The Secret City
Part 6 out of 7
was the film of the water above the ice; the water caught the colour,
but the ice below it was grey and still. Clouds of crimson and orange
and faint gold streamed away in great waves of light from the sun. The
long line of buildings and towers on the farther side was jet-black; the
masts of the ships clustering against the Quay were touched at their
tips with bright gold. It was all utterly still, not a sound nor a
movement anywhere; only one figure, that of a woman, was coming slowly
towards me. I felt, as one always does at the beginning of a Russian
spring, a strange sense of expectation. Spring in Russia is so sudden
and so swift that it gives an overwhelming impression of a powerful
organising Power behind it. Suddenly the shutters are pulled back and
the sun floods the world! Upon this afternoon one could feel the urgent
business of preparation pushing forward, arrogantly, ruthlessly. I don't
think that I had ever before realised the power of the Neva at such
close quarters. I was almost ashamed at the contrast of its struggle
with my own feebleness.
I saw then that the figure coming towards me was Nina.
As she came nearer I saw that she was intensely preoccupied. She was
looking straight in front of her but seeing nothing. It was only when
she was quite close to me that I saw that she was crying. She was making
no sound. Her mouth was closed; the tears were slowly, helplessly,
rolling down her cheeks.
She was very near to me indeed before she saw me; then she looked at me
closely before she recognised me. When she saw that it was I, she
stopped, fumbled for her handkerchief, which she found, wiped her eyes,
then turned away from me and looked out over the river.
"Nina, dear," I said, "what's the matter?"
She didn't answer; at length she turned round and said:
"You've been ill again, haven't you?"
One cheek had a dirty tear-stain on it, which made her inexpressibly
young and pathetic and helpless.
"Yes," I said, "I have."
She caught her breath, put out her hand, and touched my arm.
"Oh, you _do_ look ill!... Vera went to ask, and there was a
rough-looking man there who said that no one could see you, but that you
were all right.... One of us ought to have forced a way in--M. Bohun
wanted to--but we've all been thinking of ourselves."
"What's the matter, Nina?" I asked. "You've been crying."
"Nothing's the matter. I'm all right."
"No, you're not. You ought to tell me. You trusted me once."
"I don't trust any one," she answered fiercely. "Especially not
"What's the matter?" I asked again.
"Nothing.... We're just as we were. Except," she suddenly looked up at
me, "Uncle Alexei's living with us now."
"Semyonov!" I cried out sharply, "living with you!"
"Yes," she went on, "in the room where Nicholas had his inventions is
Uncle Alexei's bedroom."
"Why, in Heaven's name?" I cried.
"Uncle Alexei wanted it. He said he was lonely, and then he just came. I
don't know whether Nicholas likes it or not. Vera hates it, but she
agreed at once."
"And do you like it?" I asked.
"I like Uncle Alexei," she answered. "We have long talks. He shows me
how silly I've been."
"Oh!" I said... "and what about Nicholas' inventions?"
"He's given them up for ever." She looked at me doubtfully, as though
she were wondering whether she could trust me. "He's so funny
now--Nicholas, I mean. You know he was so happy when the Revolution
came. Now he's in a different mood every minute. Something's happened to
him that we don't know about."
"What kind of thing?" I asked.
"I don't know. He's seen something or heard something. It's some secret
he's got. But Uncle Alexei knows."
"How can you tell?"
"Because he's always saying things that make Nicholas angry, and we
can't see anything in them at all.... Uncle Alexei's very clever."
"Yes, he is," I agreed. "But you haven't told me why you were crying
She looked at me. She gave a little shiver. "Oh, you do look ill!...
Everything's going wrong together, isn't it?"
And with that she suddenly left me, hurrying away from me, leaving me
miserable and apprehensive of some great trouble in store for all of us.
It is impossible to explain how disturbed I was by Nina's news. Semyonov
living in the flat! He must have some very strong reason for this, to
leave his big comfortable flat for the pokiness of the Markovitches'!
And then that the Markovitches should have him! There were already
inhabitants enough--Nicholas, Vera, Nina, Uncle Ivan, Bohun. Then the
inconvenience and discomfort of Nicholas's little hole as a bedroom! How
Semyonov must loathe it!
From that moment the Markovitches' flat became for me the centre of my
drama. Looking back I could see now how all the growing development of
the story had centred round those rooms. I did not of course know at
this time of that final drama of the Thursday afternoon, but I knew of
the adventure with the policeman, and it seemed to me that the flat was
a cup into which the ingredients were being poured one after another
until at last the preparation would be complete, and then....
Oh, but I cared for Nina and Vera and Nicholas--yes, and Jerry too! I
wanted to see them happy and at peace before I left them--in especial
And Semyonov came closer to them and closer, following some plan of his
own and yet, after all, finally like a man driven by a power,
constructed it might be, out of his own very irony.
I made a kind of bet with fate that by Easter Day every one should be
happy by then.
Next day, the 15th of April, was the great funeral for the victims of
the Revolution. I believe, although of course at that time I had heard
nothing, that there had been great speculation about the day, many
people thinking that it would be an excuse for further trouble, the
Monarchists rising, or the "Soviet" attacking the Provisional
Government, or Milyukoff and his followers attacking the Soviet. They
need not have been alarmed. No one had as yet realised the lengths that
Slavonic apathy may permit itself....
I went down about half-past ten to the Square at the end of the Sadovaya
and found it filled with a vast concourse of peasants, not only the
Square was filled, but the Sadovaya as far as the eye could see. They
were arranged in perfect order, about eight in a row, arm in arm. Every
group carried its banner, and far away into the distance one could see
the words "Freedom," "Brotherhood," "The Land for All," "Peace of the
World," floating on the breeze. Nevertheless, in spite of these fine
words, it was not a very cheering sight. The day was wretched--no actual
rain, but a cold damp wind blowing and the dirty snow, half ice and half
water; the people themselves were not inspiring. They were all, it
seemed, peasants. I saw very few workmen, although I believe that
multitudes were actually in the procession. Those strange, pale, Eastern
faces, passive, apathetic, ignorant, childish, unreasoning, stretched in
a great cloud under the grey overhanging canopy of the sky. They raised
if once and again a melancholy little tune that was more wail than
anything else. They had stood there, I was told, in pools of frozen
water for hours, and were perfectly ready to stand thus for many hours
more if they were ordered to do so. As I regarded their ignorance and
apathy I realised for the first time something of what the Revolution
had already done.
