But indeed by this time the soldiers themselves had begun to roam about on their own account. Nina remembers one soldier in especial—a large dirty fellow with ragged moustache—who quite frankly terrified her. He seemed to regard her with particular satisfaction, staring at her, and, as it were, licking his lips over her. He wandered about the room fingering things, and seemed to be immensely interested in Nicholas's little den, peering through the glass window that there was in the door and rubbing the glass with his finger. He presently pushed the door open and soon they were all in there.
Then a characteristic thing occurred. Apparently Nicholas's inventions—his little pieces of wood and bark and cloth, his glass bottles, and tubes—seemed to them highly suspicious. There was laughter at first, and then sudden silence. Nina could see part of the room through the open door and she watched them as they gathered round the little table, talking together in excited whispers. The tall, rough-looking fellow who had frightened her before picked up one of the tubes, and then, whether by accident or intention, let it fall, and the tinkling smash of the glass frightened them all so precipitately that they came tumbling out into the larger room. The big fellow whispered something to the student, who at once became more self-important than ever, and said very seriously to Vera:
"That is your husband's room, Madame, I understand?"
"Yes," said Vera quietly, "he does his work in there."
"What kind of work?"
"He is an inventor."
"An inventor of what?"
"Various things.... He is working at present on something to do with the making of cloth."
Unfortunately this serious view of Nicholas's inventions suddenly seemed to Nina so ridiculous that she tittered. She could have done nothing more regrettable. The student obviously felt that his dignity was threatened. He looked at her very severely:
"This is no laughing matter," he said. He himself then got up and went into the inner room. He was there for some time, and they could hear him fingering the tubes and treading on the broken glass. He came out again at last.
He was seriously offended.
"You should have told us your husband was an inventor."
"I didn't think it was of importance," said Vera.
"Everything is of importance," he answered. The atmosphere was now entirely changed. The soldiers were angry—they had, it seemed, been deceived and treated like children. The melancholy fellow with the black beard looked at Vera with eyes of deep reproach.
"When will your husband return?" asked the student.
"I am afraid I don't know," said Vera. She realised that the situation was now serious, but she could not keep her mind upon it. In that house on the Quay what was happening? What had, perhaps, already happened?...
"Where has he gone?"
"I don't know."
"Why didn't he tell you where he was going?"
"He often does not tell me."
"Ah, that is wrong. In these days one should always say where one is going."
He stood up very stiff and straight. "Search the house," he said to his men.
Suddenly then Vera's mind concentrated. It was as though, she told me "I came back into the room and saw for the first time what was happening."
"There is no one in the rest of the flat," she said, "and nothing that can interest you."
"That is for me to judge," said the little officer grimly.
"But I assure you there is nothing," she went on eagerly. "There is only the kitchen and the bath-room and the five bedrooms."
"Whose bedrooms?" said the officer.
"My husband's, my own, my sister's, my uncle's, and an Englishman's," she answered, colouring a little.
"Nevertheless we must do our duty.... Search the house," he repeated.
"But you must not go into our bedrooms," she said, her voice rising. "There is nothing for you there. I am sure you will respect our privacy."
"Our orders must be obeyed," he answered angrily.
"But—" she cried.
"Silence, Madame," he said, furiously, staring at her as though she were his personal, deadly enemy.
"Very well," said Vera proudly. "Please do as you wish."
The officer walked past her with his head up, and the soldiers followed him, their eyes malicious and inquisitive and excited. The sisters stood together waiting. Of course the end had come. They simply stood there fastening their resolution to the extreme moment.
"I must go with them," said Vera. She followed them into her bedroom. It was a very little place and they filled it, they looked rather sheepish now, whispering to one another.
"What's in there?" said the officer, tapping the cupboard.
"Only some clothes," said Vera.
"Open it!" he ordered.
Then the world did indeed stand still. The clock ceased to tick, the little rumble in the stove was silenced, the shuffling feet of one of the soldiers stayed, the movement of some rustle in the wall paper was held. The world was frozen.
"Now I suppose we shall all be shot," was Vera's thought, repeated over and over again with a ludicrous monotony. Then she could see nothing but the little policeman, tumbling out of the cupboard, dishevelled and terrified. Terrified! what that look in his eyes would be! That at any rate she could not face and she turned her head away from them, looking out through the door into the dark little passage.
She heard as though from an infinite distance the words:
"Well, there's nobody there."
She did not believe him of course. He said that whoever he was, to test her, to tempt her to give herself away. But she was too clever for them. She turned back and faced them, and then saw, to the accompaniment of an amazement that seemed like thunder in her ears, that the cupboard was indeed empty.
"There is nobody," said the black-bearded soldier.
The student looked rather ashamed of himself. The white clothes, the skirts, and the blouses in the cupboard reproached him.
"You will of course understand, Madame," he said stiffly, "that the search was inevitable. Regrettable but necessary. I'm sure you will see that for your own satisfaction...."
"You are assured now that there is no one here?" Vera interrupted him coldly.
"Assured," he answered.
But where was the man? She felt as though she were in some fantastic nightmare in which nothing was as it seemed. The cupboard was not a cupboard, the policeman not a policeman....
"There is the kitchen," she said.
In the kitchen of course they found nothing. There was a large cupboard in one corner but they did not look there. They had had enough. They returned into the dining-room and there, looking very surprised, his head very high above his collar was Markovitch.
"What does this mean?" he asked.
"I regret extremely," said the officer pompously. "I have been compelled to make a search. Duty only... I regret. But no one is here. Your flat is at liberty. I wish you good-afternoon."
Before Markovitch could ask further questions the room was emptied of them all. They tramped out, laughing and joking, children again, the hall door closed behind them.
Nina clutched Vera's arm.
"Vera.... Vera, where is he?"
"I don't know," said Vera.
"What's all this?" asked Nicholas.
They explained to him but he scarcely seemed to hear. He was radiant—smiling in a kind of ecstasy.
"They have gone? I am safe?"
In the doorway was the little policeman, black with grime and dust, so comical a figure that in reaction from the crisis of ten minutes before, they laughed hysterically.
"Oh look! look!..." cried Nina. "How dirty he is!"
"Where have you been?" asked Vera. "Why weren't you in the cupboard?"
The little man's teeth were chattering, so that he could scarcely speak....
"I heard them in the other room. I knew that the cupboard would be the first place. I slipped into the kitchen and hid in the fireplace."
"You're not angry, Nicholas?" Vera asked. "We couldn't send him out to be shot."
"What does that matter?" he almost impatiently brushed it aside. "There are other things more important." He looked at the trembling dirty figure. "Only you'd better go back and hide again until it's dark. They might come back...."
He caught Vera by the arm. His eyes were flames. He drew her with him back into her little room. He closed the door.
"The Revolution has come—it has really come," he cried.
"Yes," she answered, "it has come into this very house. The world has changed."
"The Czar has abdicated.... The old world has gone, the old wicked world! Russia is born again!"
His eyes were the eyes of a fanatic.
Her eyes, too, were alight. She gazed past him.
"I know—I know," she whispered as though to herself.
"Russia—Russia," he went on coming closer and closer, "Russia and you. We will build a new world. We will forget our old troubles. Oh, Vera, my darling, my darling, we're going to be happy now! I love you so. And now I can hope again. All our love will be clean in this new world. We're going to be happy at last!"
But she did not hear him. She saw into space. A great exultation ran through her body. All lost for love! At last she was awakened, at last she lived, at last, at last, she knew what love was.
"I love him! I love him... him," her soul whispered. "And nothing now in this world or the next can separate us."
"Vera—Vera," Nicholas cried, "we are together at last—as we have never been. And now we'll work together again—for Russia."
She looked at the man whom she had never loved, with a great compassion and pity. She put her arms around him and kissed him, her whole maternal spirit suddenly aware of him and seeking to comfort him.
At the touch of her lips his body trembled with happiness. But he did not know that it was a kiss of farewell....
I have no idea at all what Lawrence did during the early days of that week. He has never told me, and I have never asked him. He never, with the single exception of the afternoon at the Astoria, came near the Markovitches, and I know that was because he had now reached a stage where he did not dare trust himself to see Vera—just as she at that time did not trust herself to see him....
I do not know what he thought of those first days of the Revolution. I can imagine that he took it all very quietly, doing his duty and making no comment. He had of course his own interest in it, but it would be, I am sure, an entirely original interest, unlike any one else's. I remember Dune once, in the long-dead days, saying to me, "It's never any use guessing what Lawrence is thinking. When you think it's football it's Euripides, and when you think it's Euripides it's Marie Corelli." Of all the actors in this affair he remains to me to the last as the most mysterious. I know that he loved Vera with the endurance of the rock, the heat of the flame, the ruthlessness of a torrent, but behind that love there sat the man himself, invisible, silent, patient, watching.
He may have had Semyonov's contempt for the Revolutionary idealist, he may have had Wilderling's belief in the Czar's autocracy, he may have had Boris Grogoff's enthusiasm for freedom and a general holiday. I don't know. I know nothing at all about it. I don't think that he saw much of the Wilderlings during the earlier part of the week. He himself was a great deal with the English Military Mission, and Wilderling was with his party whatever that might be. He could see of course that Wilderling was disturbed, or perhaps indignant is the right word. "As though you know," he said, "some dirty little boy had been pullin' snooks at him." Nevertheless the Baroness was the human link. Lawrence would see from the first—that is, from the morning of the Sunday—that she was in an agony of horror. She confided in nobody, but went about as though she was watching for something, and at dinner her eyes never left her husband's face for a moment. Those evening meals must have been awful. I can imagine the dignity, the solemn heavy room with all the silver, the ceremonious old man-servant and Wilderling himself behaving as though nothing at all were the matter. To do him all justice he was as brave as a lion, and as proud as a gladiator, and as conceited as a Prussian. On the Wednesday evening he did not return home. He telephoned that he was kept on important business.
