Semyonov, as you know, is helping it on wherever he can. Well, now, what I want to know is, how much have you seen of Markovitch lately, and has he talked to you?"
Bohun considered. "I've seen very little of him," he said at last. "I think he avoids me now. He's such a weird bird that it's impossible to tell of what he's really thinking. I know he was pleased when I asked him to dine with me at the Bear the other night. He looked most awfully pleased. But he wouldn't come. It was as though he suspected that I was laying a trap for him."
"But what have you noticed about him otherwise?"
"Well, I've seen very little of him. He's sulky just now. He suspected Lawrence, of course—always after that night of Nina's party. But I think that he's reassured again. And of course it's all so ridiculous, because there's nothing to suspect, absolutely nothing—is there?"
"Absolutely nothing," I answered firmly.
He sighed with relief. "Oh, you don't know how glad I am to hear that," he said. "Because, although I've known that it was all right, Vera's been so odd lately that I've wondered—you know how I care about Vera and—"
"How do you mean—odd?" I sharply interrupted.
"Well—for instance—of course I've told nobody—and you won't tell any one either—but the other night I found her crying in the flat, sitting up near the table, sobbing her heart out. She thought every one was out—I'd been in my room and she hadn't known. But Vera, Durward—Vera of all people! I didn't let her see me—she doesn't know now that I heard her. But when you care for any one as I care for Vera, it's awful to think that she can suffer like that and one can do nothing. Oh, Durward, I wish to God I wasn't so helpless! You know before I came out to Russia I felt so old; I thought there was nothing I couldn't do, that I was good enough for anybody. And now I'm the most awful ass. Fancy, Durward! Those poems of mine—I thought they were wonderful. I thought—"
He was interrupted by a sudden sharp crackle like a fire bursting into a blaze quite close at hand. We both sprang to the windows, threw them open (they were not sealed, for some unknown reason), and rushed out on to the balcony. The scene in front of us was just what it had been before—the bubble clouds were still sailing lazily before the blue, the skaters were still hovering on the ice, the cart of wood that I had noticed was vanishing slowly into the distance. But from the Liteiny—just over the bridge—came a confused jumble of shouts, cries, and then the sharp, unmistakable rattle of a machine-gun. It was funny to see the casual life in front of one suddenly pause at that sound. The doll-like skaters seemed to spin for a moment and then freeze; one figure began to run across the ice. A small boy came racing down our street shouting. Several men ran out from doorways and stood looking up into the sky, as though they thought the noise had come from there. The sun was just setting; the bubble clouds were pink, and windows flashed fire. The rattle of the machine-gun suddenly stopped, and there was a moment's silence when the only sound in the whole world was the clatter of the wood-cart turning the corner. I could see to the right of me the crowds in the Nevski, that had looked like the continual unwinding of a ragged skein of black silk, break their regular movement and split up like flies falling away from an opening door.
We were all on the balcony by now—the stout Burrows, Peroxide, and another lady typist, Watson, the thin and most admirable secretary (he held the place together by his diligence and order), two Russian clerks, Henry, and I.
We all leaned over the railings and looked down into the street beneath us. To our left the Fontanka Bridge was quite deserted—then, suddenly, an extraordinary procession poured across it. At that same moment (at any rate it seems so now to me on looking back) the sun disappeared, leaving a world of pale grey mist shot with gold and purple. The stars were, many of them, already out, piercing with their sharp cold brilliance the winter sky.
We could not at first see of what exactly the crowd now pouring over the bridge was composed. Then, as it turned and came down our street, it revealed itself as something so theatrical and melodramatic as to be incredible. Incredible, I say, because the rest of the world was not theatrical with it. That was always to be the amazing feature of the new scene into which, without knowing it, I was at that moment stepping. In Galicia the stage had been set—ruined villages, plague-stricken peasants, shell-holes, trenches, roads cut to pieces, huge trees levelled to the ground, historic chateaux pillaged and robbed. But here the world was still the good old jog-trot world that one had always known; the shops and hotels and theatres remained as they had always been. There would remain, I believe, for ever those dull Jaeger undergarments in the windows of the bazaar, and the bound edition of Tchekov in the book-shop just above the Moika, and the turtle and the gold-fish in the aquarium near Elisseieff; and whilst those things were there I could not believe in melodrama.