A hundred million of these children--ignorant, greedy, pathetic,
helpless, revengeful--let loose upon the world! Where were their
leaders? Who, indeed, would their leaders be? The sun sometimes broke
through for a moment, but the light that it threw on their faces only
made them more pallid, more death-like. They did not laugh nor joke as
our people at home would have done.... I believe that very few of them
had any idea why they were there....
Suddenly the word came down the lines to move forward. Very slowly,
wailing their little tune, they advanced.
But the morning was growing old and I must at once see Vera. I had made
up my mind, during the night, to do anything that lay in my power to
persuade Vera and Nina to leave their flat. The flat was the root of all
their trouble, there was something in its atmosphere, something gloomy
and ominous. They would be better at the other end of the town, or,
perhaps, over on the Vassily Ostrov. I would show Vera that it was a
fatal plan to have Semyonov to live with them (as in all probability she
herself knew well enough), and their leaving the flat was a very good
excuse for getting rid of him. I had all this in my head as I went
along. I was still feeling ill and feeble, and my half-hour's stand in
the market-place had seriously exhausted me. I had to lean against the
walls of the houses every now and then; it seemed to me that, in the
pale watery air, the whole world was a dream, the high forbiding flats
looking down on to the dirty ice of the canals, the water dripping,
dripping, dripping.... No one was about. Every one had gone to join in
the procession. I could see it, with my mind's eye, unwinding its huge
tails through the watery-oozing channels of the town, like some
pale-coloured snake, crawling through the misty labyrinths of a marsh.
In the flat I found only Uncle Ivan sitting very happily by himself at
the table playing patience. He was dressed very smartly in his English
black suit and a black bow tie. He behaved with his usual elaborate
courtesy to me but, to my relief, on this occasion, he spoke Russian.
It appeared that the Revolution had not upset him in the least. He took,
he assured me, no interest whatever in politics. The great thing was "to
live inside oneself," and by living inside oneself he meant, I gathered,
that one should be entirely selfish. Clothes were important, and food
and courteous manners, but he must say that he could not see that one
would be very much worse off even though one were ruled by the
Germans--one might, indeed, be a great deal more comfortable. And as to
this Revolution he couldn't really understand why people made such a
fuss. One class or another class what did it matter? (As to this he was,
I fear, to be sadly undeceived. He little knew that, before the year was
out, he would be shovelling snow in the Morskaia for a rouble an hour.)
So centred was he upon himself that he did not notice that I looked ill.
He offered me a chair, indeed, but that was simply his courteous
manners. Very ridiculous, he thought, the fuss that Nicholas made about
the Revolution--very ridiculous the fuss that he made about
Alexei had been showing Nicholas how ridiculous he was.
"Oh, has he?" said I. "How's he been doing that?"
Laughing at him, apparently. They all laughed at him. It was his own
"Alexei's living with us now, you know."
"Yes, I know," I said, "what's he doing that for?"
"He wanted to," said Uncle Ivan simply. "He's always done what he's
wanted to, all his life."
"It makes it a great many of you in one small flat."
"Yes, doesn't it?" said Uncle Ivan amiably. "Very pleasant--although,
Ivan Andreievitch, I will admit to you quite frankly that I've always
been frightened of Alexei. He has such a very sharp tongue. He discovers
one's weak spots in a marvellous manner.... We all have weak spots you
know," he added apologetically.
"Yes, we have," I said.
Then, to my relief, Vera came in. She was very sweet to me, expressing
much concern about my illness, asking me to stay and have my meal with
them.... She suddenly broke off. There was a letter lying on the table
addressed to her. I saw at once that it was in Nina's handwriting.
"Nina! Writing to _me_!" She picked it up, stood back looking at the
envelope before she opened it. She read it, then turned on me with a
"Nina!... She's gone!"
"Gone!" I repeated, starting at once.
"Yes.... Read!" She thrust it into my hand.
In Nina's sprawling schoolgirl hand I read:
Dear Vera--I've left you and Nicholas for ever.... I have been thinking
of this for a long time, and now Uncle Alexei has shown me how foolish
I've been, wanting something I can't have. But I'm not a child any
longer. I must lead my own life.... I'm going to live with Boris who
will take care of me. It's no use you or any one trying to prevent me. I
will not come back. I must lead my own life now. Nina.
Vera was beside herself.
"Quick! Quick! Some one must go after her. She must be brought back at
once. Quick! _Scora! Scora_!... I must go. No, she is angry with me. She
won't listen to me. Ivan Andreievitch, you must go. At once! You must
bring her back with you. Darling, darling Nina!... Oh, my God, what
shall I do if anything happens to her!"
She clutched my arm. Even as she spoke, she had got my hat and stick.
"This is Alexei Petrovitch," I said.
"Never mind who it is," she answered. "She must be brought back at once.
She is so young. She doesn't know.... Boris--Oh! it's impossible. Don't
leave without bringing her back with you."
Even old Uncle Ivan seemed distressed.
"Dear, dear..." he kept repeating, "dear, dear.... Poor little Nina.
Poor little Nina--"
"Where does Grogoff live?" I asked.
"16 Gagarinskaya.... Flat 3. Quick. You must bring her back with you.
"I will do my best," I said.
I found by a miracle of good fortune an Isvostchick in the street
outside. We plunged along through the pools of water in the direction of
the Gagarinskaya. That was a horrible drive. In the Sadovaya we met the
slow, winding funeral procession.
