The Secret City
Part 4 out of 7
that chap's seen the Millennium," remarked my American. "Or he's drunk,
This appearance had the oddest effect on me. It was as though I had been
given a sudden conviction that after all there was something behind this
disturbance. I saw, during the whole of the rest of that day, Grogoff's
strange face with the exalted, bewildered eyes, the excited mouth, the
body tense and strained as though waiting for a blow. And now, always
when I look back I see Boris Grogoff standing in the doorway of the
"Cave de la Grave" like a ghost from another world warning me.
In the afternoon I had a piece of business that took me across the
river. I did my business and turned homewards. It was almost dark, and
the ice of the Neva was coloured a faint green under the grey sky; the
buildings rose out of it like black bubbles poised over a swamp. I was
in that strange quarter of Petrograd where the river seems, like some
sluggish octopus, to possess a thousand coils. Always you are turning
upon a new bend of the ice, secretly stretching into darkness; strange
bridges suddenly meet you, and then, where you had expected to find a
solid mass of hideous flats, there will be a cluster of masts and the
smell of tar, and little fierce red lights like the eyes of waiting
I seemed to stand with ice on every side of me, and so frail was my
trembling wooden bridge that it seemed an easy thing for the ice, that
appeared to press with tremendous weight against its banks, to grind the
supports to fragments. There was complete silence on every side of me.
The street to my left was utterly deserted. I heard no cries nor
calls--only the ice seemed once and again to quiver as though some
submerged creature was moving beneath it. That vast crowd on the Nevski
seemed to be a dream. I was in a world that had fallen into decay and
desolation, and I could smell rotting wood, and could fancy that frozen
blades of grass were pressing up through the very pavement stones.
Suddenly an Isvostchick stumbled along past me, down the empty street,
and the bumping rattle of the sledge on the snow woke me from my
laziness. I started off homewards. When I had gone a little way and was
approaching the bridge over the Neva some man passed me, looked back,
stopped and waited for me. When I came up to him I saw to my surprise
that it was the Rat. He had his coat-collar turned over his ears and his
dirty fur cap pulled down over his forehead. His nose was very red, and
his thin hollow cheeks a dirty yellow colour.
"Good-evening, Barin," he said, grinning.
"Good-evening," I said. "Where are you slipping off to so secretly?"
"Slipping off?" He did not seem to understand my word. I repeated it.
"Oh, I'm not slipping off," he said almost indignantly. "No, indeed. I'm
just out for a walk like your Honour, to see the town."
"What have they been doing this afternoon?" I asked. "There's been a
fine fuss on the Nevski."
"Yes, there has...." he said, chuckling. "But it's nothing to the fuss
there will be."
"Nonsense," I said. "The police have got it all in control already.
You'll see to-morrow...."
"And the soldiers, Barin?"
"Oh, the soldiers won't do anything. Talk's one thing--action's
He laughed to himself and seemed greatly amused. This irritated me.
"Well, what do you know?" I asked.
"I know nothing," he chuckled. "But remember, Barin, in a week's time,
if you want me I'm your friend. Who knows? In a week I may be a rich
"Some one else's riches," I answered.
"Certainly," he said. "And why not? Why should he have things? Is he a
better man than I? Possibly--but then it is easy for a rich man to keep
within the law. And then Russia's meant for the poor man. However," he
continued, with great contempt in his voice, "that's politics--dull
stuff. While the others talk I act."
"And what about the Germans?" I asked him. "Does it occur to you that
when you've collected your spoils the Germans will come in and take
"Ah, you don't understand us, Barin," he said, laughing. "You're a good
man and a kind man, but you don't understand us. What can the Germans
do? They can't take the whole of Russia. Russia's a big country.... No,
if the Germans come there'll be more for us to take."
We stood for a moment under a lamp-post. He put his hand on my arm and
looked up at me with his queer ugly face, his sentimental dreary eyes,
his red nose, and his hard, cruel little mouth.
"But no one shall touch you--unless it's myself if I'm very drunk. But
you, knowing me, will understand afterwards that I was at least not
I laughed. "And this mysticism that they tell us about in England. Are
you mystical, Rat? Have you a beautiful soul?"
He sniffed and blew his nose with his hand.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Barin--I suppose you haven't a
rouble or two on you?"
"No, I haven't," I answered. He looked up and down the bridge as though
he were wondering whether an attack on me was worth while. He saw a
policeman and decided that it wasn't.
"Well, good-night, Barin," he said cheerfully. He shuffled off. I looked
at the vast Neva, pale green and dim grey, so silent under the bridges.
The policeman, enormous under his high coat, the sure and confident
guardian of that silent world, came slowly towards me, and I turned away
The next day, Sunday, I have always called in my mind Nina's day, and so
I propose to deal with it here, describing it as far as possible from
her point of view and placing her in the centre of the picture.
The great fact about Nina, at the end, when everything has been said,
must always be her youth. That Russian youthfulness is something that no
Western people can ever know, because no Western people are accustomed,
from their very babyhood, to bathe in an atmosphere that deals only with
In no Russian family is the attempt to prevent children from knowing
what life really is maintained for long; the spontaneous impetuosity of
the parents breaks it down. Nevertheless the Russian boy and girl, when
they come to the awkward age, have not the least idea of what life
really is. Dear me, no! They possess simply a bundle of incoherent
ideas, untested, ill-digested, but a wonderful basis for incessant
conversation. Experience comes, of course, and for the most part it is
Life is a tragedy to every Russian simply because the daily round is
forgotten by him in his pursuit of an ultimate meaning. We in the West
have learnt to despise ultimate meanings as unpractical and rather
Nina had thought so much and tested so little. She loved so vehemently
that her betrayal was the more inevitable. For instance, she did not
love Boris Grogoff in the least, but he was in some way connected with
the idea of freedom. She was, I am afraid, beginning to love Lawrence
desperately--the first love of her life--and he too was connected with
the idea of freedom because he was English. We English do not understand
sufficiently how the Russians love us for our easy victory over tyranny,
and despise us for the small use we have made of our victory--and then,
after all, there is something to be said for tyranny too....
But Nina did not see why she should not capture Lawrence. She felt her
vitality, her health, her dominant will beat so strongly within her that
it seemed to her that nothing could stop her. She loved him for his
strength, his silence, his good-nature, yes, and his stupidity. This
last gave her a sense of power over him, and of motherly tenderness too.
She loved his stiff and halting Russian--it was as though he were but
ten years old.
I am convinced, too, that she did not consider that she was doing any
wrong to Vera. In the first place she was not as yet really sure that
Vera cared for him. Vera, who had been to her always a mother rather
than a sister, seemed an infinite age. It was ridiculous that Vera
should fall in love--Vera so stately and stern and removed from passion.
Those days were over for Vera, and, with her strong sense of duty and
the fitness of things, she would realise that. Moreover Nina could not
believe that Lawrence cared for Vera. Vera was not the figure to be
loved in that way. Vera's romance had been with Markovitch years and
years ago, and now, whenever Nina looked at Markovitch, it made it at
once impossible to imagine Vera in any new romantic situation.
Then had come the night of the birthday party, and suspicion had at once
flamed up again. She was torn that night and for days afterwards with a
She hated Vera, she hated Lawrence, she hated herself. Then again her
mood had changed. It was, after all, natural that he should have gone to
protect Vera; she was his hostess; he was English, and did not know how
trivial a Russian scene of temper was. He had meant nothing, and poor
Vera, touched that at her matronly age any one should show her
attention, had looked at him gratefully.
That was all. She loved Vera; she would not hurt her with such
ridiculous suspicions, and, on that Friday evening when Semyonov had
come to see me, she had been her old self again, behaving to Vera with
all the tenderness and charm and affection that were her most delightful
On this Sunday morning she was reassured; she was gay and happy and
pleased with the whole world. The excitement of the disturbances of the
last two days provided an emotional background, not too thrilling to be
painful, because, after all, these riots would, as usual, come to
nothing, but it was pleasant to feel that the world was buzzing, and
that without paying a penny one might see a real cinematograph show
simply by walking down the Nevski.
I do not know, of course, what exactly happened that morning until
Semyonov came in, but I can see the Markovitch family, like ten thousand
other Petrograd families, assembling somewhere about eleven o'clock
round the Samovar, all in various stages of undress, all sleepy and
pale-faced, and a little befogged, as all good Russians are when,
through the exigencies of sleep, they've been compelled to allow their
ideas to escape from them for a considerable period. They discussed, of
course, the disturbances, and I can imagine Markovitch portentously
announcing that "It was all over, he had the best of reasons-for
As he once explained to me, he was at his worst on Sunday, because he
was then so inevitably reminded of his lost youth.
"It's a gloomy day, Ivan Andreievitch, for all those who have not quite
done what they expected. The bells ring, and you feel that they ought to
mean something to you, but of course one's gone past all that.... But
it's a pity...."
Nina's only thought that morning was that Lawrence was coming in the
afternoon to take her for a walk. She had arranged it all. After a very
evident hint from her he had suggested it. Vera had refused, because
some aunts were coming to call, and finally it had been arranged that
after the walk Lawrence should bring Nina home, stay to half-past six
dinner, and that then they should all go to the French theatre. I also
was asked to dinner and the theatre. Nina was sure that something must
happen that afternoon. It would be a crisis.... She felt within her such
vitality, such power, such domination, that she believed that to-day she
could command anything.... She was, poor child, supremely confident, and
that not through conceit or vanity, but simply because she was a
fatalist and believed that destiny had brought Lawrence to her feet....
It was the final proof of her youth that she saw the whole universe
working to fulfil her desire.
The other proof of her youth was that she began, for the first time, to
suffer desperately. The most casual mention of Lawrence's name would
make her heart beat furiously, suffocating her, her throat dry, her
cheeks hot, her hands cold. Then, as the minute of his arrival
approached, she would sit as though she were the centre of a leaping
fire that gradually inch by inch was approaching nearer to her, the
flames staring like little eyes on the watch, the heat advancing and
receding in waves like hands. She hoped that no one would notice her
agitation. She talked nonsense to whomsoever was near to her with little
nervous laughs; she seemed to herself to be terribly unreal, with a
fierce hostile creature inside her who took her heart in his hot hands
and pressed it, laughing at her.