The Baroness and Lawrence had the long slow meal together. It was almost more than Jerry could stand having, of course, his own private tortures to face. "It was as though the old lady felt that she had been deputed to support the honour of the family during her husband's absence. She must have been wild with anxiety, but she showed no sign except that her hand trembled when she raised her glass."
"What did you talk about?" I asked him.
"Oh, about anything! Theatres and her home, when she was a girl and England.... Awful, every minute of it!"
There was a moment towards the end of the meal, when the good lady nearly broke down. The bell in the hall rang and there was a step; she thought it was her husband and half rose. It was, however, the Dvornik with a message of no importance. She gave a little sigh. "Oh, I do wish he would come!... I do wish he would come!" she murmured to herself.
"Oh, he'll come," Lawrence reassured her, but she seemed indignant with him for having overheard her. Afterwards, sitting together desolately in the magnificent drawing-room, she became affectionately maternal. I have always wondered why Lawrence confided to me the details of their very intimate conversation. It was exactly the kind of thing he was most reticent about.
She asked him about his home, his people, his ambitions. She had asked him about these things before, but to-night there was an appeal in her questions, as though she said:
"Take my mind off that other thing. Help me to forget, if it's only for a moment."
"Have you ever been in love?" she asked.
"Yes. Once," he said.
"Was he in love now?"
"With some one in Russia?"
She hoped that he would be happy. He told her that he didn't think happiness was quite the point in this particular case. There were other things more important—and, anyway, it was inevitable.
"He had fallen in love at first sight?"
"Yes. The very first moment."
She sighed. So had she. It was, she thought, the only real way. She asked him whether it might not, after all, turn out better than he expected.
No, he did not think that it could. But he didn't mind how it turned out—at least he couldn't look that far. The point was that he was in it, up to the neck, and he was never going to be out of it again.
There was something boyish about that that pleased her. She put her plump hand on his knee and told him how she had first met the Baron, down in the South, at Kieff, how grand he had looked; how, seeing her across a room full of people, he had smiled at her before he had ever spoken to her or knew her name. "I was quite pretty then," she added. "I have never regretted our marriage for a single moment," she said. "Nor, I know, has he."
"We hoped there would he children...." She gave a pathetic little gesture. "We will get away down to the South again as soon as the troubles are over," she ended.
I don't suppose he was thinking much of her—his mind was on Vera all the time—but after he had left her and lay in bed, sleepless, his mind dwelt on her affectionately, and he thought that he would like to help her. He realised, quite clearly, that Wilderling was in a very dangerous position, but I don't think that it ever occurred to him for a moment that it would be wise for him to move to another flat.
On the next day, Thursday, Lawrence did not return until the middle of the afternoon. The town was, by now, comparatively quiet again. Numbers of the police had been caught and imprisoned, some had been shot and others were in hiding; most of the machine-guns shooting from the roofs had ceased. The abdication of the Czar had already produced the second phase of the Revolution—the beginning of the struggle between the Provisional Government and the Council of Workmen and Soldiers' Deputies, and this was proceeding, for the moment, inside the walls of the Duma rather than in the streets and squares of the town. Lawrence returned, therefore, that afternoon with a strange sense of quiet and security.
"It was almost, you know, as though this tommy-rot about a White Revolution might be true after all—with this jolly old Duma and their jolly old Kerensky runnin' the show. Of course I'd seen the nonsense about their not salutin' the officers and all that, but I didn't think any fellers alive would be such dam fools.... I might have known better."
He let himself into the flat and found there a death-like stillness—no one about and no sound except the tickings of the large clock in the drawing-room.
He wandered into that horribly impressive place and suddenly sat down on the sofa with a realisation of extreme physical fatigue. He didn't know why he was so tired, he had felt quite "bobbish" all the week; suddenly now his limbs were like water, he had a bad ache down his spine and his legs were as heavy as lead. He sat in a kind of trance on that sofa, he was not asleep, but he was also, quite certainly, not awake. He wondered why the place was so "beastly still" after all the noise there had been all the week. There was no one left alive—every one dead—except himself and Vera... Vera... Vera.
Then he was conscious that some one was looking at him through the double-doors. At first he didn't realise who it was, the face was so white and the figure so quiet, then, pulling himself together, he saw that it was the old servant.
"What is it, Andre?" he asked, sitting up.
The old man didn't answer, but came into the room, carefully closing the door behind him. Lawrence saw that he was trembling with fright, but was still endeavouring to behave with dignity.
"Barin! Barin!" he whispered, as though Lawrence were a long way from him. "Paul Konstantinovitch! (that was Wilderling). He's mad.... He doesn't know what he's doing. Oh, sir, stop him, stop him, or we shall all be murdered!"
"What is he doing?" asked Lawrence, standing up.
"In the little hack room," Andre whispered, as though now he were confiding a terrible secret. "Come quickly...!"
Lawrence followed him; when he had gone a few steps down the passage he heard suddenly a sharp, muffled report.
Andre came close to him, his old, seamed face white like plaster.
"He has a rifle in there..." he said. "He's shooting at them!" Then as Lawrence stepped up to the door of the little room that was Wilderling's dressing-room, Andre caught his arm—.
"Be careful, Barin.... He doesn't know what he's about. He may not recognise you."
"Oh, that's all right!" said Lawrence. He pushed the door open and walked in. To give for a moment his own account of it: "You know that room was the rummiest thing. I'd never been into it before. I knew the old fellow was a bit of a dandy, but I never expected to see all the pots and jars and glasses there were. You'd have thought one wouldn't have noticed a thing at such a time, but you couldn't escape them,—his dressing-table simply covered,—white round jars with pink tops, bottles of hair-oil with ribbons round the neck, manicure things, heaps of silver things, and boxes with Chinese patterns on them, and one thing, open, with what was mighty like rouge in it. And clothes all over the place—red silk dressing-gown with golden tassels, and red leather slippers!
"I don't remember noticing any of this at the moment, but it all comes back to me as soon as I begin to think of it—and the room stank of scent!"
But of course it was the old man in the corner who mattered. It was, I think, very significant of Lawrence's character and his unEnglish-English tradition that the first thing that he felt was the pathos of it. No other Englishman in Petrograd would have seen that at all.
Wilderling was crouched in the corner against a piece of gold Japanese embroidery. He was in the shadow, away from the window, which was pushed open sufficiently to allow the muzzle of the rifle to slip between the woodwork and the pane. The old man, his white hair disordered, his clothes dusty, and his hands grimy, crept forward just as Lawrence entered, fired down into the side-street, then moved swiftly back into his corner again. He muttered to himself without ceasing in French, "Chiens! Chiens!... Chiens!" He was very hot, and he stopped for a moment to wipe the sweat from his forehead, then he saw Lawrence.
"What do you want?" he asked, as though he didn't recognize him.
Lawrence moved down the side of the room, avoiding the window. He touched the little man's arm.
"I say, you know," he said, "this won't do."
Wilderling smelt of gunpowder, and he was breathing hard as though he had been running desperately. He quivered when Lawrence touched him.
"Go away!" he said, "you mustn't come here.... I'll get them yet—I tell you I'll get them yet—I tell you I'll get them—Let them dare... Chiens... Chiens..." He jerked his rifle away from the window and began, with trembling fingers, to load it again.
Lawrence gripped his arm. "When I did that," he said, "it felt as though there wasn't an arm there at all, but just a bone which I could break if I pressed a bit harder."
"Come away!" he said. "You damn fool—don't you see that it's hopeless?"
"And I'd always been so respectful to him...." he added in parenthesis.
Wilderling hissed at him, saying no words, just drawing in his breath.
"I've got two of them," he whispered suddenly. "I'll get them all."
Then a bullet crashed through the window, burying itself in the opposite wall.
After that things happened so quickly that it was impossible to say in what order they occurred. There was suddenly a tremendous noise in the flat.
"It was just as though the whole place was going to tumble about our ears. All the pots and bottles began to jump about, and then another bullet came through, landed on the dressing-table, and smashed everything. The looking-glass crashed, and the hair-oil was all over the place. I rushed out to see what was happening in the hall...."
What "was happening" was that the soldiers had broken the hall door in. Lawrence saw then a horrible thing. One of the men rushed forward and stuck Andre, who was standing, paralysed, by the drawing-room door, in the stomach. The old man cried out "just like a shot rabbit," and stood there "for what seemed ages," with the blood pouring out of his middle.
That finished Lawrence. He rushed forward, and they would certainly have "stuck" him too if someone hadn't cried out, "Look out, he's an Englishman—an Anglichanin—I know him."
After that, for a time, he was uncertain of anything. He struggled; he was held. He heard noises around him—shouts or murmurs or sighs—that didn't seem to him to be connected with anything human. He could not have said where he was nor what he was doing. Then, quite suddenly, everything cleared. He came to himself with a consciousness of that utter weariness that he had felt before. He was able to visualise the scene, to take it all in, but as a distant spectator. "It was like nothing so much as watching a cinematograph," he told me. He could do nothing; he was held by three soldiers, who apparently wished him to be a witness of the whole affair. Andre's body lay there, huddled up in a pool of drying blood, that glistened under the electric light. One of his legs was bent crookedly under him, and Lawrence had a strange mad impulse to thrust his way forward and put it straight.
It was then, with a horrible sickly feeling, exactly like a blow in the stomach, that he realised that the Baroness was there. She was standing, quite alone, at the entrance of the hall, looking at the soldiers, who were about eight in number.
He heard her say, "What's happened? Who are you?..." and then in a sharper, more urgent voice, "Where's my husband?"