On they went, arm in arm, the same little wailing tune, monotonously
repeating, but sounding like nothing human, rather exuding from the very
cobbles of the road and the waters of the stagnant canals.
The march of the peasants upon Petrograd! I could see them from all the
quarters of the town, converging upon the Marsovoie Pole, stubborn,
silent, wraiths of earlier civilisation, omens of later dominations. I
thought of Boris Grogoff. What did he, with all his vehemence and
conceit, intend to do with these? First he would flatter them--I saw
that clearly enough. But then when his flatteries failed, what then?
Could he control them? Would they obey him? Would they obey anybody
until education had shown them the necessities for co-ordination and
self-discipline? The river at last was overflowing its banks--would not
the savage force of its power be greater than any one could calculate?
The stream flowed on.... My Isvostchick took his cab down a side street,
and then again met the strange sorrowful company. From this point I
could see several further bridges and streets, and over them all I saw
the same stream flowing, the same banners blowing--and all so still, so
dumb, so patient.
The delay was maddening. My thoughts were all now on Nina. I saw her
always before me as I had beheld her yesterday, walking slowly along,
her eyes fixed on space, the tears trickling down her face. "Life,"
Nikitin once said to me, "I sometimes think is like a dark room, the
door closed, the windows bolted and your enemy shut in with you. Whether
your enemy or yourself is the stronger who knows?... Nor does it matter,
as the issue is always decided outside.... Knowing that you can at least
afford to despise him."
I felt something of that impotence now. I cursed the Isvostchick, but
wherever he went this slow endless stream seemed to impede our way. Poor
Nina! Such a baby! What was it that had driven her to this? She did not
love the man, and she knew quite well that she did not. No, it was an
act of defiance. But defiance to whom--to Vera? to Lawrence?... and
what had Semyonov said to her?
Then, thank Heaven, we crossed the Nevski, and our way was clear. The
old cabman whipped up his horse and, in a minute or two we were outside
16 Gagarinskaya. I will confess to very real fears and hesitations as I
climbed the dark stairs (the lift was, of course, not working). I was
not the kind of man for this kind of job. In the first place I hated
quarrels, and knowing Grogoff's hot temper I had every reason to expect
a tempestuous interview. Then I was ill, aching in every limb and seeing
everything, as I always did when I was unwell, mistily and with
uncertainty. Then I had a very shrewd suspicion that there was
considerable truth in what Semyonov had said, that I was interfering in
what only remotely concerned me. At any rate, that was certainly the
view that Grogoff would take, and Nina, perhaps also. I felt, as I rang
the bell of No. 3, that unpleasant pain in the pit of the stomach that
tells you that you're going to make a fool of yourself.
Well, it would not be for the first time.
"Boris Nicolaievitch, _doma_?" I asked the cross-looking old woman who
opened the door.
"_Doma_," she answered, holding it open to let me pass.
I was shown into a dark, untidy sitting-room. It seemed at first sight
to be littered with papers, newspapers, Revolutionary sheets and
proclamations, the _Pravda_, the _Novaya Jezn_, the _Soldatskaya
Mwyssl_.... On the dirty wall-paper there were enormous dark
photographs, in faded gilt frames, of family groups; on one wall there
was a large garishly coloured picture of Grogoff himself in student's
dress. The stove was unlighted and the room was very cold. My heart
ached for Nina.
A moment after Grogoff came in. He came forward to me very amiably,
holding out his hand.
"Nu, Ivan Andreievitch.... What can I do for you?" he asked, smiling.
And how he had changed! He was positively swollen with
self-satisfaction. He had never been famous for personal modesty, but he
seemed now to be physically twice his normal size. He was fat, his
cheeks puffed, his stomach swelling beneath the belt that bound it. His
fair hair was long, and rolled in large curls on one side of his head
and over his forehead. He spoke in a loud, overbearing voice.
"Nu, Ivan Andreievitch, what can I do for you?" he repeated.
"Can I see Nina?" I asked.
"Nina?..." he repeated as though surprised. "Certainly--but what do you
want to say to her?"
"I don't see that that's your business," I answered. "I have a message
for her from her family."
"But of course it's my business," he answered. "I'm looking after her
"Since when?" I asked.
"What does that matter?... She is going to live with me."
"We'll see about that," I said.
I knew that it was foolish to take this kind of tone. It could do no
good, and I was not the sort of man to carry it through.
But he was not at all annoyed.
"See, Ivan Andreievitch," he said, smiling. "What is there to discuss?
Nina and I have long considered living together. She is a grown-up
woman. It's no one's affair but her own."
"Are you going to marry her?" I asked.
"Certainly not," he answered; "that would not suit either of us. It's
no good your bringing your English ideas here, Ivan Andreievitch. We
belong to the new world, Nina and I."
"Well, I want to speak to her," I answered.
"So you shall, certainly. But if you hope to influence her at all you
are wasting your time, I assure you. Nina has acted very rightly. She
found the home life impossible. I'm sure I don't wonder. She will assist
me in my work. The most important work, perhaps, that man has ever been
called on to perform...."
He raised his voice here as though he were going to begin a speech. But
at that moment Nina came in. She stood in the doorway looking across at
me with a childish mixture of hesitation and boldness, of anger and
goodwill in her face. Her cheeks were pale, her eyes heavy. Her hair was
done in two long plaits. She looked about fourteen.
She came up to me, but she didn't offer me her hand. Boris said:
"Nina dear, Ivan Andreievitch has come to give you a message from your
family." There was a note of scorn in his voice as he repeated my
"What is it?" she asked, looking at me defiantly.
"I'd like to give it you alone," I said.