And then the misery! That little episode at the circus of which I had
been a witness was only the first of many dreadful ventures. She
confessed to me afterwards that she did not herself know what she was
doing. And the final result of these adventures was to encourage her
because he had not repelled her. He _must_ have noticed, she thought,
the times when her hand had touched his, when his mouth had been, so
close to hers that their very thoughts had mingled, when she had felt
the stuff of his coat, and even for an instant stroked it. He _must_
have noticed these things, and still he had never rebuffed her. He was
always so kind to her; she fancied that his voice had a special note of
tenderness in it when he spoke to her, and when she looked at his ugly,
quiet, solid face, she could not believe that they were not meant for
one another. He _must_ want her, her gaiety, happiness, youth--it would
be wrong for him _not_ to! There could be no girls in that stupid,
practical, far-away England who would be the wife to him that she would
Then the cursed misery of that waiting! They could hear in their
sitting-room the steps coming up the stone stairs outside their flat,
and every step seemed to be his. Ah, he had come earlier than he had
fixed. Vera had stupidly forgotten, perhaps, or he had found waiting any
longer impossible. Yes, surely that was his footfall; she knew it so
well. There, now he was turning towards the door; there was a pause;
soon there would be the tinkle of the bell!...
No, he had mounted higher; it was not Lawrence--only some stupid,
ridiculous creature who was impertinently daring to put her into this
misery of disappointment. And then she would wonder suddenly whether she
had been looking too fixedly at the door, whether they had noticed her,
and she would start and look about her self-consciously, blushing a
little, her eyes hot and suspicious.
I can see her in all these moods; it was her babyhood that was leaving
her at last. She was never to be quite so spontaneously gay again,
never quite so careless, so audacious, so casual, so happy. In Russia
the awkward age is very short, very dramatic, often enough very tragic.
Nina was as helpless as the rest of the world.
At any rate, upon this Sunday, she was sure of her afternoon. Her eyes
were wild with excitement. Any one who looked at her closely must have
noticed her strangeness, but they were all discussing the events of the
last two days; there were a thousand stories, nearly all of them false
and a few; true facts.
No one in reality knew anything except that there had been some
demonstrations, a little shooting, and a number of excited speeches. The
town on that lovely winter morning seemed absolutely quiet.
Somewhere about mid-day Semyonov came in, and without thinking about it
Nina suddenly found herself sitting in the window talking to him. This
conversation, which was in its results to have an important influence on
her whole life, continued the development which that eventful Sunday was
to effect in her. Its importance lay very largely in the fact that her
uncle had never spoken to her seriously like a grown-up woman before.
Semyonov was, of course, quite clever enough to realise the change which
was transforming her, and he seized it, at once, for his own advantage.
She, on her side, had always, ever since she could remember, been
intrigued by him. She told me once that almost her earliest memory was
being lifted into the air by her uncle and feeling the thick solid
strength of his grasp, so that she was like a feather in the air, poised
on one of his stubborn fingers; when he kissed her each hair of his
beard seemed like a pale, taut wire, so stiff and resolute was it. Her
Uncle Ivan was a flabby, effeminate creature in comparison. Then, as she
had grown older, she had realised that he was a dangerous man, dangerous
to women, who loved and feared and hated him. Vera said that he had
great power over them and made them miserable, and that he was,
therefore, a bad, wicked man. But this only served to make him, in
Nina's eyes, the more a romantic figure.
However, he had never treated her in the least seriously, had tossed her
in the air spiritually just as he had done physically when she was a
baby, had given her chocolates, taken her once or twice to the cinema,
laughed at her, and, she felt, deeply despised her. Then came the war
and he had gone to the Front, and she had almost forgotten him. Then
came the romantic story of his being deeply in love with a nurse who had
been killed, that he was heartbroken and inconsolable and a changed man.
Was it wonderful that on his return to Petrograd she should feel again
that old Byronic (every Russian is still brought up on Byron) romance?
She did not like him, but--well--Vera was a staid old-fashioned
thing.... Perhaps they all misjudged him; perhaps he really needed
comfort and consolation. He certainly seemed kinder than he used to be.
But, until to-day, he had never talked to her seriously.
How her heart leapt into her throat when he began, at once, in his quiet
"Well, Nina dear, tell me all about it. I know, so you needn't be
frightened. I know and I understand."
She flung a terrified glance around her, but Uncle Ivan was reading the
paper at the other end of the room, her brother-in-law was cutting up
little pieces of wood in his workshop, and Vera was in the kitchen.
"What do you mean?" she said in a whisper. "I don't understand."
"Yes, you do," he answered, smiling at her. "You know, Nina, you're in
love with the Englishman, and have been for a long time. Well, why not?
Don't be so frightened about it. It is quite time that you should be in
love with some one, and he's a fine strong young man--not over-blessed
with brains, but you can supply that part of it. No, I think it's a very
good match. I like it. Believe me, I'm your friend, Nina." He put his
hand on hers.
He looked so kind, she told me afterwards, that she felt as though she
had never known him before; her eyes were filled with tears, so
overwhelming a relief was it to find some one at last who sympathised
and understood and wanted her to succeed. I remember that she was
wearing that day a thin black velvet necklet with a very small diamond
in front of it. She had been given it by Uncle Ivan on her last
birthday, and instead of making her look grown-up it gave her a
ridiculously childish appearance as though she had stolen into Vera's
bedroom and dressed up in her things. Then, with her fair tousled hair
and large blue eyes, open as a rule with a startled expression as though
she had only just awakened into an astonishingly exciting world, she was
altogether as unprotected and as guileless and as honest as any human
being alive. I don't know whether Semyonov felt her innocence and
youth--I expect he considered very little beside the plans that he had
then in view.... and innocence had never been very interesting to him.
He spoke to her just as a kind, wise, thoughtful uncle ought to speak to
a niece caught up into her first love-affair. From the moment of that
half-hour's conversation in the window Nina adored him, and believed
every word that came from his mouth.
"You see, Nina dear," he went on, "I've not spoken to you before because
you neither liked me nor trusted me. Quite rightly you listened to what
others said about me--"
"Oh no," interrupted Nina. "I never listen to anybody."
"Well then," said Semyonov, "we'll say that you were very naturally
influenced by them. And quite right--perfectly right. You were only a
girl then--you are a woman now. I had nothing to say to you then--now I
can help you, give you a little advice perhaps--"
I don't know what Nina replied. She was breathlessly pleased and
"What I want," he went on, "is the happiness of you all. I was sorry
when I came back to find that Nicholas and Vera weren't such friends as
they used to be. I don't mean that there's anything wrong at all, but
they must be brought closer together--and that's what you and I, who
know them and love them, can do--"
"Yes, yes," said Nina eagerly. Semyonov then explained that the thing
that really was, it seemed to him, keeping them apart were Nicholas's
inventions. Of course Vera had long ago seen that these inventions were
never going to come to anything, that they were simply wasting
Nicholas's time when he might, by taking an honest clerkship or
something of the kind, be maintaining the whole household, and the very
thought of him sitting in his workshop irritated her. The thing to do,
Semyonov explained, was to laugh Nicholas out of his inventions, to show
him that it was selfish nonsense his pursuing them, to persuade him to
make an honest living.
"But I thought," said Nina, "you approved of them. I heard you only the
other day telling him that it was a good idea, and that he must go on--"
"Ah!" said Semyonov. "That was my weakness, I'm afraid. I couldn't bear
to disappoint him. But it was wrong of me--and I knew it at the time."
Now Nina had always rather admired her brother-in-law's inventions. She
had thought it very clever of him to think of such things, and she had
wondered why other people did not applaud him more.
Now suddenly she saw that it was very selfish of him to go on with these
things when they never brought in a penny, and Vera had to do all the
drudgery. She was suddenly indignant with him. In how clear a light her
uncle placed things!
"One thing to do," said Semyonov, "is to laugh at him about them. Not
very much, not unkindly, but enough to make him see the folly of it."
"I think he does see that already, poor Nicholas," said Nina with wisdom
beyond her years.
"To bring Nicholas and Vera together," said Semyonov, "that's what we
have to do, you and I. And believe me, dear Nina, I on my side will do
all I can to help you. We are friends, aren't we?--not only uncle and
"Yes," said Nina breathlessly. That was all that there was to the
conversation, but it was quite enough to make Nina feel as though she
had already won her heart's desire. If any one as clever as her uncle
believed in this, then it _must_ be true. It had not been only her own
silly imagination--Lawrence cared for her. Her uncle had seen it,
otherwise he would never have encouraged her--Lawrence cared for her....
Suddenly, in the happy spontaneity of the moment she did what she very
seldom did, bent forward and kissed him.
She told me afterwards that that kiss seemed to displease him.
He got up and walked away.
I do not know exactly what occurred during that afternoon. Neither
Lawrence nor Nina spoke about it to me. I only know that Nina returned
subdued and restrained. I can imagine them going out into that quiet
town and walking along the deserted quay; the quiet that afternoon was,
I remember, marvellous. The whole world was holding its breath. Great
events were occurring, but we were removed from them all. The ice
quivered under the sun and the snowclouds rose higher and higher into
the blue, and once and again a bell chimed and jangled.... There was an
amazing peace. Through this peaceful world Nina and Lawrence walked. His
mind must, I know, have been very far away from Nina, probably he saw
nothing of her little attempts at friendship; her gasping sentences
that seemed to her so daring and significant he scarcely heard. His only
concern was to endure the walk as politely as possible and return to
Perhaps if she had not had that conversation with her uncle she would
have realised more clearly how slight a response was made to her, but
she thought only that this was his English shyness and gaucherie--she
must go slowly and carefully. He was not like a Russian. She must not
frighten him. Ah, how she loved him as she walked beside him, seeing and
not seeing the lovely frozen colours of the winter day, the quickly
flooding saffron sky! The first bright star, the great pearl-grey cloud
of the Neva as it was swept into the dark. In the dark she put, I am
sure, her hand on his arm, and felt his strength and took her small
hurried steps beside his long ones. He did not, I expect, feel her hand
on his sleeve at all. It was Vera whom he saw through the dusk. Vera
watching the door for his return, knowing that his eyes would rush to
hers, that every beat of his heart was for her....
I found them all seated at dinner when I entered. I brought them the
news of the shooting up at the Nicholas Station.
"Perhaps, we had better not go to the theatre," I said. "A number of
people were killed this afternoon, and all the trams are stopped."
Still it was all remote from us. They laughed at the idea of not going
to the theatre. The tickets had been bought two weeks ago, and the walk
would be pleasant. Of course we would go. It would be fun, too, to see
whether anything were happening.
With how strange a clarity I remember the events of that evening. It is
detached and hangs by itself among the other events of that amazing
time, as though it had been framed and separated for some especial
purpose. My impression of the colour of it now is of a scene intensely
I saw at once on my arrival that Vera was not yet prepared to receive me
back into her friendship. And I saw, too, that she included Lawrence in
this ostracism. She sat there, stiff and cold, smiling and talking
simply because she was compelled, for politeness sake, to do so. She
would scarcely speak to me at all, and when I saw this I turned and
devoted myself to Uncle Ivan, who was always delighted to make me a
testing-ground for his English.