Then she saw Andre.... She gave a sharp little cry, moved forward towards him, and stopped.
"I don't know what she did then," said Lawrence. "I think she suddenly began to run down the passage. I know she was crying, 'Paul! Paul! Paul!'... I never saw her again."
The officer—an elderly kindly-looking man like a doctor or a lawyer (I am trying to give every possible detail, because I think it important)—then came up to Lawrence and asked him some questions:
"What was his name?"
"Jeremy Ralph Lawrence."
"He was an Englishman."
"Working at the British Embassy?"
"No, at the British Military Mission."
"He was officer?"
"In the British Army?"
"Yes. He had fought for two years in France."
"He had been lodging with Baron Wilderling?"
"Yes. Ever since he came to Russia."
The officer nodded his head. They knew about him, had full information. A friend of his, a Mr. Boris Grogoff, had spoken of him.
The officer was then very polite, told him that they regretted extremely the inconvenience and discomfort to which he might be put, but that they must detain him until this affair was concluded—"which will be very soon" added the officer. He also added that he wished Lawrence to be a witness of what occurred so that he should see that, under the new regime in Russia, everything was just and straightforward.
"I tried to tell him," said Lawrence to me, "that Wilderling was off his head. I hadn't the least hope, of course.... It was all quite clear, and, at such a time, quite just. Wilderling had been shooting them out of his window.... The officer listened very politely, but when I had finished he only shook his head. That was their affair he said.
"It was then that I realised Wilderling. He was standing quite close to me. He had obviously been struggling a bit, because his shirt was all torn, and you could see his chest. He kept moving his hand and trying to pull his shirt over; it was his only movement. He was as straight as a dart, and except for the motion of his hand as still as a statue, standing between the soldiers, looking directly in front of him. He had been mad in that other room, quite dotty.
"He was as sane as anything now, grave and serious and rather ironical, just as he always looked. Well it was at that moment, when I saw him there, that I thought of Vera. I had been thinking of her all the time of course. I had been thinking of nothing else for weeks. But that minute, there in the hall, settled me. Callous, wasn't it? I ought to have been thinking only of Wilderling and his poor old wife. After all, they'd been awfully good to me. She'd been almost like a mother all the time.... But there it was. It came over me like a storm. I'd been fighting for nights and days and days and nights not to go to her—fighting like hell, trying to play the game the sentimentalists would call it. I suppose seeing the old man there and knowing what they were going to do to him settled it. It was a sudden conviction, like a blow, that all this thing was real, that they weren't playing at it, that any one in the town was as near death as winking.... And so there it was! Vera! I'd got to get to her—at once—and never leave her again until she was safe. I'd got to get to her! I'd got to get to her! I'd got to get to her!... Nothing else mattered. Not Wilderling's death nor mine either, except that if I was dead I'd be out of it and wouldn't be able to help her. They talk about men with one idea. From that moment I had only one idea in all the world—I don't know that I've had any other one since. They talk about scruples, moralities, traditions. They're all right, but there just are moments in life when they simply don't count at all.... Vera was in danger—Well, that was all that mattered.
"The officer said something to Wilderling. I heard Wilderling answer: "You're rebels against His Majesty.... I wish I'd shot more of you!" Fine old boy, you know, whatever way you look at it.
"They moved him forward then. He went quite willingly, without any kind of resistance. They motioned to me to follow. We walked out of the flat down the stairs, no one saying a word. We went out on to the Quay. There was no one there. They stood him up against the wall, facing the river. It was dark, and when he was against the wall he seemed to vanish,—only I got one kind of gesture, a sort of farewell, you know, his grey hair waving in the breeze from the river.
"There was a report, and it was as though a piece of the wall slowly unsettled itself and fell forward. No sound except the report. Oh, he was a fine old boy!
"The officer came up to me and said very politely:
"'You are free now, sir,' and something about regretting incivility, and something, I think, about them perhaps wanting me again to give some sort of evidence. Very polite he was.
"I was mad, I suppose, I don't know. I believe I said something to him about Vera, which of course he didn't understand.
"I know I wanted to run like hell to Vera to see that she was safe.
"But I didn't. I walked off as slowly as anything. It was awful. They'd been so good to me, and yet I wasn't thinking of Wilderling at all...."
Markovitch on that same afternoon came back to the flat early. He also, like Lawrence, felt the strange peace and tranquillity of the town, and it seemed inevitably like the confirmation of all his dearest hopes. The Czar was gone, the Old Regime was gone, the people, smiling and friendly, were maintaining their own discipline—above all, Vera had kissed him.
He did not go deeper into his heart and see how strained all their recent relations must have been for this now to give him such joy. He left that—it simply was that at last he and Vera understood one another, she had found that she cared for him after all, and that he was necessary to her happiness. What that must mean for their future life together he simply dared not think.... It would change the world for him. He felt like the man in the story from whom the curse is suddenly lifted....
He walked home through the quiet town, humming to himself. He fancied that there was a warmth in the air, a strange kindly omen of spring, although the snow was still thick on the ground, and the Neva a grey carpet of ice.
He came into the flat and found it empty. He went into his little room and started on his inventions. He was so happy that he hummed to himself as he worked and cut slices off his pieces of wood, and soaked flannel in bottles, and wrote funny little sentences in his abominable handwriting in a red notebook.
One need not grudge it him, poor Markovitch. It was the last happy half-hour of his life.
He did not turn on his green-shaded lamp, but sat there in the gathering dusk, chipping up the wood and sometimes stopping, idly lost in happy thoughts.
Some one came in. He peered through his little glass window and saw that it was Nina. She passed quickly through the dining-room, beyond, towards her bedroom, without stopping to switch on the light.
Nina had broken the spell. He went back to his table, but he couldn't work now, and he felt vaguely uneasy and cold. He was just going to leave his work and find the Retch and settle down to a comfortable read, when he heard the hall door close. He stood behind his little glass window and watched; it was Vera, perhaps... it must be... his heart began eagerly to beat.
It was Vera. At once he saw that she was strangely agitated. Before she had switched on the light he realised it. With a click the light was on. Markovitch had intended to open his door and go out to her, smiling. He saw at once that she was waiting for some one.... He stood, trembling, on tiptoe, his face pressed against the glass of the pane.
Lawrence came in. He had the face, Markovitch told me many weeks afterwards, "of a triumphant man."
They had obviously met outside, because Vera said, as though continuing a conversation:
"And it's only just happened?"
"I've come straight from there," Lawrence answered.
Then he went up to her. She let herself at once go to him and he half carried her to a chair near the table and exactly opposite Markovitch's window.
They kissed "like people who had been starving all their lives." Markovitch was trembling so that he was afraid lest he should tumble or make some noise. The two figures in the chair were like statues in their immobile, relentless, unswerving embrace.
Suddenly he saw that Nina was standing in the opposite doorway "like a ghost." She was there for so brief a moment that he could not be sure that she had been there at all. Only her white, frightened face remained with him.
One of his thoughts was:
"This is the end of my life."
"How could they be so careless, with the light on, and perhaps people in the flat!"
And after that:
"They need it so much that they don't care who sees—Starved people...."
And after that:
"I'm starved too."
He was so cold that his teeth were chattering, and he crept back from his window, crept into the farthest farthest corner of his little room, and crouched there on the floor, staring and staring, but seeing nothing at all.
MARKOVITCH AND SEMYONOV
MARKOVITCH AND SEMYONOV.
On the evening of that very afternoon, Thursday, I again collapsed. I was coming home in the dusk through a whispering world. All over the streets, everywhere on the broad shining snow, under a blaze of stars so sharp and piercing that the sky seemed strangely close and intimate, the talk went on. Groups everywhere and groups irrespective of all class distinction—a well-to-do woman in rich furs, a peasant woman with a shawl over her head, a wild, bearded soldier, a stout, important officer, a maid-servant, a cab-driver, a shopman—talking, talking, talking, talking.... The eagerness, the ignorance, the odd fairy-tale world spun about those groups, so that the coloured domes of the churches, the silver network of the stars, the wooden booths, the mist of candles before the Ikons, the rough painted pictures on the shops advertising the goods sold within—all these things shared in that crude idealistic, cynical ignorance, in that fairy-tale of brutality, goodness, cowardice, and bravery, malice and generosity, superstition and devotion that was so shortly to be offered to a materialistic, hard-fighting, brave and unthinking Europe!...
That, however, was not now my immediate business—enough of that presently. My immediate business, as I very quickly discovered, was to pluck up enough strength to drag my wretched body home. The events of the week had, I suppose, carried me along. I was to suffer now the inevitable reaction. I felt exactly as though I had been shot from a gun and landed, suddenly, without breath, without any strength in any of my limbs in a new and strange world. I was standing, when I first realised my weakness, beside the wooden booths in the Sadovaya. They were all closed of course, but along the pavement women and old men had baskets containing sweets and notepaper and red paper tulips offered in memory of the glorious Revolution. Right across the Square the groups of people scattered in little dusky pools against the snow, until they touched the very doors of the church.... I saw all this, was conscious that the stars and the church candles mingled... then suddenly I had to clutch the side of the booth behind me to prevent myself from falling. My head swam, my limbs were as water, and my old so well-remembered friend struck me in the middle of the spine as though he had cut me in two with his knife. How was I ever to get home? No one noticed me—indeed they seemed to my sick eyes to have ceased to be human. Ghosts in a ghostly world, the snow gleaming through them so that they only moved like a thin diaphanous veil against the wall of the sky... I clutched my booth. In a moment I should be down. The pain in my back was agony, my legs had ceased to exist, and I was falling into a dark, dark pool of clear jet-black water, at the bottom of which lay a star....