And we did not believe. We dug our feet into the snow, and leaned over the balcony railings absorbed with amused interest. The procession consisted of a number of motor lorries, and on these lorries soldiers were heaped. I can use no other word because, indeed, they seemed to be all piled upon one another, some kneeling forward, some standing, some sitting, and all with their rifles pointing outwards until the lorries looked like hedgehogs. Many of the rifles had pieces of red cloth attached to them, and one lorry displayed proudly a huge red flag that waved high in air with a sort of flaunting arrogance of its own. On either side of the lorries, filling the street, was the strangest mob of men, women, and children. There seemed to be little sign of order or discipline amongst them as they were all shouting different cries: "Down the Fontanka!" "No, the Duma!" "To the Nevski!" "No, no, Tovaristchi (comrades), to the Nicholas Station!"
Such a rabble was it that I remember that my first thought was of pitying indulgence. So this was the grand outcome of Boris Grogoff's eloquence, and the Rat's plots for plunder!—a fitting climax to such vain dreams. I saw the Cossack, that ebony figure of Sunday night. Ten such men, and this rabble was dispersed for ever! I felt inclined to lean over and whisper to them, "Quick! quick! Go home!... They'll be here in a moment and catch you!"
And yet, after all, there seemed to be some show of discipline. I noticed that, as the crowd moved forward, men dropped out and remained picketing the doorways of the street. Women seemed to be playing a large part in the affair, peasants with shawls over their heads, many of them leading by the hand small children.
Burrows treated it all as a huge joke. "By Jove," he cried, speaking across to me, "Durward, it's like that play Martin Harvey used to do—what was it?—about the French Revolution, you know."
"'The Only Way,'" said Peroxide, in a prim strangled voice.
"That's it—'The Only Way'—with their red flags and all. Don't they look ruffians, some of them?"
There was a great discussion going on under our windows. All the lorries had drawn up together, and the screaming, chattering, and shouting was like the noise of a parrots' aviary. The cold blue light had climbed now into the sky, which was thick with stars; the snow on the myriad roofs stretched like a filmy cloud as far as the eye could see. The moving, shouting crowd grew with every moment mistier.
"Oh, dear! Mr. Burrows," said the little typist, who was not Peroxide. "Do you think I shall ever be able to get home? We're on the other side of the river, you know. Do you think the bridges will be up? My mother will be so terribly anxious."
"Oh, you'll get home all right," answered Burrows cheerfully. "Just wait until this crowd has gone by. I don't expect there's any fuss down by the river..."
His words were cut short by some order from one of the fellows below. Others shouted in response, and the lorries again began to move forward.
"I believe he was shouting to us," said Bohun. "It sounded like 'Get off' or 'Get away.'"
"Not he!" said Burrows; "they're too busy with their own affairs."
Then things happened quickly. There was a sudden strange silence below; I saw a quick flame from some fire that had apparently been lit on the Fontanka Bridge; I heard the same voice call out once more sharply, and a second later I felt rather than heard a whizz like the swift flight of a bee past my ear; I was conscious that a bullet had struck the brick behind me. That bullet swung me into the Revolution....
...We were all gathered together in the office. I heard one of the Russians say in an agitated whisper, "Don't turn on the light!... Don't turn on the light! They can see!"
We were all in half-darkness, our faces mistily white. I could hear Peroxide breathing in a tremulous manner, as though in a moment she would break into hysteria.
"We'll go into the inside room. We can turn the light on there," said Burrows. We all passed into the reception-room of the office, a nice airy place with the library along one wall and bright coloured maps on the other. We stood together and considered the matter.