But poor Jerry! Had I not been so anxious lest a scene should burst upon
us all I could have laughed at the humour of it. Vera's attitude was a
complete surprise to him. He had not seen her during the preceding week,
and that absence from her had heightened his desire until it burnt his
very throat with its flame. One glance from her, when he came in, would
have contented him. He could have rested then, happily, quietly; but
instead of that glance she had avoided his eye, her hand was cold and
touched his only for an instant. She had not spoken to him again after
the first greeting. I am sure that he had never known a time when his
feelings threatened to be too much for him. His hold on himself and his
emotions had been complete. "These fellers," he once said to me about
some Russians, "are always letting their feelings overwhelm them--like
women. And they like it. Funny thing!" Well, funny or no, he realised it
now; his true education, like Nina's, like Vera's, like Bohun's, like
Markovitch's, perhaps like my own, was only now beginning. Funny and
pathetic, too, to watch his broad, red, genial face struggling to
express a polite interest in the conversation, to show nothing but
friendliness and courtesy. His eyes were as restless as minnows; they
darted for an instant towards Vera, then darted off again, then flashed
back. His hand moved for a plate, and I saw that it was shaking. Poor
Jerry! He had learnt what suffering was during those last weeks. But the
most silent of us all that evening was Markovitch. He sat huddled over
his food and never said a word. If he looked up at all he glowered, and
so soon as he had finished eating he returned to his workshop, closing
the door behind him. I caught Semyonov looking at him with a pleasant,
At last Vera, Nina, Lawrence, and I started for the theatre. I can't say
that I was expecting a very pleasant evening, but the deathlike
stillness, both of ourselves and the town did, I confess, startle me.
Scarcely a word was exchanged by us between the English Prospect and
Saint Isaac's Square. The square looked lovely in the bright moonlight,
and I said something about it. It was indeed very fine, the cathedral
like a hovering purple cloud, the old sentry in his high peaked hat, the
black statue, and the blue shadows over the snow. It was then that
Lawrence, with an air of determined strength, detached Vera from us and
walked ahead with her. I saw that he was talking eagerly to her.
Nina said, with a little shudder, "Isn't it quiet, Durdles? As though
there were ghosts round every corner."
"Hope you enjoyed your walk this afternoon," I said.
"No, it was quiet then. But not like it is now. Let's walk faster and
catch the others up. Do you believe in ghosts, Durdles?"
"Yes, I think I do."
"So do I. Was it true, do you think, about the people being shot at the
Nicholas Station to-day?"
"Perhaps all the dead people are crowding round here now. Why isn't any
one out walking?"
"I suppose they are all frightened by what they've heard, and think it
better to stay at home."
We were walking down the Morskaia, and our feet gave out a ringing echo.
"Let's keep up with them," Nina said. When we had joined the others I
found that they were both silent--Lawrence very red, Vera pale. We were
all feeling rather weary. A woman met us. "You aren't allowed to cross
the Nevski," she said; "the Cossacks are stopping everybody." I can see
her now, a stout, red-faced woman, a shawl over her head, and carrying a
basket. Another woman, a prostitute I should think, came up and joined
"What is it?" she asked us.
The stout woman repeated in a trembling, agitated voice, "You aren't
allowed to cross the Nevski. The Cossacks are stopping everybody."
The prostitute shook her head in her alarm, and little flakes of powder
detached themselves from her nose. "_Bozhe moi_--_bozhe moi_!" she
said, "and I promised not to be late."
Vera then, very calmly and quietly, took command of the situation.
"We'll go and see," she said, "what is really the truth."
We turned up the side street to the Moika Canal, which lay like powdered
crystal under the moon. Not a soul was in sight.
There arrived then one of the most wonderful moments of my life. The
Nevski Prospect, that broad and mighty thoroughfare, stretched before us
like a great silver river. It was utterly triumphantly bare and naked.
Under the moon it flowed, with proud tranquillity, so far as the eye
could see between its high black banks of silent houses.
At intervals of about a hundred yards the Cossack pickets, like ebony
statues on their horses, guarded the way. Down the whole silver expanse
not one figure was to be seen; so beautiful was it under the high moon,
so still, so quiet, so proud, that it was revealing now for the first
time its real splendour. At no time of the night or day is the Nevski
deserted. How happy it must have been that night!...
For us, it was as though we hesitated on the banks of a river. I felt a
strange superstition, as though something said to me, "You cross that
and you are plunged irrevocably into a new order of events. Go home, and
you will avoid danger." Nina must have had something of the same
feeling, because she said:
"Let's go home. They won't let us cross. I don't want to cross. Let's go
But Vera said firmly, "Nonsense! We've gone so far. We've got the
tickets. I'm going on."
I felt the note in her voice, superstitiously, as a kind of desperate
challenge, as though she had said:
"Well, you see nothing worse can happen to me than has happened."
Lawrence said roughly, "Of course, we're going on."
The prostitute began, in a trembling voice, as though we must all of
necessity understand her case:
"I don't want to be late this time, because I've been late so often
before.... It always is that way with me... always unfortunate...."
We started across, and when we stepped into the shining silver surface
we all stopped for an instant, as though held by an invisible force.
"That's it," said Vera, speaking it seemed to herself. "So it always is
with us. All revolutions in Russia end this way--"
An unmounted Cossack came forward to us.
"No hanging about there," he said. "Cross quickly. No one is to delay."
We moved to the other side of the Moika bridge. I thought of the
Cossacks yesterday who had assured the people that they would not
fire--well, that impulse had passed. Protopopoff and his men had
We were all now in the shallows on the other bank of the canal. The
prostitute, who was still at our side, hesitated for a moment, as though
she were going to speak. I think she wanted to ask whether she might
walk with us a little way. Suddenly she vanished without sound, into the
"Come along," said Vera. "We shall be dreadfully late." She seemed to be
mastered by an overpowering desire not to be left alone with Lawrence.
She hurried forward with Nina, and Lawrence and I came more slowly
behind. We were now in a labyrinth of little streets and black
overhanging flats. Not a soul anywhere--only the moonlight in great
broad flashes of light--once or twice a woman hurried by keeping in the
shadow. Sometimes, at the far end of the street, we saw the shining,
Lawrence was silent, then, just as we were turning into the square where
the Michailovsky Theatre was he began:
"What's the matter?... What's the matter with her, Durward? What have I
"I don't know that you've done anything," I answered.
"But don't you see?" he went on. "She won't speak to me. She won't look
at me. I won't stand this long. I tell you I won't stand it long. I'll
make her come off with me in spite of them all. I'll have her to myself.
I'll make her happy, Durward, as she's never been in all her life. But I
must have her.... I can't live close to her like this, and yet never be
with her. Never alone, never alone. Why is she behaving like this to
He spoke really like a man in agony. The words coming from him in little
tortured sentences as though they were squeezed from him desperately,
with pain at every breath that he drew.
"She's afraid of herself, I expect, not of you." I put my hand on his
sleeve. "Lawrence," I said, "go home. Go back to England. This is
becoming too much for both of you. Nothing can come of it, but
unhappiness for everybody."
"No!" he said. "It's too late for any of your Platonic advice, Durward.
I'm going to have her, even though the earth turns upside down."
We went up the steps and into the theatre. There was, of course,
scarcely any one there. The Michailovsky is not a large theatre, but the
stalls looked extraordinarily desolate, every seat watching one with a
kind of insolent wink as though, like the Nevski ten minutes before it
said, "Well, now you humans are getting frightened, you're all stopping
away. We're coming back to our own!"
There was some such malicious air about the whole theatre. Above, in the
circle, the little empty boxes were dim and shadowy, and one fancied
figures moved there, and then saw that there was no one. Someone up in
the gallery laughed, and the laugh went echoing up and down the empty
spaces. A few people came in and sat nervously about, and no one spoke
except in a low whisper, because voices sounded so loud and impertinent.
Then again the man in the gallery laughed, and every one looked up
frowning. The play began. It was, I think, _Les Idees de Francoise_, but
of that I cannot be sure. It was a farce of the regular French type,
with a bedroom off, and marionettes who continually separated into
couples and giggled together. The giggling to-night was of a sadly
hollow sort. I pitied and admired the actors, spontaneous as a rule, but
now bravely stuffing any kind of sawdust into the figures in their
hands, but the leakage was terrible, and the sawdust lay scattered all
about the stage. The four of us sat as solemn as statues--I don't think
one of us smiled. It was during the second Act that I suddenly laughed.
I don't know that anything very comic was happening on the stage, but I
was aware, with a kind of ironic subconsciousness, that some of the
superior spirits in their superior Heaven must be deriving a great deal
of fun from our situation. There was Vera thinking, I suppose, of
nothing but Lawrence, and Lawrence thinking of nothing but Vera, and
Nina thinking of nothing but Lawrence, and the audience thinking of
their safety, and the players thinking of their salaries, and
Protopopoff at home thinking of his victory, and the Czar in Tsarskoe
thinking of his Godsent autocracy, and Europe thinking of its ideals,
and Germany thinking of its militarism--all self-justified, all
mistaken, and all fulfilling some deeper plan at whose purpose they
could not begin to guess. And how intermingled we all were! Vera and
Nina, M. Robert and Mdlle. Flori on the other side of the footlights,
Trenchard and Marie killed in Galicia, the Kaiser and Hindenburg, the
Archbishop of Canterbury and the postmaster of my village in Glebeshire.
The curtain is coming down, the fat husband is deceived once again, the
lovers are in the bedroom listening behind the door, the comic waiter is
winking at the chamber-maid....
The lights are up and we are alone again in the deserted theatre.
Towards the end of the last interval I went out into the passage behind
the stalls to escape from the chastened whispering that went trembling
up and down like the hissing of terrified snakes. I leaned against the
wall in the deserted passage and watched the melancholy figure of the
cloak-room attendant huddled up on a chair, his head between his hands.
Suddenly I saw Vera. She came up to me as though she were going to walk
past me, and then she stopped and spoke. She talked fast, not looking at
me, but beyond, down the passage.
"I'm sorry, Ivan Andreievitch," she said. "I was cross the other day. I
hurt you. I oughtn't to have done that."
"You know," I said, "that I never thought of it for a minute."