"Whatever you say to me it is right that Boris should hear," she
I tried to forget that Grogoff was there. I went on:
"Well then, Nina, you must know what I want to say. They are heartbroken
at your leaving them. You know of course that they are. They beg you to
come back.... Vera and Nicholas too. They simply won't know what to do
without you. Vera says that you have been angry with her. She doesn't
know why, but she says that she will do her very best if you come back,
so that you won't be angry any more.... Nina, dear, you know that it is
they whom you really love. You never can be happy here. You know that
you cannot.... Come back to them! Come back! I don't know what it was
that Alexei Petrovitch said to you, but whatever it was you should not
listen to it. He is a bad man and only means harm to your family. He
I paused. She had never moved whilst I was speaking. Now she only said,
shaking her head, "It's no good, Ivan Andreievitch.... It's no good."
"But why? Why?" I asked. "Give me your reasons, Nina."
She answered proudly, "I don't see why I should give you any reasons,
Ivan Andreievitch. I am free. I can do as I wish."
"There's something behind this that I don't know," I said. "I ought to
know.... It isn't fair not to tell me. What did Alexei Petrovitch say to
But she only shook her head.
"He had nothing to do with this. It is my affair, Ivan Andreievitch. I
couldn't live with Vera and Nicholas any longer."
Grogoff then interfered.
"I think this is about enough...." he said. "I have given you your
opportunity. Nina has been quite clear in what she has said. She does
not wish to return. There is your answer." He cleared his voice and went
on in rather a higher tone: "I think you forget, Ivan Andreievitch,
another aspect of this affair. It is not only a question of our private
family disputes. Nina has come here to assist me in my national work. As
a member of the Soviet I may, without exaggeration, claim to have an
opportunity in my hands that has been offered in the past to few human
beings. You are an Englishman, and so hidebound with prejudices and
conventions. You may not be aware that there has opened this week the
greatest war the world has ever seen--the war of the proletariats
against the bourgeoisies and capitalists of the world." I tried to
interrupt him, but he went on, his voice ever rising and rising: "What
is your wretched German war? What but a struggle between the capitalists
of the different countries to secure greater robberies and extortions,
to set their feet more firmly than ever on the broad necks of the
wretched People! Yes, you English, with your natural hypocrisy, pretend
that you are fighting for the freedom of the world. What about Ireland?
What about India? What about South Africa?... No, you are all alike.
Germany, England, Italy, France, and our own wretched Government that
has, at last, been destroyed by the brave will of the People. We declare
a People's War!... We cry aloud to the People to throw down their arms!
And the People will hear us!"
He paused for breath. His arms were raised, his eyes on fire, his cheeks
"Yes," I said, "that is all very well. But suppose the German people are
the only ones who refuse to listen to you. Suppose that all the other
nations, save Germany, have thrown down their arms--a nice chance then
for German militarism!"
"But the German people will listen!" he screamed, almost frothing at the
mouth. "They are ready at any moment to follow our example. William and
your George and the rest of them--they are doomed, I tell you!"
"Nevertheless," I went on, "if you desert us now by making peace and
Germany wins this war you will have played only a traitor's part, and
all the world will judge you."
"Traitor! Traitor!" The word seemed to madden him. "Traitor to whom,
pray? Traitor to our Czar and your English king? Yes, and thank God for
it! Did the Russian people make the war? They were led like lambs to the
slaughter. Like lambs, I tell you. But now they will have their revenge.
On all the Bourgeoisie of the world. The Bourgeoisie of the world!..."
He suddenly broke off, flinging himself down on the dirty sofa. "Pheugh.
Talking makes one hot!... Have a drink, Ivan Andreievitch.... Nina,
fetch a drink."
Through all this my eyes had never left her for a moment. I had hoped
that this empty tub-thumping to which we had been listening would have
affected her. But she had not moved nor stirred.
"Nina!" I said softly. "Nina. Come with me!"
But she only shook her head. Grogoff, quite silent now, lolled on the
sofa, watching us. I went up to her and put my hand on her sleeve.
"Dear Nina," I said, "come back to us."
I saw her lip tremble. There was unshed tears in her eyes. But again she
shook her head.
"What have they done," I asked, "to make you take this step?"
"Something has happened...." she said slowly. "I can't tell you."
"Just come and talk to Vera."
"No, it's hopeless... I can't see her again. But, Durdles... tell her
it's not her fault."
At the sound of my pet name I took courage again.
"But tell me, Nina.... Do you love this man?"
She turned round and looked at Grogoff as though she were seeing him for
the first time.
"Love?... Oh no, not love! But he will be kind to me, I think. And I
must be myself, be a woman, not a child any longer."
Then, suddenly clearing her voice, speaking very firmly, looking me full
in the face, she said:
"Tell Vera... that I saw... what happened that Thursday afternoon--the
Thursday of the Revolution week. Tell her that--when you're alone with
her. Tell her that--then she'll understand."
She turned and almost ran out of the room.
"Well, you see," said Grogoff smiling lazily from the sofa.
"That settles it."
"It doesn't settle it," I answered. "We shall never rest until we have
got her back."
But, I had to go. There was nothing more just then to be done.
On my return I found Vera alone waiting for me with restless impatience.
"Well?" she said eagerly. Then when she saw that I was alone her face
"I trusted you--" she began.
"It's no good," I said at once. "Not for the moment. She's made up her
mind. It's not because she loved him nor, I think, for anything very
much that her uncle said. She's got some idea in her head. Perhaps you
can explain it."
"I?" said Vera, looking at me.
"Yes. She gave me a message for you."
"What was it?" But even as she asked the question she seemed to fear the
answer, because she turned away from me.
"She told me to tell you that she saw what happened on the afternoon of
the Thursday in Revolution week. She said that then you would
Vera looked at me with the strangest expression of defiance, fear,
"What did she see?"
"I don't know. That's what she told me."
Vera did a strange thing. She laughed.
"They can all know. I don't care. I want them to know. Nina can tell
"Tell them what?"