"It's real!" said Burrows, his red, cheery face perplexed and strained. "Who'd have thought it?"
"Of course it's real!" cried Bohun impatiently (Burrows' optimism had been often difficult to bear with indulgence).
"Now you see! What about your beautiful Russian mystic now?"
"Oh dear!" cried the little Russian typist. "And my mother!... What ever shall I do? She'll hear reports and think that I'm being murdered. I shall never get across."
"You'd better stay with me to-night, Miss Peredonov," said Peroxide firmly. "My flat's quite close here in Gagarinsky. We shall be delighted to have you."
"You can telephone to your mother, Miss Peredonov," said Burrows. "No difficulty at all."
It was then that Bohun took me aside.
"Look here!" he said. "I'm worried. Vera and Nina were going to the Astoria to have tea with Semyonov this afternoon. I should think the Astoria might be rather a hot spot if this spreads. And I wouldn't trust Semyonov. Will you come down with me there now?"
"Yes," I said, "of course I'll come."
We said a word to Burrows, put on our Shubas and goloshes, and started down the stairs. At every door there were anxious faces. Out of one flat came a very fat Jew.
"Gentlemen, what is this all about?"
"Riots," said Bohun.
"Is there shooting?"
"Yes," said Bohun.
"Bozhe moi! Bozhe moi! And I live over on Vassily Ostrov! What do you advise, Gaspoda? Will the bridges be up?"
"Very likely," I answered. "I should stay here."
"And they are shooting?" he asked again.
"They are," I answered.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen—stay for a moment. Perhaps together we could think.... I am all alone here except for a lady... most unfortunate...."
But we could not stay.
The world into which we stepped was wonderful. The background of snow under the star-blazing sky made it even more fantastic than it naturally was. We slipped into the crowd and, becoming part of it, were at once, as one so often is, sympathetic with it. It seemed such a childish, helpless, and good-natured throng. No one seemed to know anything of arms or directions. There were, as I have already said, many women and little children, and some of the civilians who had rifles looked quite helpless. I saw one boy holding his gun upside down. No one paid any attention to us. There was as yet no class note in the demonstration, and the only hostile cries I heard were against Protopopoff and the police. We moved back into the street behind the Fontanka, and here I saw a wonderful sight. Some one had lighted a large bonfire in the middle of the street and the flames tossed higher and higher into the air, bringing down the stars in flights of gold, flinging up the snow until it seemed to radiate in lines and circles of white light high over the very roofs of the houses. In front of the fire a soldier, mounted on a horse, addressed a small crowd of women and boys. On the end of his rifle was a ragged red cloth.
I could not see his face. I saw his arms wave, and the fire behind him exaggerated his figure and then dropped it into a straggling silhouette against the snow. The street seemed deserted except for this group, although now I could hear distant shouting on every side of me, and the monotonous clap-clap-clap-clap of a machine-gun.
I heard him say, "Tovaristchi! now is your time! Don't hesitate in the sacred cause of freedom! As our brethren did in the famous days of the French Revolution, so must we do now. All the Army is coming over to our side. The Preobrojenski have come over to us and have arrested their officers and taken their arms. We must finish with Protopopoff and our other tyrants, and see that we have a just rule. Tovaristchi! there will never be such a chance again, and you will repent for ever if you have not played your part in the great fight for freedom!"
So it went on. It did not seem that his audience was greatly impressed. It was bewildered and dazed. But the fire leapt up behind him giving him a legendary splendour, and the whole picture was romantic and unreal like a gaudy painting on a coloured screen.
We hurried through into the Nevski, and this we found nearly deserted. The trams of course had stopped, a few figures hurried along, and once an Isvostchick went racing down towards the river.
"Well, now, we seem to be out of it," said Bohun, with a sigh of relief. "I must say I'm not sorry. I don't mind France, where you can tell which is the front and which the back, but this kind of thing does get on one's nerves. I daresay it's only local. We shall find them all as easy as anything at the Astoria, and wondering what we're making a fuss about."