"No, I was wrong. But I've been terribly worried during these last
weeks. I've thought it all out to-day and I've decided--" there was a
catch in her breath and she paused; she went on--"decided that there
mustn't be any more weakness. I'm much weaker than I thought. I would be
ashamed if I didn't think that shame was a silly thing to have. But now
I am quite clear; I must make Nicholas and Nina happy. Whatever else
comes I must do that. It has been terrible, these last weeks. We've all
been angry and miserable, and now I must put it right. I can if I try.
I've been forgetting that I chose my own life myself, and now I mustn't
be cowardly because it's difficult. I will make it right myself...."
She paused again, then she said, looking me straight in the face,
"Ivan Andreievitch, does Nina care for Mr. Lawrence?"
She was looking at me, with large black eyes so simply, with such trust
in me, that I could only tell her the truth.
"Yes," I said, "she does."
Her eyes fell, then she looked up at me again.
"I thought so," she said. "And does he care for her?"
"No," I said, "he does not."
"He must," she said. "It would be a very happy thing for them to marry."
She spoke very low, so that I could scarcely hear her words.
"Wait, Vera," I said. "Let it alone. Nina's very young. The mood will
pass. Lawrence, perhaps, will go back to England."
She drew in her breath and I saw her hand tremble, but she still looked
at me, only now her eyes were not so clear. Then she laughed. "I'm
getting an old woman, Ivan Andreievitch. It's ridiculous...." She broke
off. Then held out her hand.
"But we'll always be friends now, won't we? I'll never be cross with you
I took her hand. "I'm getting old too," I said. "And I'm useless at
everything. I only make a bungle of everything I try. But I'll be your
true friend to the end of my time--"
The bell rang and we went back into the theatre.
And yet, strangely enough, when I lay awake that night in my room on my
deserted island, it was of Markovitch that I was thinking. Of all the
memories of the preceding evening that of Markovitch huddled over his
food, sullen and glowering, with Semyonov watching him, was
Markovitch was, so to speak, the dark horse of them all, and he was also
when one came to look at it all the way round the centre of the story.
And yet it was Markovitch with his inconsistencies, his mysteries, his
impulses, and purposes, whom I understood least of them all. He makes,
indeed, a very good symbol of my present difficulties.
In that earlier experience of Marie in the forests of Galicia the matter
had been comparatively easy. I had then been concerned with the outward
manifestation of war--cannon, cholera, shell, and the green glittering
trees of the forest itself. But the war had made progress since then. It
had advanced out of material things into the very souls of men. It was
no longer the forest of bark and tinder with which the chiefs of this
world had to deal, but, to adapt the Russian proverb itself, "with the
dark forest of the hearts of men."
How much more baffling and intangible this new forest, and how deeply
serious a business now for those who were still thoughtlessly and
selfishly juggling with human affairs.
"There is no ammunition," I remember crying desperately in Galicia. We
had moved further than the question of ammunition now.
I had a strange dream that night. I saw my old forest of two years
before--the very woods of Buchatch with the hot painted leaves, the
purple slanting sunlight, the smell, the cries, the whirr of the shell.
But in my dream the only inhabitant of that forest was Markovitch. He
was pursued by some animal. What beast it was I could not see, always
the actual vision was denied to me, but I could hear it plunging through
the thickets, and once I caught a glimpse of a dark crouching body like
a shadow against the light.
But Markovitch I saw all the time, sweating with heat and terror, his
clothes torn, his eyes inflamed, his breath coming in desperate pants,
turning once and again as though he would stop and offer defiance, then
hasting on, his face and hands scratched and bleeding. I wanted to offer
him help and assistance, but something prevented me; I could not get to
him. Finally he vanished from my sight and I was left alone in the
All the next morning I sat and wondered what I had better do, and at
last I decided that I would go and see Henry Bohun.
I had not seen Bohun for several weeks. I myself had been, of late, less
to the flat in the English Prospect, but I knew that he had taken my
advice that he should be kind to Nicholas Markovitch with due British
seriousness, and that he had been trying to bring some kind of
relationship about. He had even asked Markovitch to dine alone with him,
and Markovitch, although he declined the invitation was, I believe,
So, about half-past one, I started off for Bohun's office on the
Fontanka. I've said somewhere before, I think, that Bohun's work was in
connection with the noble but uphill task of enlightening the Russian
public as to the righteousness of the war, the British character, and
the Anglo-Russian alliance. I say "uphill," because only a few of the
_real_ population of Russia showed the slightest desire to know anything
whatever about any country outside their own. Their interest is in ideas
not in boundaries--and what I mean by "real" will be made patent by the
events of this very day. However, Bohun did his best, and it was not his
fault that the British Government could only spare enough men and money
to cover about one inch of the whole of Russia--and, I hasten to add,
that if that same British Government had plastered the whole vast
country from Archangel to Vladivostock with pamphlets, orators, and
photographs it would not have altered, in the slightest degree, after
To make any effect in Russia England needed not only men and money but a
hundred years' experience of the country. That same experience was
possessed by the Germans alone of all the Western peoples--and they have
not neglected to use it.
I went by tram to the Fontanka, and the streets seemed absolutely
quiet. That strange shining Nevski of the night before was a dream. Some
one in the tram said something about rifle-shots in the Summer Garden,
but no one listened. As Vera had said last night we had, none of us,
much faith in Russian revolutions.
I went up in the lift to the Propaganda office and found it a very nice
airy place, clean and smart, with coloured advertisements by Shepperson
and others on the walls, pictures of Hampstead and St. Albans and Kew
Gardens that looked strangely satisfactory and homely to me, and rather
touching and innocent. There were several young women clicking away at
typewriters, and maps of the Western front, and a colossal toy map of
the London Tube, and a nice English library with all the best books from
Chaucer to D.H. Lawrence and from the _Religio Medici_ to E.V. Lucas'
Everything seemed clean and simple and a little deserted, as though the
heart of the Russian public had not, as yet, quite found its way there.
I think "guileless" was the adjective that came to my mind, and
certainly Burrows, the head of the place--a large, red-faced, smiling
man with glasses--seemed to me altogether too cheerful and pleased with
life to penetrate the wicked recesses of Russian pessimism.
I went into Bohun's room and found him very hard at work in a serious,
emphatic way which only made me feel that he was playing at it. He had a
little bookcase over his table, and I noticed the _Georgian Book of
Verse_, Conrad's _Nostromo_, and a translation of Ropshin's _Pale
"Altogether too pretty and literary," I said to him; "you ought to be
getting at the peasant with a pitchfork and a hammer--not admiring the
"I daresay you're right," he said, blushing. "But whatever we do we're
wrong. We have fellows in here cursing us all day. If we're simple we're
told we're not clever enough; if we're clever we're told we're too
complicated. If we're militant we're told we ought to be
tender-hearted, and if we're tender-hearted we're told we're
sentimental--and at the end of it all the Russians don't care a damn."
"Well, I daresay you're doing some good somewhere," I said indulgently.
"Come and look at my view," he said, "and see whether it isn't
He spoke no more than the truth. We looked across the Canal over the
roofs of the city--domes and towers and turrets, grey and white and
blue, with the dark red walls of many of the older houses stretched like
an Arabian carpet beneath white bubbles of clouds that here and there
marked the blue sky. It was a scene of intense peace, the smoke rising
from the chimneys, Isvostchicks stumbling along on the farther banks of
the Canal, and the people sauntering in their usual lazy fashion up and
down the Nevski. Immediately below our window was a skating-rink that
stretched straight across the Canal. There were some figures, like
little dolls, skating up and down, and they looked rather desolate
beside the deserted band-stands and the empty seats. On the road outside
our door a cart loaded with wood slowly moved along, the high hoop over
the horse's back gleaming with red and blue.
"Yes, it _is_ a view!" I said. "Splendid!--and all as quiet as though
there'd been no disturbances at all. Have you heard any news?"
"No," said Bohun. "To tell the truth I've been so busy that I haven't
had time to ring up the Embassy. And we've had no one in this morning.
Monday morning, you know," he added; "always very few people on Monday
morning"--as though he didn't wish me to think that the office was
I watched the little doll-like men circling placidly round and round
the rink. One bubble cloud rose and slowly swallowed up the sun.
Suddenly I heard a sharp crack like the breaking of a twig. "What's
that?" I said, stepping forward on to the balcony. "It sounded like a
"I didn't hear anything," said Bohun. "You get funny echoes up here
sometimes." We stepped back into Bohun's room and, if I had had any
anxieties, they would at once, I think, have been reassured by the
unemotional figure of Bohun's typist, a gay young woman with peroxide
hair, who was typing away as though for her very life.
"Look here, Bohun, can I talk to you alone for a minute?" I asked.
The peroxide lady left us.
"It's just about Markovitch I wanted to ask you," I went on. "I'm
infernally worried, and I want your help. It may seem ridiculous of me
to interfere in another family like this, with people with whom I have,
after all, nothing to do. But there are two reasons why it isn't
ridiculous. One is the deep affection I have for Nina and Vera. I
promised them my friendship, and now I've got to back that promise. And
the other is that you and I are really responsible for bringing Lawrence
into the family. They never would have known him if it hadn't been for
us. There's danger and trouble of every sort brewing, and Semyonov, as
you know, is helping it on wherever he can. Well, now, what I want to
know is, how much have you seen of Markovitch lately, and has he talked
Bohun considered. "I've seen very little of him," he said at last. "I
think he avoids me now. He's such a weird bird that it's impossible to
tell of what he's really thinking. I know he was pleased when I asked
him to dine with me at the Bear the other night. He looked _most
awfully_ pleased. But he wouldn't come. It was as though he suspected
that I was laying a trap for him."
"But what have you noticed about him otherwise?"
"Well, I've seen very little of him. He's sulky just now. He suspected
Lawrence, of course--always after that night of Nina's party. But I
think that he's reassured again. And of course it's all so ridiculous,
because there's nothing to suspect, absolutely nothing--is there?"
"Absolutely nothing," I answered firmly.
He sighed with relief. "Oh, you don't know how glad I am to hear that,"
he said. "Because, although I've _known_ that it was all right, Vera's
been so odd lately that I've wondered--you know how I care about Vera
"How do you mean--odd?" I sharply interrupted.