"Oh, you'll hear with the rest. Uncle Alexei has done this. He told Nina
because he hates me. He won't rest until he ruins us all. But I don't
care. He can't take from me what I've got. He can't take from me what
I've got.... But we must get her back, Ivan Andreievitch. She _must_
Nicholas came in and then Semyonov and then Bohun.
Bohun, drawing me aside, whispered to me: "Can I come and see you? I
must ask your advice--"
"To-morrow evening," I told him, and left.
Next day I was ill again. I had I suppose done too much the day before.
I was in bed alone all day. My old woman had suddenly returned without a
word of explanation or excuse. She had not, I am sure, even got so far
as the Moscow Province. I doubt whether she had even left Petrograd. I
asked her no questions. I could tell of course that she had been
drinking. She was a funny old creature, wrinkled and yellow and hideous,
very little different in any way from a native in the wilds of Central
Africa. The savage in her liked gay colours and trinkets, and she would
stick flowers in her hair and wear a tinkling necklace of bright red and
blue beads. She had a mangy dog, hairless in places and rheumy at the
eyes, who was all her passion, and this creature she would adore, taking
it to sleep with her, talking to it by the hour together, pulling its
tail and twisting its neck so that it growled with rage--and then, when
it growled, she, too, would make strange noises as though sympathising
She returned to me from no sort of sense of duty, but simply because, I
think, she did not know where else to go. She scowled on me and informed
me that now that there had been the Revolution everything was different;
nevertheless the sight of my sick yellow face moved her as sickness and
misfortune always move every Russian, however old and debased he may be.
"You shouldn't have gone out walking," she said crossly. "That man's
been here again?" referring to the Rat, whom she hated.
"If it hadn't been for him," I said, "I would have died."
But she made the flat as cheerful as she could, lighting the stove,
putting some yellow flowers into a glass, dusting the Benois
water-colour, putting my favourite books beside my bed.
When Henry Bohun came in he was surprised at the brightness of
"Why, how cosy you are!" he cried.
"Ah, ha," I said, "I told you it wasn't so bad here."
He picked up my books, looked at Galleon's _Roads_ and then _Pride and
"It's the simplest things that last," he said. "Galleon's jolly good,
but he's not simple enough. _Tess_ is the thing, you know, and
_Tono-Bungay,_ and _The Nigger of the Narcissus_... I usen't to think
so. I've grown older, haven't I?"
"What do you think of _Discipline_ now?" I asked.
"Oh, Lord!" he blushed, "I was a young cuckoo."
"And what about knowing all about Russia after a week?"
"No--and that reminds me!" He drew his chair closer to my bed. "That's
what I've come to talk about. Do you mind if I gas a lot?"
"Gas as much as you like," I said.
"Well, I can't explain things unless I do.... You're sure you're not too
seedy to listen?"
"Not a bit. It does me good," I told him.
"You see in a way you're really responsible. You remember, long ago,
telling me to look after Markovitch when I talked all that rot about
caring for Vera?"
"Yes--I remember very well indeed."
"In a way it all started from that. You put me on to seeing Markovitch
in quite a different light. I'd always thought of him as an awfully dull
dog with very little to say for himself, and a bit loose in the
top-story too. I thought it a terrible shame a ripping woman like Vera
having married him, and I used to feel sick with him about it. Then
sometimes he'd look like the devil himself, as wicked as sin, poring
over his inventions, and you'd fancy that to stick a knife in his back
might be perhaps the best thing for everybody.
"Well, you explained him to me and I saw him different--not that I've
ever got very much out of him. I don't think that he either likes me or
trusts me, and anyway he thinks me too young and foolish to be of any
importance--which I daresay I am. He told me, by the way, the other day,
that the only Englishman he thought anything of was yourself--"
"Very nice of him," I murmured.
"Yes, but not very flattering to me when I've spent months trying to be
fascinating to him. Anyhow, although I may be said to have failed in one
way, I've got rather keen on the pursuit. If I can't make him like me I
can at least study him and learn something. That's a leaf out of your
book, Durward. You're always studying people, aren't you?"
"Oh, I don't know," I said.
"Yes, of course you are. Well, I'll tell you frankly I've got fond of
the old bird. I don't believe you could live at close quarters with any
Russian, however nasty, and not get a kind of affection for him. They're
so damned childish."
"Oh yes, you could," I said. "Try Semyonov."
"I'm coming to him in a minute," said Bohun. "Well, Markovitch was most
awfully unhappy. That's one thing one saw about him at once--unhappy of
course because Vera didn't love him and he adored her. But there was
more in it than that. He let himself go one night to me--the only time
he's ever talked to me really. He was drunk a bit, and he wanted to
borrow money off me. But there was more in it than that. He talked to me
about Russia. That seemed to have been his great idea when the war began
that it was going to lead to the most marvellous patriotism all through
Russia. It seemed to begin like that, and do you know, Durward, as he
talked I saw that patriotism _was_ at the bottom of everything, that you
could talk about Internationalism until you were blue in the face, and
that it only began to mean anything when you'd learnt first what
nationality was--that you couldn't really love all mankind until you'd
first learnt to love one or two people close to you. And that you
couldn't love the world as a vast democratic state until you'd learnt to
love your own little bit of ground, your own fields, your own river,
your own church tower. Markovitch had it all as plain as plain. 'Make
your own house secure and beautiful. Then it is ready to take its place
in the general scheme. We Russians always begin at the wrong end,' he
said. 'We jump all the intermediate stages. I'm as bad as the rest.' I
know you'll say I'm so easily impressed, Durward, but he was wonderful
that night--and so _right_. So that as he talked I just longed to rush
back and see that my village--Topright in Wiltshire--was safe and sound
with the highgate at the end of the village street, and the village
stores with the lollipop windows, and the green with the sheep on it,
and the ruddy stream with the small trout and the high Down beyond....
Oh well, you know what I mean--"
"I know," said I.