The strange thing is that I do not know who it was who rescued me. I know that some one came. I know that to my own dim surprise an Isvostchick was there and that very feebly I got into it. Some one was with me. Was it my black-bearded peasant? I fancy now that it was. I can even, on looking back, see him sitting up, very large and still, one thick arm holding me. I fancy that I can still smell the stuff of his clothes. I fancy that he talked to me, very quietly, reassuring me about something. But, upon my word, I don't know. One can so easily imagine what one wants to be true, and now I want, more than I would then ever have believed to be possible, to have had actual contact with him. It is the only conversation between us that can ever have existed: never, before or after, was there another opportunity. And in any case there can scarcely have been a conversation, because I certainly said nothing, and I cannot remember anything that he said, if indeed he said anything at all. At any rate I was there in the Sadovaya, I was in a cab, I was in my bed. The truth of the rest of it any one may decide for himself....
That Thursday was March 15. I was conscious of my existence again on Sunday, April 1st. I opened my eyes and saw that there was a thaw. That was the first thing of which I was aware—that water was apparently dripping on every side of me. It is a strange sensation to lie on your bed very weak, and very indifferent, and to feel the world turning to moisture all about you.... My ramshackle habitation had never been a very strong defence against the outside world. It seemed now to have definitely decided to abandon the struggle. The water streamed down the panes of my window opposite my bed. One patch of my ceiling (just above my only bookcase, confound it!) was coloured a mouldy grey, and from this huge drops like elephant's tears, splashed monotonously. (Already The Spirit of Man was disfigured by a long grey streak, and the green back of Galleon's Roads was splotched with stains.) Some one had placed a bucket near the door to catch a perpetual stream flowing from the corner of the room. Down into the bucket it pattered with a hasty, giggling, hysterical jiggle. I rather liked the companionship of it. I didn't mind it at all. I really minded nothing whatever.... I sighed my appreciation of my return to life. My sigh brought some one from the corner of my room and that some one was, of course, the inevitable Eat. He came up to my bed in his stealthy, furtive fashion, and looked at me reproachfully. I asked him, my voice sounding to myself strange and very far away, what he was doing there. He answered that if it had not been for him I should be dead. He had come early one morning and found me lying in my bed and no one in the place at all. No one—because the old woman had vanished. Yes, the neighbours had told him. Apparently on that very Thursday she had decided that the Revolution had given her her freedom, and that she was never going to work for anybody ever again. She had told a woman-neighbour that she heard that the land now was going to be given back to everybody, and she was returning therefore to her village somewhere in the Moscow Province. She had not been back there for twenty years. And first, to celebrate her liberty, she would get magnificently drunk on furniture polish.
"I did not see her of course," said the Rat. "No. When I came, early in the morning, no one was here. I thought that you were dead, Barin, and I began collecting your property, so that no one else should take it. Then you made a movement, and I saw that you were alive—so I got some cabbage soup and gave it you. That certainly saved you.... I'm going to stay with you now."
I did not care in the least whether he went or stayed. He chattered on. By staying with me he would inevitably neglect his public duties. Perhaps I didn't know that he had public duties? Yes, he was now an Anarchist, and I should be astonished very shortly, by the things the Anarchists would do. All the same, they had their own discipline. They had their own processions, too, like any one else. Only four days ago he had marched all over Petrograd carrying a black flag. He must confess that he was rather sick of it. But they must have processions.... Even the prostitutes had marched down the Nevski the other day demanding shorter hours.
But of course I cannot remember all that he said. During the next few days I slowly pulled myself out of the misty dead world in which I had been lying. Pain came back to me, leaping upon me and then receding, finally, on the third day suddenly leaving me altogether. The Rat fed me on cabbage soup and glasses of tea and caviare and biscuits. During those three days he never left me, and indeed tended me like a woman. He would sit by my bed and with his rough hand stroke my hair, while he poured into my ears ghastly stories of the many crimes that he had committed. I noticed that he was cleaner and more civilised. His beard was clipped and he smelt of cabbage and straw—a rather healthy smell. One morning he suddenly took the pail, filled it with water and washed himself in front of my windows. He scrubbed himself until I should have thought that he had no skin left.
"You're a fine big man, Rat," I said.
He was delighted with that, and came quite near my bed, stretching his naked body, his arms and legs and chest, like a pleased animal.
"Yes, I'm a fine man, Barin," he said; "many women have loved me, and many will again..." Then he went back, and producing clean drawers and vest from somewhere (I suspect that they were mine but I was too weak to care), put them on.
On the second and third days I felt much better. The thaw was less violent, the wood crackled in my stove. On the morning of Wednesday April 14 I got up, dressed, and sat in front of my window. The ice was still there, but over it lay a faint, a very faint, filmy sheen of water. It was a day of gleams, the sun flashing in and out of the clouds. Just beneath my window a tree was pushing into bud. Pools of water lay thick on the dirty melting snow. I got the Rat to bring a little table and put some books on it. I had near me The Spirit of Man, Keats's Letters, The Roads, Beddoes, and Pride and Prejudice. A consciousness of the outer world crept, like warmth, through my bones.
"Rat," I said, "who's been to see me?"
"No one," said he.
I felt suddenly a ridiculous affront.
"No one?" I asked, incredulous.
"No one," he answered. "They've all forgotten you, Barin," he added maliciously, knowing that that would hurt me.
It was strange how deeply I cared. Here was I who, only a short while before, had declared myself done with the world for ever, and now I was almost crying because no one had been to see me! Indeed, I believe in my weakness and distress I actually did cry. No one at all? Not Vera nor Nina nor Jeremy nor Bohun? Not young Bohun even...? And then slowly my brain realised that there was now a new world. None of the old conditions held any longer.
We had been the victims of an earthquake. Now it was—every man for himself! Quickly then there came upon me an eager desire to know what had happened in the Markovitch family. What of Jerry and Vera? What of Nicholas? What of Semyonov...?
"Rat," I said, "this afternoon I am going out!"
"Very well, Barin," he said, "I, too, have an engagement."
In the afternoon I crept out like an old sick man. I felt strangely shy and nervous. When I reached the corner of Ekateringofsky Canal and the English Prospect I decided not to go in and see the Markovitches. For one thing I shrank from the thought of their compassion. I had not shaved for many days. I was that dull sickly yellow colour that offends the taste of all healthy vigorous people. I did not want their pity. No.... I would wait until I was stronger.
My interest in life was reviving with every step that I took. I don't know what I had expected the outside world to be. This was April 14. It was nearly a month since the outburst of the Revolution, and surely there should be signs in the streets of the results of such a cataclysm. There were, on the surface, no signs. There was the same little cinema on the canal with its gaudy coloured posters, there was the old woman sitting at the foot of the little bridge with her basket of apples and bootlaces, there was the same wooden hut with the sweets and the fruit, the same figures of peasant women, soldiers, boys hurrying across the bridge, the same slow, sleepy Isvostchick stumbling along carelessly. One sign there was. Exactly opposite the little cinema, on the other side of the canal, was a high grey block of flats. This now was starred and sprayed with the white marks of bullets. It was like a man marked for life with smallpox. That building alone was witness to me that I had not dreamt the events of that week.
The thaw made walking very difficult. The water poured down the sides of the houses and gurgled in floods through the pipes. The snow was slippery under the film of gleaming wet, and there were huge pools at every step. Across the middle of the English Prospect, near the Baths, there was quite a deep lake....
I wandered slowly along, enjoying the chill warmth of the soft spring sun. The winter was nearly over! Thank God for that! What had happened during my month of illness? Perhaps a great Revolutionary army had been formed, and a mighty, free, and united Russia was going out to save the world! Oh, I did hope that it was so! Surely that wonderful white week was a good omen. No Revolution in history had started so well as this one....
I found my way at last very slowly to the end of the Quay, and the sight of the round towers of my favourite church was like the reassuring smile of an old friend. The sun was dropping low over the Neva. The whole vast expanse of the river was coloured very faintly pink. Here, too, there was the film of the water above the ice; the water caught the colour, but the ice below it was grey and still. Clouds of crimson and orange and faint gold streamed away in great waves of light from the sun. The long line of buildings and towers on the farther side was jet-black; the masts of the ships clustering against the Quay were touched at their tips with bright gold. It was all utterly still, not a sound nor a movement anywhere; only one figure, that of a woman, was coming slowly towards me. I felt, as one always does at the beginning of a Russian spring, a strange sense of expectation. Spring in Russia is so sudden and so swift that it gives an overwhelming impression of a powerful organising Power behind it. Suddenly the shutters are pulled back and the sun floods the world! Upon this afternoon one could feel the urgent business of preparation pushing forward, arrogantly, ruthlessly. I don't think that I had ever before realised the power of the Neva at such close quarters. I was almost ashamed at the contrast of its struggle with my own feebleness.
I saw then that the figure coming towards me was Nina.
As she came nearer I saw that she was intensely preoccupied. She was looking straight in front of her but seeing nothing. It was only when she was quite close to me that I saw that she was crying. She was making no sound. Her mouth was closed; the tears were slowly, helplessly, rolling down her cheeks.
She was very near to me indeed before she saw me; then she looked at me closely before she recognised me. When she saw that it was I, she stopped, fumbled for her handkerchief, which she found, wiped her eyes, then turned away from me and looked out over the river.
"Nina, dear," I said, "what's the matter?"
She didn't answer; at length she turned round and said:
"You've been ill again, haven't you?"
One cheek had a dirty tear-stain on it, which made her inexpressibly young and pathetic and helpless.
"Yes," I said, "I have."
She caught her breath, put out her hand, and touched my arm.
"Oh, you do look ill!... Vera went to ask, and there was a rough-looking man there who said that no one could see you, but that you were all right.... One of us ought to have forced a way in—M. Bohun wanted to—but we've all been thinking of ourselves."