"Well--for instance--of course I've told nobody--and you won't tell any
one either--but the other night I found her crying in the flat, sitting
up near the table, sobbing her heart out. She thought every one was
out--I'd been in my room and she hadn't known. But Vera, Durward--Vera
of all people! I didn't let her see me--she doesn't know now that I
heard her. But when you care for any one as I care for Vera, it's awful
to think that she can suffer like that and one can do nothing. Oh,
Durward, I wish to God I wasn't so helpless! You know before I came out
to Russia I felt so old; I thought there was nothing I couldn't do, that
I was good enough for anybody. And now I'm the most awful ass. Fancy,
Durward! Those poems of mine--I thought they were wonderful. I
He was interrupted by a sudden sharp crackle like a fire bursting into a
blaze quite close at hand. We both sprang to the windows, threw them
open (they were not sealed, for some unknown reason), and rushed out on
to the balcony. The scene in front of us was just what it had been
before--the bubble clouds were still sailing lazily before the blue, the
skaters were still hovering on the ice, the cart of wood that I had
noticed was vanishing slowly into the distance. But from the
Liteiny--just over the bridge--came a confused jumble of shouts, cries,
and then the sharp, unmistakable rattle of a machine-gun. It was funny
to see the casual life in front of one suddenly pause at that sound. The
doll-like skaters seemed to spin for a moment and then freeze; one
figure began to run across the ice. A small boy came racing down our
street shouting. Several men ran out from doorways and stood looking up
into the sky, as though they thought the noise had come from there. The
sun was just setting; the bubble clouds were pink, and windows flashed
fire. The rattle of the machine-gun suddenly stopped, and there was a
moment's silence when the only sound in the whole world was the clatter
of the wood-cart turning the corner. I could see to the right of me the
crowds in the Nevski, that had looked like the continual unwinding of a
ragged skein of black silk, break their regular movement and split up
like flies falling away from an opening door.
We were all on the balcony by now--the stout Burrows, Peroxide, and
another lady typist, Watson, the thin and most admirable secretary (he
held the place together by his diligence and order), two Russian clerks,
Henry, and I.
We all leaned over the railings and looked down into the street beneath
us. To our left the Fontanka Bridge was quite deserted--then, suddenly,
an extraordinary procession poured across it. At that same moment (at
any rate it seems so now to me on looking back) the sun disappeared,
leaving a world of pale grey mist shot with gold and purple. The stars
were, many of them, already out, piercing with their sharp cold
brilliance the winter sky.
We could not at first see of what exactly the crowd now pouring over the
bridge was composed. Then, as it turned and came down our street, it
revealed itself as something so theatrical and melodramatic as to be
incredible. Incredible, I say, because the rest of the world was not
theatrical with it. That was always to be the amazing feature of the new
scene into which, without knowing it, I was at that moment stepping. In
Galicia the stage had been set--ruined villages, plague-stricken
peasants, shell-holes, trenches, roads cut to pieces, huge trees
levelled to the ground, historic chateaux pillaged and robbed. But here
the world was still the good old jog-trot world that one had always
known; the shops and hotels and theatres remained as they had always
been. There would remain, I believe, for ever those dull Jaeger
undergarments in the windows of the bazaar, and the bound edition of
Tchekov in the book-shop just above the Moika, and the turtle and the
gold-fish in the aquarium near Elisseieff; and whilst those things were
there I could not believe in melodrama.
And we did not believe. We dug our feet into the snow, and leaned over
the balcony railings absorbed with amused interest. The procession
consisted of a number of motor lorries, and on these lorries soldiers
were heaped. I can use no other word because, indeed, they seemed to be
all piled upon one another, some kneeling forward, some standing, some
sitting, and all with their rifles pointing outwards until the lorries
looked like hedgehogs. Many of the rifles had pieces of red cloth
attached to them, and one lorry displayed proudly a huge red flag that
waved high in air with a sort of flaunting arrogance of its own. On
either side of the lorries, filling the street, was the strangest mob of
men, women, and children. There seemed to be little sign of order or
discipline amongst them as they were all shouting different cries: "Down
the Fontanka!" "No, the Duma!" "To the Nevski!" "No, no, _Tovaristchi_
(comrades), to the Nicholas Station!"
Such a rabble was it that I remember that my first thought was of
pitying indulgence. So this was the grand outcome of Boris Grogoff's
eloquence, and the Rat's plots for plunder!--a fitting climax to such
vain dreams. I saw the Cossack, that ebony figure of Sunday night. Ten
such men, and this rabble was dispersed for ever! I felt inclined to
lean over and whisper to them, "Quick! quick! Go home!... They'll be
here in a moment and catch you!"
And yet, after all, there seemed to be some show of discipline. I
noticed that, as the crowd moved forward, men dropped out and remained
picketing the doorways of the street. Women seemed to be playing a large
part in the affair, peasants with shawls over their heads, many of them
leading by the hand small children.
Burrows treated it all as a huge joke. "By Jove," he cried, speaking
across to me, "Durward, it's like that play Martin Harvey used to
do--what was it?--about the French Revolution, you know."
"'The Only Way,'" said Peroxide, in a prim strangled voice.
"That's it--'The Only Way'--with their red flags and all. Don't they
look ruffians, some of them?"
There was a great discussion going on under our windows. All the lorries
had drawn up together, and the screaming, chattering, and shouting was
like the noise of a parrots' aviary. The cold blue light had climbed now
into the sky, which was thick with stars; the snow on the myriad roofs
stretched like a filmy cloud as far as the eye could see. The moving,
shouting crowd grew with every moment mistier.
"Oh, dear! Mr. Burrows," said the little typist, who was not Peroxide.
"Do you think I shall ever be able to get home? We're on the other side
of the river, you know. Do you think the bridges will be up? My mother
will be so terribly anxious."
"Oh, you'll get home all right," answered Burrows cheerfully. "Just wait
until this crowd has gone by. I don't expect there's any fuss down by
His words were cut short by some order from one of the fellows below.
Others shouted in response, and the lorries again began to move forward.
"I believe he was shouting to us," said Bohun. "It sounded like 'Get
off' or 'Get away.'"
"Not he!" said Burrows; "they're too busy with their own affairs."
Then things happened quickly. There was a sudden strange silence below;
I saw a quick flame from some fire that had apparently been lit on the
Fontanka Bridge; I heard the same voice call out once more sharply, and
a second later I felt rather than heard a whizz like the swift flight of
a bee past my ear; I was conscious that a bullet had struck the brick
behind me. That bullet swung me into the Revolution....
...We were all gathered together in the office. I heard one of the
Russians say in an agitated whisper, "Don't turn on the light!... Don't
turn on the light! They can see!"
We were all in half-darkness, our faces mistily white. I could hear
Peroxide breathing in a tremulous manner, as though in a moment she
would break into hysteria.
"We'll go into the inside room. We can turn the light on there," said
Burrows. We all passed into the reception-room of the office, a nice
airy place with the library along one wall and bright coloured maps on
the other. We stood together and considered the matter.
"It's real!" said Burrows, his red, cheery face perplexed and strained.
"Who'd have thought it?"
"Of course it's real!" cried Bohun impatiently (Burrows' optimism had
been often difficult to bear with indulgence).
"Now you see! What about your beautiful Russian mystic now?"
"Oh dear!" cried the little Russian typist. "And my mother!... What ever
shall I do? She'll hear reports and think that I'm being murdered. I
shall never get across."
"You'd better stay with me to-night, Miss Peredonov," said Peroxide
firmly. "My flat's quite close here in Gagarinsky. We shall be delighted
to have you."
"You can telephone to your mother, Miss Peredonov," said Burrows. "No
difficulty at all."
It was then that Bohun took me aside.
"Look here!" he said. "I'm worried. Vera and Nina were going to the
Astoria to have tea with Semyonov this afternoon. I should think the
Astoria might be rather a hot spot if this spreads. And I wouldn't trust
Semyonov. Will you come down with me there now?"
"Yes," I said, "of course I'll come."
We said a word to Burrows, put on our Shubas and goloshes, and started
down the stairs. At every door there were anxious faces. Out of one flat
came a very fat Jew.
"Gentlemen, what is this all about?"
"Riots," said Bohun.
"Is there shooting?"
"Yes," said Bohun.
"_Bozhe moi! Bozhe moi!_ And I live over on Vassily Ostrov! What do you
advise, _Gaspoda_? Will the bridges be up?"
"Very likely," I answered. "I should stay here."
"And they are shooting?" he asked again.
"They are," I answered.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen--stay for a moment. Perhaps together we could
think.... I am all alone here except for a lady... most
But we could not stay.
The world into which we stepped was wonderful. The background of snow
under the star-blazing sky made it even more fantastic than it naturally
was. We slipped into the crowd and, becoming part of it, were at once,
as one so often is, sympathetic with it. It seemed such a childish,
helpless, and good-natured throng. No one seemed to know anything of
arms or directions. There were, as I have already said, many women and
little children, and some of the civilians who had rifles looked quite
helpless. I saw one boy holding his gun upside down. No one paid any
attention to us. There was as yet no class note in the demonstration,
and the only hostile cries I heard were against Protopopoff and the
police. We moved back into the street behind the Fontanka, and here I
saw a wonderful sight. Some one had lighted a large bonfire in the
middle of the street and the flames tossed higher and higher into the
air, bringing down the stars in flights of gold, flinging up the snow
until it seemed to radiate in lines and circles of white light high over
the very roofs of the houses. In front of the fire a soldier, mounted on
a horse, addressed a small crowd of women and boys. On the end of his
rifle was a ragged red cloth.
I could not see his face. I saw his arms wave, and the fire behind him
exaggerated his figure and then dropped it into a straggling silhouette
against the snow. The street seemed deserted except for this group,
although now I could hear distant shouting on every side of me, and the
monotonous clap-clap-clap-clap of a machine-gun.
I heard him say, "_Tovaristchi!_ now is your time! Don't hesitate in the
sacred cause of freedom! As our brethren did in the famous days of the
French Revolution, so must we do now. All the Army is coming over to our
side. The Preobrojenski have come over to us and have arrested their
officers and taken their arms. We must finish with Protopopoff and our
other tyrants, and see that we have a just rule. _Tovaristchi_! there
will never be such a chance again, and you will repent for ever if you
have not played your part in the great fight for freedom!"
So it went on. It did not seem that his audience was greatly impressed.
It was bewildered and dazed. But the fire leapt up behind him giving him
a legendary splendour, and the whole picture was romantic and unreal
like a gaudy painting on a coloured screen.
We hurried through into the Nevski, and this we found nearly deserted.
The trams of course had stopped, a few figures hurried along, and once
an Isvostchick went racing down towards the river.
"Well, now, we seem to be out of it," said Bohun, with a sigh of relief.
"I must say I'm not sorry. I don't mind France, where you can tell which
is the front and which the back, but this kind of thing does get on
one's nerves. I daresay it's only local. We shall find them all as easy
as anything at the Astoria, and wondering what we're making a fuss
At that moment we were joined by an English merchant whom we both knew,
a stout elderly man who had lived all his life in Russia. I was
surprised to find him in a state of extreme terror. I had always known
him as a calm, conceited, stupid fellow, with a great liking for Russian
ladies. This pastime he was able as a bachelor to enjoy to the full.