"I saw that the point of Markovitch was that he must have some ideal to
live up to. If he couldn't have Vera he'd have Russia, and if he
couldn't have Russia he'd have his inventions. When we first came along
a month or two ago he'd lost Russia, he was losing Vera, and he wasn't
very sure about his inventions. A bad time for the old boy, and you were
quite right to tell me to look after him. Then came the Revolution, and
he thought that everything was saved. Vera and Russia and everything.
Wasn't he wonderful that week? Like a child who has suddenly found
Paradise.... Could any Englishman ever be cheated like that by
anything? Why a fellow would be locked up for a loony if he looked as
happy as Markovitch looked that week. It wouldn't be decent.... Well,
then...." He paused dramatically. "What's happened to him since,
"How do you mean? What's happened to him since?" I asked.
"I mean just what I say. Something happened to him at the end of that
week. I can put my finger almost exactly on the day--the Thursday of
that week. What was it? That's one of the things I've come to ask you
"I don't know. I was ill," I said.
"No, but has nobody told you anything?"
"I haven't heard a word," I said.
His face fell. "I felt sure you'd help me?" he said.
"Tell me the rest and perhaps I can put things together," I suggested.
"The rest is really Semyonov. The queerest things have been happening.
Of course, the thing is to get rid of all one's English ideas, isn't it?
and that's so damned difficult. It's no use saying an English fellow
wouldn't do this or that. Of course he wouldn't.... Oh, they _are_
He sighed, poor boy, with the difficulty of the whole affair.
"Giving them up in despair, Bohun, is as bad as thinking you understand
them completely. Just take what comes."
"Well, 'what came' was this. On that Thursday evening Markovitch was as
though he'd been struck in the face. You never saw such a change. Of
course we all noticed it. White and sickly, saying nothing to anybody.
Next morning, quite early, Semyonov came over and proposed lodging with
"It absolutely took my breath away, but no one else seemed very
astonished. What on earth did he want to leave his comfortable flat and
come to us for? We were packed tight enough as it was. I never liked the
feller, but upon my word I simply hated him as he sat there, so quiet,
stroking his beard and smiling at us in his sarcastic way.
"To my amazement Markovitch seemed quite keen about it. Not only agreed,
but offered his own room as a bedroom. 'What about your inventions?'
some one asked him.
"'I've given them up,' he said, looking at us all just like a caged
"I would have offered to retire myself if I hadn't been so interested,
but this was all so curious that I was determined to see it out to the
end. And you'd told me to look after Markovitch. If ever he'd wanted
looking after it was now! I could see that Vera hated the idea of
Semyonov coming, but after Markovitch had spoken she never said a word.
So then it was all settled."
"What did Nina do?" I asked.
"Nina? She never said anything either. At the end she went up to
Semyonov and took his hand and said, 'I'm so glad you're coming, Uncle
Alexei,' and looked at Vera. Oh! they're all as queer as they can be, I
"What happened next?" I asked eagerly.
"Everything's happened and nothing's happened," he replied. "Nina's run
away. Of course you know that. What she did it for I can't imagine.
Fancy going to a fellow like Grogoff! Lawrence has been coming every day
and just sitting there, not saying anything. Semyonov's amiable to
everybody--especially amiable to Markovitch. But he's laughing at him
all the time I think. Anyway he makes him mad sometimes, so that I think
Markovitch is going to strike him. But of course he never does.... Now
here's a funny thing. This is really what I want to ask you most about."
He drew his chair closer to my bed and dropped his voice as though he
were going to whisper a secret to me.
"The other night I was awake--about two in the morning it was--and
wanted a book--so I went into the dining-room. I'd only got bedroom
slippers on and I was stopped at the door by a sound. It was Semyonov
sitting over by the further window, in his shirt and trousers, his beard
in his hands, and sobbing as though his heart would break. I'd never
heard a man cry like that. I hate hearing a man cry anyway. I've heard
fellers at the Front when they're off their heads or something... but
Semyonov was worse than that. It was a strong man crying, with all his
wits about him.... Then I heard some words. He kept repeating again and
again. 'Oh, my dear, my dear, my dear!... Wait for me!... Wait for me!
Wait for me!...' over and over again--awful! I crept back to my room
frightened out of my life. I've never known anything so awful. And
Semyonov of all people!
"It was like that man in _Wuthering Heights_. What's his name?
Heathcliffe! I always thought that was a bit of an exaggeration when he
dashed his head against a tree and all that. But, by Jove, you never
know!... Now, Durward, you've got to tell me. You've known Semyonov for
years. You can explain. What's it all about, and what's he trying to do
"I can scarcely think what to tell you," I said at last. "I don't really
know much about Semyonov, and my guesses will probably strike you as
"No, they won't," said Bohun. "I've learnt a bit lately."
"Semyonov," I said, "is a deep-dyed sensualist. All his life he's
thought about nothing but gratifying his appetites. That's simple
enough--there are plenty of that type everywhere. But unfortunately for
him he's a very clever man, and like every Russian both a cynic and an
idealist--a cynic in facts _because_ he's an idealist. He got everything
so easily all through his life that his cynicism grew and grew. He had
wealth and women and position. He was as strong as a horse. Every 'one
gave way to him and he despised everybody. He went to the Front, and one
day came across a woman different from any other whom he had ever
"How different?" asked Bohun, because I paused.
"Different in that she was simpler and naiver and honester and better
and more beautiful--"
"Better than Vera?" Bohun asked.
"Different," I said. "She was younger, less strong-willed, less clever,
less passionate perhaps. But alone--alone, in all the world. Every one
must love her--No one could help it...."
I broke off again. Bohun waited.
I went on. "Semyonov saw her and snatched her from the Englishman to
whom she was engaged. I don't think she ever really loved the
Englishman, but she loved Semyonov."
"Well?" said Bohun.