"What's the matter, Nina?" I asked. "You've been crying."
"Nothing's the matter. I'm all right."
"No, you're not. You ought to tell me. You trusted me once."
"I don't trust any one," she answered fiercely. "Especially not Englishmen."
"What's the matter?" I asked again.
"Nothing.... We're just as we were. Except," she suddenly looked up at me, "Uncle Alexei's living with us now."
"Semyonov!" I cried out sharply, "living with you!"
"Yes," she went on, "in the room where Nicholas had his inventions is Uncle Alexei's bedroom."
"Why, in Heaven's name?" I cried.
"Uncle Alexei wanted it. He said he was lonely, and then he just came. I don't know whether Nicholas likes it or not. Vera hates it, but she agreed at once."
"And do you like it?" I asked.
"I like Uncle Alexei," she answered. "We have long talks. He shows me how silly I've been."
"Oh!" I said... "and what about Nicholas' inventions?"
"He's given them up for ever." She looked at me doubtfully, as though she were wondering whether she could trust me. "He's so funny now—Nicholas, I mean. You know he was so happy when the Revolution came. Now he's in a different mood every minute. Something's happened to him that we don't know about."
"What kind of thing?" I asked.
"I don't know. He's seen something or heard something. It's some secret he's got. But Uncle Alexei knows."
"How can you tell?"
"Because he's always saying things that make Nicholas angry, and we can't see anything in them at all.... Uncle Alexei's very clever."
"Yes, he is," I agreed. "But you haven't told me why you were crying just now."
She looked at me. She gave a little shiver. "Oh, you do look ill!... Everything's going wrong together, isn't it?"
And with that she suddenly left me, hurrying away from me, leaving me miserable and apprehensive of some great trouble in store for all of us.
It is impossible to explain how disturbed I was by Nina's news. Semyonov living in the flat! He must have some very strong reason for this, to leave his big comfortable flat for the pokiness of the Markovitches'!
And then that the Markovitches should have him! There were already inhabitants enough—Nicholas, Vera, Nina, Uncle Ivan, Bohun. Then the inconvenience and discomfort of Nicholas's little hole as a bedroom! How Semyonov must loathe it!
From that moment the Markovitches' flat became for me the centre of my drama. Looking back I could see now how all the growing development of the story had centred round those rooms. I did not of course know at this time of that final drama of the Thursday afternoon, but I knew of the adventure with the policeman, and it seemed to me that the flat was a cup into which the ingredients were being poured one after another until at last the preparation would be complete, and then....
Oh, but I cared for Nina and Vera and Nicholas—yes, and Jerry too! I wanted to see them happy and at peace before I left them—in especial Nicholas.
And Semyonov came closer to them and closer, following some plan of his own and yet, after all, finally like a man driven by a power, constructed it might be, out of his own very irony.
I made a kind of bet with fate that by Easter Day every one should be happy by then.
Next day, the 15th of April, was the great funeral for the victims of the Revolution. I believe, although of course at that time I had heard nothing, that there had been great speculation about the day, many people thinking that it would be an excuse for further trouble, the Monarchists rising, or the "Soviet" attacking the Provisional Government, or Milyukoff and his followers attacking the Soviet. They need not have been alarmed. No one had as yet realised the lengths that Slavonic apathy may permit itself....
I went down about half-past ten to the Square at the end of the Sadovaya and found it filled with a vast concourse of peasants, not only the Square was filled, but the Sadovaya as far as the eye could see. They were arranged in perfect order, about eight in a row, arm in arm. Every group carried its banner, and far away into the distance one could see the words "Freedom," "Brotherhood," "The Land for All," "Peace of the World," floating on the breeze. Nevertheless, in spite of these fine words, it was not a very cheering sight. The day was wretched—no actual rain, but a cold damp wind blowing and the dirty snow, half ice and half water; the people themselves were not inspiring. They were all, it seemed, peasants. I saw very few workmen, although I believe that multitudes were actually in the procession. Those strange, pale, Eastern faces, passive, apathetic, ignorant, childish, unreasoning, stretched in a great cloud under the grey overhanging canopy of the sky. They raised if once and again a melancholy little tune that was more wail than anything else. They had stood there, I was told, in pools of frozen water for hours, and were perfectly ready to stand thus for many hours more if they were ordered to do so. As I regarded their ignorance and apathy I realised for the first time something of what the Revolution had already done.
A hundred million of these children—ignorant, greedy, pathetic, helpless, revengeful—let loose upon the world! Where were their leaders? Who, indeed, would their leaders be? The sun sometimes broke through for a moment, but the light that it threw on their faces only made them more pallid, more death-like. They did not laugh nor joke as our people at home would have done.... I believe that very few of them had any idea why they were there....
Suddenly the word came down the lines to move forward. Very slowly, wailing their little tune, they advanced.
But the morning was growing old and I must at once see Vera. I had made up my mind, during the night, to do anything that lay in my power to persuade Vera and Nina to leave their flat. The flat was the root of all their trouble, there was something in its atmosphere, something gloomy and ominous. They would be better at the other end of the town, or, perhaps, over on the Vassily Ostrov. I would show Vera that it was a fatal plan to have Semyonov to live with them (as in all probability she herself knew well enough), and their leaving the flat was a very good excuse for getting rid of him. I had all this in my head as I went along. I was still feeling ill and feeble, and my half-hour's stand in the market-place had seriously exhausted me. I had to lean against the walls of the houses every now and then; it seemed to me that, in the pale watery air, the whole world was a dream, the high forbiding flats looking down on to the dirty ice of the canals, the water dripping, dripping, dripping.... No one was about. Every one had gone to join in the procession. I could see it, with my mind's eye, unwinding its huge tails through the watery-oozing channels of the town, like some pale-coloured snake, crawling through the misty labyrinths of a marsh.
In the flat I found only Uncle Ivan sitting very happily by himself at the table playing patience. He was dressed very smartly in his English black suit and a black bow tie. He behaved with his usual elaborate courtesy to me but, to my relief, on this occasion, he spoke Russian.
It appeared that the Revolution had not upset him in the least. He took, he assured me, no interest whatever in politics. The great thing was "to live inside oneself," and by living inside oneself he meant, I gathered, that one should be entirely selfish. Clothes were important, and food and courteous manners, but he must say that he could not see that one would be very much worse off even though one were ruled by the Germans—one might, indeed, be a great deal more comfortable. And as to this Revolution he couldn't really understand why people made such a fuss. One class or another class what did it matter? (As to this he was, I fear, to be sadly undeceived. He little knew that, before the year was out, he would be shovelling snow in the Morskaia for a rouble an hour.) So centred was he upon himself that he did not notice that I looked ill. He offered me a chair, indeed, but that was simply his courteous manners. Very ridiculous, he thought, the fuss that Nicholas made about the Revolution—very ridiculous the fuss that he made about everything....
Alexei had been showing Nicholas how ridiculous he was.
"Oh, has he?" said I. "How's he been doing that?"
Laughing at him, apparently. They all laughed at him. It was his own fault.
"Alexei's living with us now, you know."
"Yes, I know," I said, "what's he doing that for?"
"He wanted to," said Uncle Ivan simply. "He's always done what he's wanted to, all his life."
"It makes it a great many of you in one small flat."
"Yes, doesn't it?" said Uncle Ivan amiably. "Very pleasant—although, Ivan Andreievitch, I will admit to you quite frankly that I've always been frightened of Alexei. He has such a very sharp tongue. He discovers one's weak spots in a marvellous manner.... We all have weak spots you know," he added apologetically.
"Yes, we have," I said.
Then, to my relief, Vera came in. She was very sweet to me, expressing much concern about my illness, asking me to stay and have my meal with them.... She suddenly broke off. There was a letter lying on the table addressed to her. I saw at once that it was in Nina's handwriting.
"Nina! Writing to me!" She picked it up, stood back looking at the envelope before she opened it. She read it, then turned on me with a cry.
"Nina!... She's gone!"
"Gone!" I repeated, starting at once.
"Yes.... Read!" She thrust it into my hand.
In Nina's sprawling schoolgirl hand I read:
Dear Vera—I've left you and Nicholas for ever.... I have been thinking of this for a long time, and now Uncle Alexei has shown me how foolish I've been, wanting something I can't have. But I'm not a child any longer. I must lead my own life.... I'm going to live with Boris who will take care of me. It's no use you or any one trying to prevent me. I will not come back. I must lead my own life now. Nina.
Vera was beside herself.
"Quick! Quick! Some one must go after her. She must be brought back at once. Quick! Scora! Scora!... I must go. No, she is angry with me. She won't listen to me. Ivan Andreievitch, you must go. At once! You must bring her back with you. Darling, darling Nina!... Oh, my God, what shall I do if anything happens to her!"
She clutched my arm. Even as she spoke, she had got my hat and stick.
"This is Alexei Petrovitch," I said.
"Never mind who it is," she answered. "She must be brought back at once. She is so young. She doesn't know.... Boris—Oh! it's impossible. Don't leave without bringing her back with you."
Even old Uncle Ivan seemed distressed.
"Dear, dear..." he kept repeating, "dear, dear.... Poor little Nina. Poor little Nina—"
"Where does Grogoff live?" I asked.
"16 Gagarinskaya.... Flat 3. Quick. You must bring her back with you. Promise me."
"I will do my best," I said.
I found by a miracle of good fortune an Isvostchick in the street outside. We plunged along through the pools of water in the direction of the Gagarinskaya. That was a horrible drive. In the Sadovaya we met the slow, winding funeral procession.
On they went, arm in arm, the same little wailing tune, monotonously repeating, but sounding like nothing human, rather exuding from the very cobbles of the road and the waters of the stagnant canals.