Now, however, instead of the ruddy, coarse, self-confident merchant
there was a pallid, trembling jelly-fish.
"I say, you fellows," he asked, catching my arm. "Where are you off to?"
"We're off to the Astoria," I answered.
"Let me come with you. I'm not frightened, not at all--all the same I
don't want to be left alone. I was in the 1905 affair. That was enough
for me. Where are they firing--do you know?"
"All over the place," said Bohun, enjoying himself. "They'll be down
here in a minute."
"Good God! Do you really think so? It's terrible--these fellows--once
they get loose they stick at nothing.... I remember in 1905.... Good
heavens! Where had we better go? It's very exposed here, isn't it?"
"It's very exposed everywhere," said Bohun. "I doubt whether any of us
are alive in the morning."
"Good heavens! You don't say so! Why should they interfere with us?"
"Oh, rich, you know, and that kind of thing. And then we're Englishmen.
They'll clear out all the English."
"Oh, I'm not really English. My mother was Russian. I could show them my
Bohun laughed. "I'm only kidding you, Watchett," he said. "We're safe
enough. Look, there's not a soul about!" We were at the corner of the
Moika now; all was absolutely quiet. Two women and a man were standing
on the bridge talking together. A few stars clustered above the bend of
the Canal seemed to shift and waver ever so slightly through a gathering
mist, like the smoke of blowing candles.
"It seems all right," said the merchant, sniffing the air suspiciously
as though he expected to smell blood. We turned towards the Morskaia.
One of the women detached herself from the group and came to us.
"Don't go down the Morskaia," she said, whispering, as though some
hostile figure were leaning over her shoulder. "They're firing round the
Telephone Exchange." Even as she spoke I heard the sharp clatter of the
machine-gun break out again, but now very close, and with an intimate
note as though it were the same gun that I had heard before, which had
been tracking me down round the town.
"Do you hear that?" said the merchant.
"Come on," said Bohun. "We'll go down the Moika. That seems safe
How strangely in the flick of a bullet the town had changed! Yesterday
every street had been friendly, obvious, and open; they were now no
longer streets, but secret blind avenues with strange trees, fantastic
doors, shuttered windows, a grinning moon, malicious stars, and snow
that lay there simply to prevent every sound. It was a town truly
beleaguered as towns are in dreams. The uncanny awe with which I moved
across the bridge was increased when the man with the women turned
towards me, and I saw that he was--or seemed to be--that same grave
bearded peasant whom I had seen by the river, whom Henry had seen in the
Cathedral, who remained with one, as passing strangers sometimes do,
like a symbol or a message or a threat.
He stood, with the Nevski behind him, calm and grave, and even it seemed
a little amused, watching me as I crossed. I said to Bohun, "Did you
ever see that fellow before?"
Bohun turned and looked.
"No," he said.
"Don't you remember? The man that first day in the Kazan?"
"They're all alike," Bohun said. "One can't tell...."
"Oh, come on," said the merchant. "Let's get to the Astoria."
We started down the Moika, past that faded picture-shop where there are
always large moth-eaten canvases of cornfields under the moon and
Russian weddings and Italian lakes. We had got very nearly to the little
street with the wooden hoardings when the merchant gripped my arm.
"What's that?" he gulped. The silence now was intense. We could not hear
the machine-gun nor any shouting. The world was like a picture smoking
under a moon now red and hard. Against the wall of the street two women
were huddled, one on her knees, her head pressed against the thighs of
the other, who stood stretched as though crucified, her arms out,
staring on to the Canal. Beside a little kiosk, on the space exactly in
front of the side street, lay a man on his face. His bowler-hat had
rolled towards the kiosk; his arms were stretched out so that he looked
oddly like the shadow of the woman against the wall.
Instead of one hand there was a pool of blood. The other hand with all
the fingers stretched was yellow against the snow.
As we came up a bullet from the Morskaia struck the kiosk.
The woman, not moving from the wall, said, "They've shot my husband...
he did nothing."
The other woman, on her knees, only cried without ceasing.
The merchant said, "I'm going back--to the Europe," and he turned and
"What's down that street?" I said to the woman, as though I expected her
to say "Hobgoblins." Bohun said, "This is rather beastly.... We ought to
move that fellow out of that. He may be alive still."
And how silly such a sentence when only yesterday, just here, there was
the beggar who sold boot-laces, and just there, where the man lay, an
old muddled Isvostchick asleep on his box!
We moved forward, and instantly it was as though I were in the middle of
a vast desert quite alone with all the hosts of heaven aiming at me
malicious darts. As I bent down my back was so broad that it stretched
across Petrograd, and my feet were tiny like frogs.
We pulled at the man. His head rolled and his face turned over, and the
mouth was full of snow. It was so still that I whispered, whether to
Bohun or myself, "God, I wish somebody would shout!" Then I heard the
wood of the kiosk crack, ever so slightly, like an opening door, and
panic flooded me as I had never known it do during all my time at the
"I've no strength," I said to Bohun.
"Pull for God's sake!" he answered. We dragged the body a little way; my
hand clutched the thigh, which was hard and cold under the stuff of his
clothing. His head rolled round, and his eyes now were covered with
snow. We dragged him, and he bumped grotesquely. We had him under the
wall, near the two women, and the blood welled out and dripped in a
spreading pool at the women's feet.
"Now," said Bohun, "we've got to run for it."
"Do you know," said I, as though I were making a sudden discovery, "I
don't think I can." I leaned back against the wall and looked at the
pool of blood near the kiosk where the man had been.
"Oh, but you've got to," said Bohun, who seemed to feel no fear. "We
can't stay here all night."
"No, I know," I answered. "But the trouble is--I'm not myself." And I
was not. That _was_ the trouble. I was not John Durward at all. Some
stranger was here with a new heart, poor shrivelled limbs, an enormous
nose, a hot mouth with no eyes at all. This stranger had usurped my
clothes and he refused to move. He was tied to the wall and he would not
Bohun looked at me. "I say, Durward, come on, it's only a step. We must
get to the Astoria."
But the picture of the Astoria did not stir me. I should have seen Nina
and Vera waiting there, and that should have at once determined me. So
it would have been had I been myself. This other man was there.... Nina
and Vera meant nothing to him at all. But I could not explain that to
Bohun. "I can't go..." I saw Bohun's eyes--I was dreadfully ashamed.
"You go on..." I muttered. I wanted to tell him that I did not think
that I could endure to feel again that awful expansion of my back and
the turning my feet into toads.
"Of course I can't leave you," he said.
And suddenly I sprang back into my own clothes again. I flung the
charlatan out and he flumped off into air.
"Come on," I said, and I ran. No bullets whizzed past us. I was ashamed
of running, and we walked quite quietly over the rest of the open space.
"Funny thing," I said, "I was damned frightened for a moment."
"It's the silence and the houses," said Bohun.
Strangely enough I remember nothing between that moment and our arrival
at the Astoria. We must have skirted the Canal, keeping in the shadow of
the wall, then crossed the Saint Isaac's Square. The next thing I can
recall is our standing, rather breathless, in the hall of the Astoria,
and the first persons I saw there were Vera and Nina, together at the
bottom of the staircase, saying nothing, waiting.
In front of them was a motley crowd of Russian officers all talking and
gesticulating together. I came nearer to Vera and at once I said to
myself, "Lawrence is here somewhere." She was standing, her head up,
watching the doors, her eyes glowed with anticipation, her lips were a
little parted. She never moved at all, but was so vital that the rest of
the people seemed dolls beside her. As we came towards them Nina turned
round and spoke to some one, and I saw that it was Semyonov who stood at
the bottom of the staircase, his thick legs apart, stroking his beard
with his hand.
We came forward and Nina began at once--
"Durdles--tell us! What's happened?"
"I don't know," I answered. The lights after the dark and the snow
bewildered me, and the noise and excitement of the Russian officers were
Nina went on, her face lit. "Can't you tell us anything? We haven't
heard a word. We came just in an ordinary way about four o'clock. There
wasn't a sound, and then, just as we were sitting down to tea, they all
came bursting in, saying that all the officers were being murdered, and
that Protopopoff was killed, and that--"
"That's true anyway," said a young Russian officer, turning round to us
excitedly. "I had it from a friend of mine who was passing just as they
stuck him in the stomach. He saw it all; they dragged him out of his
house and stuck him in the stomach--"
"They say the Czar's been shot," said another officer, a fat, red-faced
man with very bright red trousers, "and that Rodziancko's formed a
I heard on every side such words as "People--Rodziancko
--Protopopoff--Freedom," and the officer telling his tale again. "And
they stuck him in the stomach just as he was passing his house..."
Through all this tale Vera never moved. I saw, to my surprise, that
Lawrence was there now, standing near her but never speaking. Semyonov
stood on the stairs watching.
Suddenly I saw that she wanted me.
"Ivan Andreievitch," she said, "will you do something for me?" She spoke
very low, and her eyes did not look at me, but beyond us all out to the
"Certainly," I said.
"Will you keep Alexei Petrovitch here? Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Bohun can
see us home. I don't want him to come with us. Will you ask him to wait
and speak to you?"
I went up to him. "Semyonov," I said, "I want a word with you, if I
"Certainly," he said, with that irritating smile of his, as though he
knew exactly of what I was thinking.
We moved up the dark stairs. As we went I heard Vera's clear, calm
"Will you see us home, Mr. Lawrence?... I think it's quite safe to go
We stopped on the first floor under the electric light. There were two
easy-chairs there, with a dusty palm behind them. We sat down.
"You haven't really got anything to say to me," he began.
"Oh yes, I have," I said.
"No... You simply suggested conversation because Vera asked you to do
"I suggested a conversation," I answered, "because I had something of
some seriousness to tell you."
"Well, she needn't have been afraid," he went on. "I wasn't going home
with them. I want to stop and watch these ridiculous people a little
longer.... What had you got to say, my philosophical, optimistic
He looked quite his old self, sitting stockily in the chair, his strong
thighs pressing against the cane as though they'd burst it, his thick
square beard more wiry than ever, and his lips red and shining. He
seemed to have regained his old self-possession and confidence.
"What I wanted to say," I began, "is that I'm going to tell you once
more to leave Markovitch alone. I know the other day--that alone--"
"Oh _that_!" he brushed it aside impatiently. "There are bigger things
than that just now, Durward. You lack, as I have always said, two very
essential things, a sense of humour and a sense of proportion. And you
pretend to know Russia whilst you are without those two admirable
"However, let us forget personalities.... There are better things here!"