"She was killed. A stray shot, when she was giving tea to the men in the
trenches.... It meant a lot... to all of us. The Englishman was killed
too, so he was all right. I think Semyonov would have liked that same
end; but he didn't get it, so he's remained desolate. Really desolate,
in a way that only your thorough sensualist can be. A beautiful fruit
just within his grasp, something at last that can tempt his jaded
appetite. He's just going to taste it, when whisk! it's gone, and gone,
perhaps, into some one else's hands. How does he know? How does he know
anything? There may be another life--who can really prove there isn't?
and when you've seen something in the very thick and glow of existence,
something more alive than life itself, and, click! it's gone--well, it
_must_ have gone somewhere, mustn't it? Not the body only, but that
soul, that spirit, that individual personal expression of beauty and
purity and loveliness? Oh, it must be somewhere yet!... It _must_ be!...
At any rate _he_ didn't know. And he didn't know either that she might
not have proved his idealism right after all. Ah! to your cynic there's
nothing more maddening! Do you think your cynic loves his cynicism? Not
a bit of it! Not he! But he won't be taken in by sham any more. That he
"So it was with Semyonov. This girl might have proved the one real
exception; she might have lasted, she might have grown even more
beautiful and more wonderful, and so proved his idealism true after all.
He doesn't know, and I don't know. But there it is. He's haunted by the
possibility of it all his days. He's a man now ruled by an obsession. He
thinks of one thing and one thing only, day and night. His sensuality
has fallen away from him because women are dull--sterile to him beside
that perfect picture of the woman lost. Lost! he may recover her! He
doesn't know. The thought of death obsesses him. What is there in it? Is
she behind there or no? Is she behind there, maddening thought, with her
"He must know. He _must_ know. He calls to her--she won't come to him.
What is he to do? Suicide? No, to a proud man like Semyonov that's a
miserable confession of weakness. How they'd laugh at him, these other
despicable human beings, if he did that! He'd prove himself as weak as
they. No, that's not for him. What then?
"This is a fantastic world, Bohun, and nothing is impossible for it.
Suppose he were to select some one, some weak and irritable and
sentimental and disappointed man, some one whose every foible and
weakness he knew, suppose he were to place himself near him and so
irritate and confuse and madden him that at last one day, in a fury of
rage and despair, that man were to do for him what he is too proud to do
for himself! Think of the excitement, the interest, the food for his
cynicism, the food for his conceit such a game would be to Semyonov. Is
this going to do it? Or this? Or this? Now I've got him far enough?
Another five minutes!... Think of the hairbreadth escapes, the check and
counter check, the sense, above all, that to a man like Semyonov is
almost everything, that he is master of human emotions, that he can
direct wretched, weak human beings whither he will.
"And the other--the weak, disappointed, excitable man--can't you see
that Semyonov has him close to his hand, that he has only to stretch a
"Markovitch!" cried Bohun.
"Now you know," I said, "why you've got to stay on in that flat."
I have said already, I think, that the instinctive motive of Vera's life
was her independent pride. Cling to that, and however the world might
rock and toss around her she could not be wrecked. Imagine, then, what
she must have suffered during the weeks that followed her surrender to
Lawrence. Not that for a moment she intended to go back on her
surrender, which was, indeed, the proudest moment of her whole life.
She never looked back for one second after that embrace, she never
doubted herself or him or the supreme importance of love itself; but the
rest of her--her tenderness, her fidelity, her loyalty, her
self-respect--this was all tortured now by the things that she seemed
compelled to do. It must have appeared to her as though Fate, having
watched that complete abandonment, intended to deprive her of everything
upon which she had depended. She was, I think, a woman of very simple
instincts. The things that had been in her life--her love for Nina, her
maternal tenderness for Nicholas, her sense of duty--remained with her
as strongly after that tremendous Thursday afternoon as they had been
before it. She did not see why they need be changed. She did not love
Nina any the less because she loved Lawrence; indeed, she had never
loved Nina so intensely as on the night when she had realised her love
for Lawrence to the full, that night when they had sheltered the
policeman. And she had never pretended to love Nicholas. She had always
told him that she did not love him. She had been absolutely honest with
him always, and he had often said to her, "If ever real love comes into
your life, Vera, you will leave me," and she had always answered him,
"No, Nicholas, why should I? I will never change. Why should I?"
She honestly thought that her love for Lawrence need not alter things.
She would tell Nicholas, of course, and then she would act as he wished.
If she were not to see Lawrence she would not see him--that would make
no difference to her love for him. What she did not realise--and that
was strange after living with him for so long--was that he was always
hoping that her tender kindliness towards him would, one day, change
into something more passionate. I think that, subconsciously, she did
realise it, and that was why she was, during those weeks before the
Revolution, so often uneasy and unhappy. But I am sure that definitely
she never admitted it.
The great fact was that, as soon as possible, she must tell Nicholas
all about it. And the days went by, and she did not. She did not, partly
because she had now some one else as well as herself to consider. I
believe that in those weeks between that Thursday and Easter Day she
never had one moment alone with Lawrence. He came, as Bohun had told me,
to see them; he sat there and looked at her, and listened and waited.
She herself, I expect, prevented their being alone. She was waiting for
something to happen. Then Nina's flight overwhelmed everything. That
must have been the most awful thing. She never liked Grogoff, never
trusted him, and had a very clear idea of his character. But more awful
to her than his weakness was her knowledge that Nina did not love him.
What could have driven her to do such a thing? She knew of her affection
for Lawrence, but she had, perhaps, never taken that seriously. How
could Nina really love Lawrence when he, so obviously, cared nothing at
all for her? She reasoned then, as every one always does, on the lines
of her own character. She herself could never have cared seriously for
any one had there been no return. Her pride would not have allowed
But Nina had been the charge of her life. Before Nicholas, before her
own life, before everything. Nina was her duty, her sacred cause--and
now she was betraying her trust! Something must be done--but what? but
what? She knew Nina well enough to realise that a false step would only
plunge her farther than ever into the business. It must have seemed to
her indeed that because of her own initial disloyalty the whole world
was falling away from her.