The march of the peasants upon Petrograd! I could see them from all the quarters of the town, converging upon the Marsovoie Pole, stubborn, silent, wraiths of earlier civilisation, omens of later dominations. I thought of Boris Grogoff. What did he, with all his vehemence and conceit, intend to do with these? First he would flatter them—I saw that clearly enough. But then when his flatteries failed, what then? Could he control them? Would they obey him? Would they obey anybody until education had shown them the necessities for co-ordination and self-discipline? The river at last was overflowing its banks—would not the savage force of its power be greater than any one could calculate? The stream flowed on.... My Isvostchick took his cab down a side street, and then again met the strange sorrowful company. From this point I could see several further bridges and streets, and over them all I saw the same stream flowing, the same banners blowing—and all so still, so dumb, so patient.
The delay was maddening. My thoughts were all now on Nina. I saw her always before me as I had beheld her yesterday, walking slowly along, her eyes fixed on space, the tears trickling down her face. "Life," Nikitin once said to me, "I sometimes think is like a dark room, the door closed, the windows bolted and your enemy shut in with you. Whether your enemy or yourself is the stronger who knows?... Nor does it matter, as the issue is always decided outside.... Knowing that you can at least afford to despise him."
I felt something of that impotence now. I cursed the Isvostchick, but wherever he went this slow endless stream seemed to impede our way. Poor Nina! Such a baby! What was it that had driven her to this? She did not love the man, and she knew quite well that she did not. No, it was an act of defiance. But defiance to whom—to Vera? to Lawrence?... and what had Semyonov said to her?
Then, thank Heaven, we crossed the Nevski, and our way was clear. The old cabman whipped up his horse and, in a minute or two we were outside 16 Gagarinskaya. I will confess to very real fears and hesitations as I climbed the dark stairs (the lift was, of course, not working). I was not the kind of man for this kind of job. In the first place I hated quarrels, and knowing Grogoff's hot temper I had every reason to expect a tempestuous interview. Then I was ill, aching in every limb and seeing everything, as I always did when I was unwell, mistily and with uncertainty. Then I had a very shrewd suspicion that there was considerable truth in what Semyonov had said, that I was interfering in what only remotely concerned me. At any rate, that was certainly the view that Grogoff would take, and Nina, perhaps also. I felt, as I rang the bell of No. 3, that unpleasant pain in the pit of the stomach that tells you that you're going to make a fool of yourself.
Well, it would not be for the first time.
"Boris Nicolaievitch, doma?" I asked the cross-looking old woman who opened the door.
"Doma," she answered, holding it open to let me pass.
I was shown into a dark, untidy sitting-room. It seemed at first sight to be littered with papers, newspapers, Revolutionary sheets and proclamations, the Pravda, the Novaya Jezn, the Soldatskaya Mwyssl.... On the dirty wall-paper there were enormous dark photographs, in faded gilt frames, of family groups; on one wall there was a large garishly coloured picture of Grogoff himself in student's dress. The stove was unlighted and the room was very cold. My heart ached for Nina.
A moment after Grogoff came in. He came forward to me very amiably, holding out his hand.
"Nu, Ivan Andreievitch.... What can I do for you?" he asked, smiling.
And how he had changed! He was positively swollen with self-satisfaction. He had never been famous for personal modesty, but he seemed now to be physically twice his normal size. He was fat, his cheeks puffed, his stomach swelling beneath the belt that bound it. His fair hair was long, and rolled in large curls on one side of his head and over his forehead. He spoke in a loud, overbearing voice.
"Nu, Ivan Andreievitch, what can I do for you?" he repeated.
"Can I see Nina?" I asked.
"Nina?..." he repeated as though surprised. "Certainly—but what do you want to say to her?"
"I don't see that that's your business," I answered. "I have a message for her from her family."
"But of course it's my business," he answered. "I'm looking after her now."
"Since when?" I asked.
"What does that matter?... She is going to live with me."
"We'll see about that," I said.
I knew that it was foolish to take this kind of tone. It could do no good, and I was not the sort of man to carry it through.
But he was not at all annoyed.
"See, Ivan Andreievitch," he said, smiling. "What is there to discuss? Nina and I have long considered living together. She is a grown-up woman. It's no one's affair but her own."
"Are you going to marry her?" I asked.
"Certainly not," he answered; "that would not suit either of us. It's no good your bringing your English ideas here, Ivan Andreievitch. We belong to the new world, Nina and I."
"Well, I want to speak to her," I answered.
"So you shall, certainly. But if you hope to influence her at all you are wasting your time, I assure you. Nina has acted very rightly. She found the home life impossible. I'm sure I don't wonder. She will assist me in my work. The most important work, perhaps, that man has ever been called on to perform...."
He raised his voice here as though he were going to begin a speech. But at that moment Nina came in. She stood in the doorway looking across at me with a childish mixture of hesitation and boldness, of anger and goodwill in her face. Her cheeks were pale, her eyes heavy. Her hair was done in two long plaits. She looked about fourteen.
She came up to me, but she didn't offer me her hand. Boris said:
"Nina dear, Ivan Andreievitch has come to give you a message from your family." There was a note of scorn in his voice as he repeated my earlier sentence.
"What is it?" she asked, looking at me defiantly.
"I'd like to give it you alone," I said.
"Whatever you say to me it is right that Boris should hear," she answered.
I tried to forget that Grogoff was there. I went on:
"Well then, Nina, you must know what I want to say. They are heartbroken at your leaving them. You know of course that they are. They beg you to come back.... Vera and Nicholas too. They simply won't know what to do without you. Vera says that you have been angry with her. She doesn't know why, but she says that she will do her very best if you come back, so that you won't be angry any more.... Nina, dear, you know that it is they whom you really love. You never can be happy here. You know that you cannot.... Come back to them! Come back! I don't know what it was that Alexei Petrovitch said to you, but whatever it was you should not listen to it. He is a bad man and only means harm to your family. He does indeed...."
I paused. She had never moved whilst I was speaking. Now she only said, shaking her head, "It's no good, Ivan Andreievitch.... It's no good."
"But why? Why?" I asked. "Give me your reasons, Nina."
She answered proudly, "I don't see why I should give you any reasons, Ivan Andreievitch. I am free. I can do as I wish."
"There's something behind this that I don't know," I said. "I ought to know.... It isn't fair not to tell me. What did Alexei Petrovitch say to you?"
But she only shook her head.
"He had nothing to do with this. It is my affair, Ivan Andreievitch. I couldn't live with Vera and Nicholas any longer."
Grogoff then interfered.
"I think this is about enough...." he said. "I have given you your opportunity. Nina has been quite clear in what she has said. She does not wish to return. There is your answer." He cleared his voice and went on in rather a higher tone: "I think you forget, Ivan Andreievitch, another aspect of this affair. It is not only a question of our private family disputes. Nina has come here to assist me in my national work. As a member of the Soviet I may, without exaggeration, claim to have an opportunity in my hands that has been offered in the past to few human beings. You are an Englishman, and so hidebound with prejudices and conventions. You may not be aware that there has opened this week the greatest war the world has ever seen—the war of the proletariats against the bourgeoisies and capitalists of the world." I tried to interrupt him, but he went on, his voice ever rising and rising: "What is your wretched German war? What but a struggle between the capitalists of the different countries to secure greater robberies and extortions, to set their feet more firmly than ever on the broad necks of the wretched People! Yes, you English, with your natural hypocrisy, pretend that you are fighting for the freedom of the world. What about Ireland? What about India? What about South Africa?... No, you are all alike. Germany, England, Italy, France, and our own wretched Government that has, at last, been destroyed by the brave will of the People. We declare a People's War!... We cry aloud to the People to throw down their arms! And the People will hear us!"
He paused for breath. His arms were raised, his eyes on fire, his cheeks crimson.
"Yes," I said, "that is all very well. But suppose the German people are the only ones who refuse to listen to you. Suppose that all the other nations, save Germany, have thrown down their arms—a nice chance then for German militarism!"
"But the German people will listen!" he screamed, almost frothing at the mouth. "They are ready at any moment to follow our example. William and your George and the rest of them—they are doomed, I tell you!"
"Nevertheless," I went on, "if you desert us now by making peace and Germany wins this war you will have played only a traitor's part, and all the world will judge you."
"Traitor! Traitor!" The word seemed to madden him. "Traitor to whom, pray? Traitor to our Czar and your English king? Yes, and thank God for it! Did the Russian people make the war? They were led like lambs to the slaughter. Like lambs, I tell you. But now they will have their revenge. On all the Bourgeoisie of the world. The Bourgeoisie of the world!..."
He suddenly broke off, flinging himself down on the dirty sofa. "Pheugh. Talking makes one hot!... Have a drink, Ivan Andreievitch.... Nina, fetch a drink."
Through all this my eyes had never left her for a moment. I had hoped that this empty tub-thumping to which we had been listening would have affected her. But she had not moved nor stirred.
"Nina!" I said softly. "Nina. Come with me!"
But she only shook her head. Grogoff, quite silent now, lolled on the sofa, watching us. I went up to her and put my hand on her sleeve.
"Dear Nina," I said, "come back to us."
I saw her lip tremble. There was unshed tears in her eyes. But again she shook her head.
"What have they done," I asked, "to make you take this step?"
"Something has happened...." she said slowly. "I can't tell you."
"Just come and talk to Vera."
"No, it's hopeless... I can't see her again. But, Durdles... tell her it's not her fault."
At the sound of my pet name I took courage again.
"But tell me, Nina.... Do you love this man?"
She turned round and looked at Grogoff as though she were seeing him for the first time.
"Love?... Oh no, not love! But he will be kind to me, I think. And I must be myself, be a woman, not a child any longer."