As he spoke two young Russian officers came tumbling up the stairs. They
were talking excitedly, not listening to one another, red in the face
and tripping over their swords. They went up to the next floor, their
voices very shrill.
"So much for your sentimental Russia," said Semyonov. He spoke very
quietly. "How I shall love to see these fools all toppled over, and then
the fools who toppled them toppled in their turn.
"Durward, you're a fool too, but you're English, and at least you've got
a conscience. I tell you, you'll see in these next months such
cowardice, such selfishness, such meanness, such ignorance as the world
has never known--and all in the name of Freedom! Why, they're chattering
about freedom already downstairs as hard as they can go!"
"As usual, Semyonov," I answered hotly, "you believe in the good of no
one. If there's really a Revolution coming, which I still doubt, it may
lead to the noblest liberation."
"Oh, you're an ass!" he interrupted quietly. "Nobility and the human
race! I tell you, Ivan Andreievitch of the noble character, that the
human race is rotten; that it is composed of selfishness, vice, and
meanness; that it is hypocritical beyond the bounds of hypocrisy, and
that of all mean cowardly nations on this earth the Russian nation is
the meanest and most cowardly!... That fine talk of ours that you
English slobber over!--a mere excuse for idleness, and you'll know it
before another year is through. I despise mankind with a contempt that
every day's fresh experience only the more justifies. Only once have I
found some one who had a great soul, and she, too, if I had secured
her, might have disappointed me.... No, my time is coming. I shall see
at last my fellowmen in their true colours, and I shall even perhaps
help them to display them. My worthy Markovitch, for example--"
"What about Markovitch?" I asked sharply.
He got up, smiling. He put his hand on my shoulder.
"He shall be driven by ghosts," he answered, and turned off to the
He looked back for a moment. "The funny thing is, I like you, Durward,"
I remember very little of my return to my island that night. The world
was horribly dark and cold, the red moon had gone, and a machine-gun
pursued me all the way home like a barking dog. I crossed the bridge
frankly with nerves so harassed, with so many private anxieties and so
much public apprehension, with so overpowering a suspicion that every
shadow held a rifle that my heart leapt in my breast, and I was suddenly
sick with fear when some one stepped across the road and put his hand on
my arm. You see I have nothing much to boast about myself. My relief was
only slightly modified when I saw that it was the Rat. The Rat had
changed! He stood, as though on purpose under the very faint grey light
of the lamp at the end of the bridge, and seen thus, he did in truth
seem like an apparition. He was excited of course, but there was more in
his face than that. The real truth about him was, that he was filled
with some determination, some purpose. He was like a child who is
playing at being a burglar, his face had exactly that absorption, that
"I've been waiting for you, Barin," he said in his hoarse musical voice.
"What is it?" I asked.
"This is where I live," he said, and he showed me a very dirty piece of
paper. "I think you ought to know."
"Why?" I asked him.
"_Kto snaiet_? (who knows?) The Czar's gone and we are all free men...."
I felt oddly that suddenly now he knew himself my master. That was now
in his voice.
"What are you going to do with your freedom?" I asked.
"I shall have my duties now," he said. "I'm not a free man at all. I
obey orders for the first time. The people are going to rule. I am the
He paused. Then he went on very seriously. "That is why, Barin, I give
you that paper. I have friendly feelings towards you. I don't know what
it is, but I am your brother. They may come and want to rob your house.
Show them that paper."
"Thank you very much," I said. "But I'm not afraid. There's nothing I
mind them stealing. All the same I'm very grateful."
He went on very seriously.
"There'll be no Czar now and no police. We will stop the war and all be
rich." He sighed. "But I don't know that it will bring happiness." He
suddenly seemed to me forlorn and desolate and lonely, like a lost dog.
I knew quite well that very soon, perhaps directly he had left me, he
would plunder and murder and rob again.
But that night, the two of us alone on the island and everything so
still, waiting for great events, I felt close to him and protective.
"Don't get knocked on the head, Rat," I said, "during one of your raids.
Death is easily come by just now. Look after yourself."
He shrugged his shoulders. "_Shto boodet, boodet_ (what will be, will
be). _Neechevo_ (it's of no importance)." He had vanished into the
I realise that the moment has come in my tale when the whole interest of
my narrative centres in Markovitch. Markovitch is really the point of
all my story as I have, throughout, subconsciously, recognised. The
events of that wonderful Tuesday when for a brief instant the sun of
freedom really did seem to all of us to break through the clouds, that
one day in all our lives when hopes, dreams, Utopias, fairy tales seemed
to be sober and realistic fact, those events might be seen through the
eyes of any of us. Vera, Nina, Grogoff, Semyonov, Lawrence, Bohun and I,
all shared in them and all had our sensations and experiences. But my
own were drab and ordinary enough, and from the others I had no account
so full and personal and true as from Markovitch. He told me all about
that great day afterwards, only a short time before that catastrophe
that overwhelmed us all, and in his account there was all the growing
suspicion and horror of disillusion that after-events fostered in him.
But as he told me, sitting through the purple hours of the night,
watching the light break in ripples and circles of colour over the sea,
he regained some of the splendours of that great day, and before he had
finished his tale he was right back in that fantastic world that had
burst at the touch like bubbles in the sun. I will give his account, as
accurately as possible in his own words. I seldom interrupted him, and I
think he soon forgot that I was there. He had come to me that night in a
panic, for reasons which will he given later and I, in trying to
reassure him, had reminded him of that day, when the world was suddenly
"That _did_ exist, that world," I said. "And once having existed it
cannot now be dead. Believe, believe that it will come back."
"Come back!" He shook his head. "Even if it is still there I cannot go
back to it. I will tell you, Ivan Andreievitch, what that day was...
and why now I am so bitterly punished for having believed in it. Listen,
what happened to me. It occurred, all of it, exactly as I tell you. You
know that, just at that time, I had been worrying very much about Vera.
The Revolution had come I suppose very suddenly to every one; but truly
to myself, because I had been thinking of Vera, it was like a
thunder-clap. It's always been my trouble, Ivan Andreievitch, that I
can't think of more than one thing at once, and the worry of it has been
that in my life there has been almost invariably more than one thing
that I ought to think of.... I would think of my invention, you know,
that I ought to get on with it a little faster. Because really--it was
making a sort of cloth out of bark that I was working at; as every day
passed, I could see more and more clearly that there was a great deal in
this particular invention, and that it only needed real application to
bring it properly forward. Only application as you know is my trouble.
If I could only shut my brain up...."
He told me then, I remember, a lot about his early childhood, and then
the struggle that he had had to see one thing at once, and not two or
three things that got in the way and hindered him from doing anything.
He went on about Vera.
"You know that one night I had crept up into your room, and looked to
see whether there were possibly a letter there. That was a disgraceful
thing to do, wasn't it? But I felt then that I had to satisfy myself. I
wonder whether I can make you understand. It wasn't jealousy exactly,
because I had never felt that I had had any very strong right over Vera,
considering the way that she had married me; but I don't think I ever
loved her more than I did during those weeks, and she was unattainable.
I was lonely, Ivan Andreievitch, that's the truth. Everything seemed to
be slipping away from me, and in some way Alexei Petrovitch Semyonov
seemed to accentuate that. He was always reminding me of one day or
another when I had been happy with Vera long ago--some silly little
expedition we had taken--or he was doubtful about my experiments being
any good, or he would recall what I had felt about Russia at the
beginning of the war.... All in a very kindly way, mind you. He was more
friendly than he had ever been, and seemed to be altogether
softer-hearted. But he made me think a great deal about Vera. He talked
often so much. He thought that I ought to look after her more, and I
explained that that wasn't my right.
"The truth is that ever since Nina's birthday-party I had been anxious.
I knew really that everything was right. Vera is of course the soul of
honour--but something had occurred then which made me....
"Well, well, that doesn't matter now. The only point is that I was
thinking of Vera a great deal, and wondering how I could make her happy.
She wasn't happy. I don't know how it was, but during those weeks just
before the Revolution we were none of us happy. We were all uneasy as
though we expected something were going to happen--and we were all
"I only tell you this because then you will see why it was that the
Revolution broke upon me with such surprise. I had been right inside
myself, talking to nobody, wanting nobody to talk to me. I get like that
sometimes, when words seem to mean so much that it seems dangerous to
throw them about.... And perhaps it is. But silence is dangerous too.
Everything is dangerous if you are unlucky by nature....
"I had been indoors all that Monday working at my invention, and
thinking about Vera, wondering whether I'd speak to her, then afraid of
my temper (I have a bad temper), wanting to know what was the truth,
thinking at one moment that if she cared for some one else that I'd go
away...and then suddenly angry and jealous, wishing to challenge him,
but I am a ludicrous figure to challenge any one, as I very well know.
Semyonov had been to see me that morning, and he had just sat there
without saying anything. I couldn't endure that very long, so I asked
him what he came for and he said, 'Oh, nothing.' I felt as though he
were spying and I became uneasy. Why should he come so often now? And I
was beginning to think of him when he wasn't there. It was as though he
thought he had a right over all of us, and that irritated me.... Well,
that was Monday. They all came late in the afternoon and told me all the
news. They had been at the Astoria. The whole town seemed to be in
revolt, so they said.
"But even then I didn't realise it. I was thinking of Vera just the
same. I looked at her all the evening just as Semyonov had looked at me.
And didn't say anything.... I never wanted her so badly before. I made
her sleep with me all that night. She hadn't done that for a long time,
and I woke up early in the morning to hear her crying softly to herself.
She never used to cry. She was so proud. I put my arms round her, and
she stopped crying and lay quite still. It wasn't fair what I did, but I
felt as though Alexei Petrovitch had challenged me to do it. He always
hated Vera I knew. I got up very early and went to my wood. You can
imagine I wasn't very happy....
"Then suddenly I thought I'd go out into the streets, and see what was
happening. I couldn't believe really that there had been any change. So
I went out.
"Do you know of recent years I've walked out very seldom? What was it? A
kind of shyness. I knew when I was in my own house, and I knew whom I
was with. Then I was never a man who cared greatly about exercise, and
there was no one outside whom I wanted very much to see. So when I went
out that morning it was as though I didn't know Petrograd at all, and
had only just arrived there. I went over the Ekateringofsky Bridge,
through the Square, and to the left down the Sadovaya.
"Of course the first thing that I noticed was that there were no trams,
and that there were multitudes of people walking along and that they
were all poor people and all happy.' And I _was_ glad when I saw that.
Of course I'm a fool, and life can't be as I want it, but that's always
what I had thought life ought to be--all the streets filled with poor
people, all free and happy. And here they were!... with the snow crisp
under their feet, and the sun shining, and the air quite still, so that
all the talk came up, and up into the sky like a song. But of course
they were bewildered as well as happy. They didn't know where to go,
they didn't know what to do--like birds let out suddenly from their
cages. I didn't know myself. That's what sudden freedom does--takes your
breath away so that you go staggering along, and get caught again if
you're not careful. No trams, no policemen, no carriages filled with
proud people cursing you.... Oh, Ivan Andreievitch, I'd be proud myself
if I had money, and servants to put on my clothes, and new women every
night, and different food every day.... I don't blame them--but suddenly
proud people were gone, and I was crying without knowing it--simply
because that great crowd of poor people went pushing along, all talking
under the sunny sky as freely as they pleased.
"I began to look about me. I saw that there were papers posted on the
walls. They were those proclamations, you know, of Rodziancko's new
government, saying that while everything was unsettled, Milyukoff,
Rodziancko, and the others would take charge in order to keep order and
discipline. It seemed to me that there was little need to talk about
discipline. Had beggars appeared there in the road I believed that the
crowd would have stripped off their clothes and given them, rather than
that they should want.
"I stood by one proclamation and read it out to the little crowd. They
repeated the names to themselves, but they did not seem to care much.
'The Czar's wicked they tell me,' said one man to me. 'And all our
troubles come from him.'
"'It doesn't matter,' said another. 'There'll be plenty of bread now.'
"And indeed what did names matter now? I couldn't believe my eyes or my
ears, Ivan Andreievitch. It looked too much like Paradise and I'd been
deceived so often. So I determined to be very cautious. 'You've been
taken in, Nicolai Leontievitch, many many times. Don't you believe
this?' But I couldn't help feeling that if only this world would
continue, if only the people could always be free and happy and the sun
could shine, perhaps the rest of the world would see its folly and the
war would stop and never begin again. This thought would grow in my mind
as I walked, although I refused to encourage it.
"Motor lorries covered with soldiers came dashing down the street. The
soldiers had their guns pointed, but the crowd cheered and cheered,
waving hands and shouting. I shouted too. The tears were streaming down
my face. I couldn't help myself. I wanted to hold the sun and the snow
and the people all in my arms fixed so that it should never change, and
the world should see how good and innocent life could be.
"On every side people had asked what had really happened, and of course
no one knew. But it did not matter. Every one was so simple. A soldier,
standing beside one of the placards was shouting: '_Tovaristchi!_ What
we must have is a splendid Republic and a good Czar to look after it.'
"And they all cheered him and laughed and sang. I turned up one of the
side streets on to the Fontanka, and here I saw them emptying the rooms
of one of the police. That was amusing! I laugh still when I think of
it. Sending everything out of the windows,--underclothes, ladies'
bonnets, chairs, books, flower-pots, pictures, and then all the records,
white and yellow and pink paper, all fluttering in the sun like so many
butterflies. The crowd was perfectly peaceful, in an excellent temper.
Isn't that wonderful when you think that for months those people had
been starved and driven, waiting all night in the street for a piece of
bread, and that now all discipline was removed, no more policemen except
those hiding for their lives in houses, and yet they did nothing, they
touched no one's property, did no man any harm. People say now that it
was their apathy, that they were taken by surprise, that they were like
animals who did not know where to go, but I tell you, Ivan Andreievitch,
that it was not so. I tell you that it was because just for an hour the
soul could come up from its dark waters and breathe the sun and the
light and see that all was good. Oh, why cannot that day return? Why
cannot that day return?..."
He broke off and looked at me like a distracted child, his brows
puckered, his hands beating the air. I did not say anything. I wanted
him to forget that I was there.
He went on: "... I could not be there all day, I thought that I would go
on to the Duma. I flowed on with the crowd. We were a great river
swinging without knowing why, in one direction and only interrupted,
once and again, by the motor lorries that rattled along, the soldiers
shouting to us and waving their rifles, and we replying with cheers. I
heard no firing that morning at all. They said, in the crowd, that many
thousands had been killed last night. It seemed that on the roof of
nearly every house in Petrograd there was a policeman with a
machine-gun. But we marched along, without fear, singing. And all the
time the joy in my heart was rising, rising, and I was checking it,
telling myself that in a moment I would be disappointed, that I would
soon be tricked as I had been so often tricked before. But I couldn't
help my joy, which was stronger than myself....
"It must have been early afternoon, so long had I been on the road, when
I came at last to the Duma. You saw yourself, Ivan Andreievitch, that
all that week the crowd outside the Duma was truly a sea of people with
the motor lorries that bristled with rifles for sea-monsters and the
gun-carriages for ships. And such a babel! Every one talking at once and
nobody listening to any one.
"I don't know now how I pushed through into the Court, but at last I was
inside and found myself crushed up against the doors of the Palace by a
mob of soldiers and students. Here there was a kind of hush.
"When the door of the Palace opened there was a little sigh of interest.
At intervals armed guards marched up with some wretched pale dirty
Gorodovoi whom they had taken prisoner--"
Nicholas Markovitch paused again and again. He had been looking out to
the sea over whose purple shadows the sky pale green and studded with
silver stars seemed to wave magic shuttles of light, to and fro,
backwards and forwards.
"You don't mind all these details, Ivan Andreievitch? I am trying to
discover, for my own sake, all the details that led me to my final
experience. I want to trace the chain link by link...nothing is
I assured him that I was absorbed by his story. And indeed I was. That
little, uncouth, lost, and desolate man was the most genuine human being
whom I had ever known. That quality, above all others, stood forth in
him. He had his secret as all men have their secret, the key to their
pursuit of their own immortality....But Markovitch's secret was a real
one, something that he faced with real bravery, real pride, and real
dignity, and when he saw what the issue of his conduct must be he would,
I knew, face it without flinching.
He went on, but looking at me now rather than the sea--looking at me
with his grave, melancholy, angry eyes. "...After one of these convoys
of prisoners the door remained for a moment open, and I seeing my chance
slipped in after the guards. Here I was then in the very heart of the
Revolution; but still, you know, Ivan Andreievitch, I couldn't properly
seize the fact, I couldn't grasp the truth that all this was really
occurring and that it wasn't just a play, a pretence, or a dream...
yes, a dream... especially a dream... perhaps, after all, that was
what it was. The Circular Hall was piled high with machine-guns, bags of
flour, and provisions of all kinds. There were some armed soldiers of
course and women, and beside the machine guns the floor was strewn with
cigarette ends and empty tins and papers and bags and cardboard boxes
and even broken bottles. Dirt and Desolation! I remember that it was
then when I looked at that floor that the first little suspicion stole
into my heart--not a suspicion so much as an uneasiness. I wanted at
once myself to set to work to clean up all the mess with my own hands.
"I didn't like to see it there, and no one caring whether it were there
"In the Catherine Hall into which I peered there was a vast mob, and
this huge mass of men stirred and coiled and uncoiled like some huge
ant-heap. Many of them, as I watched, suddenly turned into the outer
hall. Men jumped on to chairs and boxes and balustrades, and soon, all
over the place there were speakers, some shouting, some shrieking, some
with tears rolling down their cheeks, some swearing, some whispering as
though to themselves... and all the regiments came pouring in from the
station, tumbling in like puppies or babies with pieces of red cloth
tied to their rifles, some singing, some laughing, some dumb with
amazement... thicker and thicker and thicker... standing round the
speakers with their mouths open and their eyes wide, pushing and
jostling, but good-naturedly, like young dogs.
"Everywhere, you know, men were forming committees, committees for
social right, for a just Peace, for Women's Suffrage, for Finnish
Independence, for literature and the arts, for the better treatment of
prostitutes, for education, for the just division of the land. I had
crept into my corner, and soon as the soldiers came thicker and thicker,
the noise grew more and more deafening, the dust floated in hazy clouds.
The men had their kettles and they boiled tea, squatting down there,
sometimes little processions pushed their way through, soldiers shouting
and laughing with some white-faced policeman in their midst. Once I saw
an old man, his Shuba about his ears, stumbling with his eyes wide open,
and staring as though he were sleep-walking. That was Stuermer being
brought to judgement. Once I saw a man so terrified that he couldn't
move, but must be prodded along by the rifles of the soldiers. That was
"And the shouting and screaming rose and rose like a flood. Once
Rodziancko came in and began shouting, '_Tovaristchi! Tovaristchi!_...'
but his voice soon gave away, and he went back into the Salle Catherine
again. The Socialists had it their way. There were so many, and their
voices were so fresh and the soldiers liked to listen to them. 'Land for
everybody!' they shouted. 'And Bread and Peace! Hurrah! Hurrah!' cried
"'That's all very well,' said a huge man near me. 'But Nicholas is
coming, and to-morrow he will eat us all up!'
"But no one seemed to care. They were all mad, and I was mad too. It was
the drunkenness of dust. It got in our heads and our brains. We all
shouted. I began to shout too, although I didn't know what it was that I
"A grimy soldier caught me round the neck and kissed me. 'Land for
everybody!' he cried. 'Have some tea, _Tovaristch_!' and I shared his
tea with him.
"Then through the dust and noise I suddenly saw Boris Grogoff! That was
an astonishing thing. You see I had dissociated all this from my private
life. I had even, during these last hours, forgotten Vera, perhaps for
the very first moment since I met her. She had seemed to have no share
in this,--and then suddenly the figure of Boris showed me that one's
private life is always with one, that it is a secret city in which one
must always live, and whose gates one will never pass through, whatever
may be going on in the world outside. But Grogoff! What a change! You
know, I had always patronised him, Ivan Andreievitch. It had seemed to
me that he was only a boy with a boy's crude ideas. You know his fresh
face with the way that he used to push back his hair from his forehead,
and shout his ideas. He never considered any one's feelings. He was a
complete egoist, and a man, it seemed to me, of no importance. But now!
He stood on a bench and had around him a large crowd of soldiers. He was
shouting in just his old way that he used in the English Prospect, but
he seemed to have grown in the meantime, into a man. He did not seem
afraid any more. I saw that he had power over the men to whom he was
speaking.... I couldn't hear what he said, but through the dust and heat
he seemed to grow and grow until it was only him whom I saw there.
"'He will carry off Nina' was my next thought--ludicrous there at such a
time, in such a crowd, but it is exactly like that that life shifts and
shifts until it has formed a pattern. I was frightened by Grogoff. I
could not believe that the new freedom, the new Russia, the new world
would be made by such men. He waved his arms, he pushed back his hair,
the men shouted. Grogoff was triumphant: 'The New World... _Novaya
Jezn, Novaya Jezn_!' (New Life!) I heard him shout.
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