Then, suddenly clearing her voice, speaking very firmly, looking me full in the face, she said:
"Tell Vera... that I saw... what happened that Thursday afternoon—the Thursday of the Revolution week. Tell her that—when you're alone with her. Tell her that—then she'll understand."
She turned and almost ran out of the room.
"Well, you see," said Grogoff smiling lazily from the sofa.
"That settles it."
"It doesn't settle it," I answered. "We shall never rest until we have got her back."
But, I had to go. There was nothing more just then to be done.
On my return I found Vera alone waiting for me with restless impatience.
"Well?" she said eagerly. Then when she saw that I was alone her face clouded.
"I trusted you—" she began.
"It's no good," I said at once. "Not for the moment. She's made up her mind. It's not because she loved him nor, I think, for anything very much that her uncle said. She's got some idea in her head. Perhaps you can explain it."
"I?" said Vera, looking at me.
"Yes. She gave me a message for you."
"What was it?" But even as she asked the question she seemed to fear the answer, because she turned away from me.
"She told me to tell you that she saw what happened on the afternoon of the Thursday in Revolution week. She said that then you would understand."
Vera looked at me with the strangest expression of defiance, fear, triumph.
"What did she see?"
"I don't know. That's what she told me."
Vera did a strange thing. She laughed.
"They can all know. I don't care. I want them to know. Nina can tell them all."
"Tell them what?"
"Oh, you'll hear with the rest. Uncle Alexei has done this. He told Nina because he hates me. He won't rest until he ruins us all. But I don't care. He can't take from me what I've got. He can't take from me what I've got.... But we must get her back, Ivan Andreievitch. She must come back—"
Nicholas came in and then Semyonov and then Bohun.
Bohun, drawing me aside, whispered to me: "Can I come and see you? I must ask your advice—"
"To-morrow evening," I told him, and left.
Next day I was ill again. I had I suppose done too much the day before. I was in bed alone all day. My old woman had suddenly returned without a word of explanation or excuse. She had not, I am sure, even got so far as the Moscow Province. I doubt whether she had even left Petrograd. I asked her no questions. I could tell of course that she had been drinking. She was a funny old creature, wrinkled and yellow and hideous, very little different in any way from a native in the wilds of Central Africa. The savage in her liked gay colours and trinkets, and she would stick flowers in her hair and wear a tinkling necklace of bright red and blue beads. She had a mangy dog, hairless in places and rheumy at the eyes, who was all her passion, and this creature she would adore, taking it to sleep with her, talking to it by the hour together, pulling its tail and twisting its neck so that it growled with rage—and then, when it growled, she, too, would make strange noises as though sympathising with it.
She returned to me from no sort of sense of duty, but simply because, I think, she did not know where else to go. She scowled on me and informed me that now that there had been the Revolution everything was different; nevertheless the sight of my sick yellow face moved her as sickness and misfortune always move every Russian, however old and debased he may be.
"You shouldn't have gone out walking," she said crossly. "That man's been here again?" referring to the Rat, whom she hated.
"If it hadn't been for him," I said, "I would have died."
But she made the flat as cheerful as she could, lighting the stove, putting some yellow flowers into a glass, dusting the Benois water-colour, putting my favourite books beside my bed.
When Henry Bohun came in he was surprised at the brightness of everything.
"Why, how cosy you are!" he cried.
"Ah, ha," I said, "I told you it wasn't so bad here."
He picked up my books, looked at Galleon's Roads and then Pride and Prejudice.
"It's the simplest things that last," he said. "Galleon's jolly good, but he's not simple enough. Tess is the thing, you know, and Tono-Bungay, and The Nigger of the Narcissus... I usen't to think so. I've grown older, haven't I?"
"What do you think of Discipline now?" I asked.
"Oh, Lord!" he blushed, "I was a young cuckoo."
"And what about knowing all about Russia after a week?"
"No—and that reminds me!" He drew his chair closer to my bed. "That's what I've come to talk about. Do you mind if I gas a lot?"
"Gas as much as you like," I said.
"Well, I can't explain things unless I do.... You're sure you're not too seedy to listen?"
"Not a bit. It does me good," I told him.
"You see in a way you're really responsible. You remember, long ago, telling me to look after Markovitch when I talked all that rot about caring for Vera?"
"Yes—I remember very well indeed."
"In a way it all started from that. You put me on to seeing Markovitch in quite a different light. I'd always thought of him as an awfully dull dog with very little to say for himself, and a bit loose in the top-story too. I thought it a terrible shame a ripping woman like Vera having married him, and I used to feel sick with him about it. Then sometimes he'd look like the devil himself, as wicked as sin, poring over his inventions, and you'd fancy that to stick a knife in his back might be perhaps the best thing for everybody.
"Well, you explained him to me and I saw him different—not that I've ever got very much out of him. I don't think that he either likes me or trusts me, and anyway he thinks me too young and foolish to be of any importance—which I daresay I am. He told me, by the way, the other day, that the only Englishman he thought anything of was yourself—"
"Very nice of him," I murmured.
"Yes, but not very flattering to me when I've spent months trying to be fascinating to him. Anyhow, although I may be said to have failed in one way, I've got rather keen on the pursuit. If I can't make him like me I can at least study him and learn something. That's a leaf out of your book, Durward. You're always studying people, aren't you?"
"Oh, I don't know," I said.
"Yes, of course you are. Well, I'll tell you frankly I've got fond of the old bird. I don't believe you could live at close quarters with any Russian, however nasty, and not get a kind of affection for him. They're so damned childish."
"Oh yes, you could," I said. "Try Semyonov."
"I'm coming to him in a minute," said Bohun. "Well, Markovitch was most awfully unhappy. That's one thing one saw about him at once—unhappy of course because Vera didn't love him and he adored her. But there was more in it than that. He let himself go one night to me—the only time he's ever talked to me really. He was drunk a bit, and he wanted to borrow money off me. But there was more in it than that. He talked to me about Russia. That seemed to have been his great idea when the war began that it was going to lead to the most marvellous patriotism all through Russia. It seemed to begin like that, and do you know, Durward, as he talked I saw that patriotism was at the bottom of everything, that you could talk about Internationalism until you were blue in the face, and that it only began to mean anything when you'd learnt first what nationality was—that you couldn't really love all mankind until you'd first learnt to love one or two people close to you. And that you couldn't love the world as a vast democratic state until you'd learnt to love your own little bit of ground, your own fields, your own river, your own church tower. Markovitch had it all as plain as plain. 'Make your own house secure and beautiful. Then it is ready to take its place in the general scheme. We Russians always begin at the wrong end,' he said. 'We jump all the intermediate stages. I'm as bad as the rest.' I know you'll say I'm so easily impressed, Durward, but he was wonderful that night—and so right. So that as he talked I just longed to rush back and see that my village—Topright in Wiltshire—was safe and sound with the highgate at the end of the village street, and the village stores with the lollipop windows, and the green with the sheep on it, and the ruddy stream with the small trout and the high Down beyond.... Oh well, you know what I mean—"
"I know," said I.
"I saw that the point of Markovitch was that he must have some ideal to live up to. If he couldn't have Vera he'd have Russia, and if he couldn't have Russia he'd have his inventions. When we first came along a month or two ago he'd lost Russia, he was losing Vera, and he wasn't very sure about his inventions. A bad time for the old boy, and you were quite right to tell me to look after him. Then came the Revolution, and he thought that everything was saved. Vera and Russia and everything. Wasn't he wonderful that week? Like a child who has suddenly found Paradise.... Could any Englishman ever be cheated like that by anything? Why a fellow would be locked up for a loony if he looked as happy as Markovitch looked that week. It wouldn't be decent.... Well, then...." He paused dramatically. "What's happened to him since, Durward?"
"How do you mean? What's happened to him since?" I asked.
"I mean just what I say. Something happened to him at the end of that week. I can put my finger almost exactly on the day—the Thursday of that week. What was it? That's one of the things I've come to ask you about?"
"I don't know. I was ill," I said.
"No, but has nobody told you anything?"
"I haven't heard a word," I said.
His face fell. "I felt sure you'd help me?" he said.
"Tell me the rest and perhaps I can put things together," I suggested.
"The rest is really Semyonov. The queerest things have been happening. Of course, the thing is to get rid of all one's English ideas, isn't it? and that's so damned difficult. It's no use saying an English fellow wouldn't do this or that. Of course he wouldn't.... Oh, they are queer!"
He sighed, poor boy, with the difficulty of the whole affair.
"Giving them up in despair, Bohun, is as bad as thinking you understand them completely. Just take what comes."
"Well, 'what came' was this. On that Thursday evening Markovitch was as though he'd been struck in the face. You never saw such a change. Of course we all noticed it. White and sickly, saying nothing to anybody. Next morning, quite early, Semyonov came over and proposed lodging with us.
"It absolutely took my breath away, but no one else seemed very astonished. What on earth did he want to leave his comfortable flat and come to us for? We were packed tight enough as it was. I never liked the feller, but upon my word I simply hated him as he sat there, so quiet, stroking his beard and smiling at us in his sarcastic way.
"To my amazement Markovitch seemed quite keen about it. Not only agreed, but offered his own room as a bedroom. 'What about your inventions?' some one asked him.
"'I've given them up,' he said, looking at us all just like a caged animal—'for ever.'
"I would have offered to retire myself if I hadn't been so interested, but this was all so curious that I was determined to see it out to the end. And you'd told me to look after Markovitch. If ever he'd wanted looking after it was now! I could see that Vera hated the idea of Semyonov coming, but after Markovitch had spoken she never said a word. So then it was all settled."
"What did Nina do?" I asked.
"Nina? She never said anything either. At the end she went up to Semyonov and took his hand and said, 'I'm so glad you're coming, Uncle Alexei,' and looked at Vera. Oh! they're all as queer as they can be, I tell you!"
"What happened next?" I asked eagerly.
"Everything's happened and nothing's happened," he replied. "Nina's run away. Of course you know that. What she did it for I can't imagine. Fancy going to a fellow like Grogoff! Lawrence has been coming every day and just sitting there, not saying anything. Semyonov's amiable to everybody—especially amiable to Markovitch. But he's laughing at him all the time I think. Anyway he makes him mad sometimes, so that I think Markovitch is going to strike him. But of course he never does.... Now here's a funny thing. This is really what I want to ask you most about."
He drew his chair closer to my bed and dropped his voice as though he were going to whisper a secret to me.
"The other night I was awake—about two in the morning it was—and wanted a book—so I went into the dining-room. I'd only got bedroom slippers on and I was stopped at the door by a sound. It was Semyonov sitting over by the further window, in his shirt and trousers, his beard in his hands, and sobbing as though his heart would break. I'd never heard a man cry like that. I hate hearing a man cry anyway. I've heard fellers at the Front when they're off their heads or something... but Semyonov was worse than that. It was a strong man crying, with all his wits about him.... Then I heard some words. He kept repeating again and again. 'Oh, my dear, my dear, my dear!... Wait for me!... Wait for me! Wait for me!...' over and over again—awful! I crept back to my room frightened out of my life. I've never known anything so awful. And Semyonov of all people!
"It was like that man in Wuthering Heights. What's his name? Heathcliffe! I always thought that was a bit of an exaggeration when he dashed his head against a tree and all that. But, by Jove, you never know!... Now, Durward, you've got to tell me. You've known Semyonov for years. You can explain. What's it all about, and what's he trying to do to Markovitch?"
"I can scarcely think what to tell you," I said at last. "I don't really know much about Semyonov, and my guesses will probably strike you as insane."
"No, they won't," said Bohun. "I've learnt a bit lately."
"Semyonov," I said, "is a deep-dyed sensualist. All his life he's thought about nothing but gratifying his appetites. That's simple enough—there are plenty of that type everywhere. But unfortunately for him he's a very clever man, and like every Russian both a cynic and an idealist—a cynic in facts because he's an idealist. He got everything so easily all through his life that his cynicism grew and grew. He had wealth and women and position. He was as strong as a horse. Every 'one gave way to him and he despised everybody. He went to the Front, and one day came across a woman different from any other whom he had ever known."
"How different?" asked Bohun, because I paused.
"Different in that she was simpler and naiver and honester and better and more beautiful—"
"Better than Vera?" Bohun asked.
"Different," I said. "She was younger, less strong-willed, less clever, less passionate perhaps. But alone—alone, in all the world. Every one must love her—No one could help it...."
I broke off again. Bohun waited.
I went on. "Semyonov saw her and snatched her from the Englishman to whom she was engaged. I don't think she ever really loved the Englishman, but she loved Semyonov."
"Well?" said Bohun.
"She was killed. A stray shot, when she was giving tea to the men in the trenches.... It meant a lot... to all of us. The Englishman was killed too, so he was all right. I think Semyonov would have liked that same end; but he didn't get it, so he's remained desolate. Really desolate, in a way that only your thorough sensualist can be. A beautiful fruit just within his grasp, something at last that can tempt his jaded appetite. He's just going to taste it, when whisk! it's gone, and gone, perhaps, into some one else's hands. How does he know? How does he know anything? There may be another life—who can really prove there isn't? and when you've seen something in the very thick and glow of existence, something more alive than life itself, and, click! it's gone—well, it must have gone somewhere, mustn't it? Not the body only, but that soul, that spirit, that individual personal expression of beauty and purity and loveliness? Oh, it must be somewhere yet!... It must be!... At any rate he didn't know. And he didn't know either that she might not have proved his idealism right after all. Ah! to your cynic there's nothing more maddening! Do you think your cynic loves his cynicism? Not a bit of it! Not he! But he won't be taken in by sham any more. That he swears....
"So it was with Semyonov. This girl might have proved the one real exception; she might have lasted, she might have grown even more beautiful and more wonderful, and so proved his idealism true after all. He doesn't know, and I don't know. But there it is. He's haunted by the possibility of it all his days. He's a man now ruled by an obsession. He thinks of one thing and one thing only, day and night. His sensuality has fallen away from him because women are dull—sterile to him beside that perfect picture of the woman lost. Lost! he may recover her! He doesn't know. The thought of death obsesses him. What is there in it? Is she behind there or no? Is she behind there, maddening thought, with her Englishman?
"He must know. He must know. He calls to her—she won't come to him. What is he to do? Suicide? No, to a proud man like Semyonov that's a miserable confession of weakness. How they'd laugh at him, these other despicable human beings, if he did that! He'd prove himself as weak as they. No, that's not for him. What then?
"This is a fantastic world, Bohun, and nothing is impossible for it. Suppose he were to select some one, some weak and irritable and sentimental and disappointed man, some one whose every foible and weakness he knew, suppose he were to place himself near him and so irritate and confuse and madden him that at last one day, in a fury of rage and despair, that man were to do for him what he is too proud to do for himself! Think of the excitement, the interest, the food for his cynicism, the food for his conceit such a game would be to Semyonov. Is this going to do it? Or this? Or this? Now I've got him far enough? Another five minutes!... Think of the hairbreadth escapes, the check and counter check, the sense, above all, that to a man like Semyonov is almost everything, that he is master of human emotions, that he can direct wretched, weak human beings whither he will.
"And the other—the weak, disappointed, excitable man—can't you see that Semyonov has him close to his hand, that he has only to stretch a finger—"
"Markovitch!" cried Bohun.
"Now you know," I said, "why you've got to stay on in that flat."
I have said already, I think, that the instinctive motive of Vera's life was her independent pride. Cling to that, and however the world might rock and toss around her she could not be wrecked. Imagine, then, what she must have suffered during the weeks that followed her surrender to Lawrence. Not that for a moment she intended to go back on her surrender, which was, indeed, the proudest moment of her whole life. She never looked back for one second after that embrace, she never doubted herself or him or the supreme importance of love itself; but the rest of her—her tenderness, her fidelity, her loyalty, her self-respect—this was all tortured now by the things that she seemed compelled to do. It must have appeared to her as though Fate, having watched that complete abandonment, intended to deprive her of everything upon which she had depended. She was, I think, a woman of very simple instincts. The things that had been in her life—her love for Nina, her maternal tenderness for Nicholas, her sense of duty—remained with her as strongly after that tremendous Thursday afternoon as they had been before it. She did not see why they need be changed. She did not love Nina any the less because she loved Lawrence; indeed, she had never loved Nina so intensely as on the night when she had realised her love for Lawrence to the full, that night when they had sheltered the policeman. And she had never pretended to love Nicholas. She had always told him that she did not love him. She had been absolutely honest with him always, and he had often said to her, "If ever real love comes into your life, Vera, you will leave me," and she had always answered him, "No, Nicholas, why should I? I will never change. Why should I?"
She honestly thought that her love for Lawrence need not alter things. She would tell Nicholas, of course, and then she would act as he wished. If she were not to see Lawrence she would not see him—that would make no difference to her love for him. What she did not realise—and that was strange after living with him for so long—was that he was always hoping that her tender kindliness towards him would, one day, change into something more passionate. I think that, subconsciously, she did realise it, and that was why she was, during those weeks before the Revolution, so often uneasy and unhappy. But I am sure that definitely she never admitted it.
The great fact was that, as soon as possible, she must tell Nicholas all about it. And the days went by, and she did not. She did not, partly because she had now some one else as well as herself to consider. I believe that in those weeks between that Thursday and Easter Day she never had one moment alone with Lawrence. He came, as Bohun had told me, to see them; he sat there and looked at her, and listened and waited. She herself, I expect, prevented their being alone. She was waiting for something to happen. Then Nina's flight overwhelmed everything. That must have been the most awful thing. She never liked Grogoff, never trusted him, and had a very clear idea of his character. But more awful to her than his weakness was her knowledge that Nina did not love him. What could have driven her to do such a thing? She knew of her affection for Lawrence, but she had, perhaps, never taken that seriously. How could Nina really love Lawrence when he, so obviously, cared nothing at all for her? She reasoned then, as every one always does, on the lines of her own character. She herself could never have cared seriously for any one had there been no return. Her pride would not have allowed her....
But Nina had been the charge of her life. Before Nicholas, before her own life, before everything. Nina was her duty, her sacred cause—and now she was betraying her trust! Something must be done—but what? but what? She knew Nina well enough to realise that a false step would only plunge her farther than ever into the business. It must have seemed to her indeed that because of her own initial disloyalty the whole world was falling away from her.
Then there came Semyonov; I did not at this time at all sufficiently realise that her hatred of her uncle—for it was hatred, more, much more than mere dislike—had been with her all her life. Many months afterwards she told me that she could never remember a time when she had not hated him. He had teased her when she was a very little girl, laughing at her naive honesty, throwing doubts on her independence, cynically ridiculing her loyalty. There had been one horrible winter month (then ten or eleven years of age) when she had been sent to stay with him in Moscow.
He had a fine house near the Arbat, and he was living (although she did not of course know anything about that at the time) with one of his gaudiest mistresses. Her mother and father being dead she had no protection. She was defenceless. I don't think that he in any way perverted her innocence. I except that he was especially careful to shield her from his own manner of life (he had always his own queer tradition of honour which he effected indeed to despise), but she felt more than she perceived. The house was garish, over-scented and over-lighted. There were many gilt chairs and large pictures of naked women and numbers of coloured cushions. She was desperately lonely. She hated the woman of the house, who tried, I have no doubt, to be kind to her, and after the first week she was left to herself.