Then there came Semyonov; I did not at this time at all sufficiently
realise that her hatred of her uncle--for it _was_ hatred, more, much
more than mere dislike--had been with her all her life. Many months
afterwards she told me that she could never remember a time when she had
not hated him. He had teased her when she was a very little girl,
laughing at her naive honesty, throwing doubts on her independence,
cynically ridiculing her loyalty. There had been one horrible winter
month (then ten or eleven years of age) when she had been sent to stay
with him in Moscow.
He had a fine house near the Arbat, and he was living (although she did
not of course know anything about that at the time) with one of his
gaudiest mistresses. Her mother and father being dead she had no
protection. She was defenceless. I don't think that he in any way
perverted her innocence. I except that he was especially careful to
shield her from his own manner of life (he had always his own queer
tradition of honour which he effected indeed to despise), but she felt
more than she perceived. The house was garish, over-scented and
over-lighted. There were many gilt chairs and large pictures of naked
women and numbers of coloured cushions. She was desperately lonely. She
hated the woman of the house, who tried, I have no doubt, to be kind to
her, and after the first week she was left to herself.
One night, long after she had gone to bed there was a row downstairs,
one of the scenes common enough between Semyonov and his women.
Terrified, she went to the head of the stairs and heard the smash of
falling glass and her uncle's voice raised in a scream of rage and
vituperation. A great naked woman in a gold frame swung and leered at
her in the lighted passage. She fled back to her dark room and lay, for
the rest of that night, trembling and quivering with her head beneath
From that moment she feared her uncle as much as she hated him. Long
afterwards came his influence over Nicholas. No one had so much
influence over Nicholas as he. Nicholas himself admitted it. He was
alternately charmed and frightened, beguiled and disgusted, attracted
and repulsed. Before the war Semyonov had, for a time, seen a good deal
of them, and Nicholas steadily degenerated. Then Semyonov was bored with
it all and went off after other game more worthy of his doughty spear.
Then came the war, and Vera devoutedly hoped that her dear uncle would
meet his death at the hands of some patriotic Austrian. He did indeed
for a time disappear from their lives, and it seemed that he might never
come back again. Then on that fateful Christmas Day he did return, and
Vera's worst fears were realised. She hated him all the more because of
her impotence. She could do nothing against him at all. She was never
very subtle in her dealings with people, and her own natural honesty
made her often stupid about men's motives. But the thing for which she
feared her uncle most was his, as it seemed to her, supernatural
penetration into the thoughts of others.
She of course greatly exaggerated his gifts in that direction simply
because they were in no way her gifts, and he, equally of course,
discovered very early in their acquaintance that this was the way to
impress her. He played tricks with her exactly as a conjurer produces a
rabbit out of a hat....
When he announced his intention of coming to live in the flat she was
literally paralyzed with fright. Had it been any one else she would have
fought, but in her uncle's drawing gradually nearer and nearer to the
centre of all their lives, coming as it seemed to her so silently and
mysteriously, without obvious motive, and yet with so stealthy a plan,
against this man she could do nothing....
Nevertheless she determined to fight for Nicholas to the last--to fight
for Nicholas, to bring back Nina, these were now the two great aims of
her life; and whilst they were being realised her love for Lawrence must
be passive, passive as a deep passionate flame beats with unwavering
force in the heart of the lamp....
They had made me promise long before that I would spend Easter Eve with
them and go with them to our church on the Quay. I wondered now whether
all the troubles of the last weeks would not negative that invitation,
and I had privately determined that if I did not hear from them again I
would slip off with Lawrence somewhere. But on Good Friday Markovitch,
meeting me in the Morskaia, reminded me that I was coming.
It is very difficult to give any clear picture of the atmosphere of the
town between Revolution week and this Easter Eve, and yet all the seeds
of the later crop of horrors were sewn during that period. Its spiritual
mentality corresponded almost exactly with the physical thaw that
accompanied it--mist, then vapour dripping of rain, the fading away of
one clear world into another that was indistinct, ghostly, ominous. I
find written in my Diary of Easter Day--exactly five weeks after the
outbreak of the Revolution--these words: "From long talks with K. and
others I see quite clearly that Russians have gone mad for the time
being. It's heartbreaking to see them holding meetings everywhere,
arguing at every street corner as to how they intend to arrange a
democratic peace for Europe, when meanwhile the Germans are gathering
every moment force upon the frontiers."
Pretty quick, isn't it, to change from Utopia to threatenings of the
worst sort of Communism? But the great point for us in all this--the
great point for our private personal histories as well as the public
one--was that it was during these weeks that the real gulf between
Russia and the Western world showed itself! Yes, for more than three
years we had been pretending that a week's sentiment and a hurriedly
proclaimed Idealism could bridge a separation which centuries of magic
and blood and bones had gone to build. For three years we tricked
ourselves (I am not sure that the Russians were ever really deceived)
... but we liked the ballet, we liked Tolstoi and Dostoieffsky (we
translated their inborn mysticism into the weakest kind of
sentimentality), we liked the theory of inexhaustible numbers, we liked
the picture of their pounding, steam-roller like, to Berlin... we
tricked ourselves, and in the space of a night our trick was exposed.
Plain enough the reasons for these mistakes that we in England have made
over that same Revolution, mistakes made by none more emphatically than
by our own Social Democrats. Those who hailed the Revolution as the
fulfilment of all their dearest hopes, those who cursed it as the
beginning of the damnation of the world--all equally in the wrong. The
Revolution had no thought for _them_. Russian extremists might shout as
they pleased about their leading the fight for the democracies of the
world--they never even began to understand the other democracies.
Whatever Russia may do, through repercussion, for the rest of the world,
she remains finally alone--isolated in her Government, in her ideals, in
her ambitions, in her abnegations. For a moment the world-politics of
her foreign rulers seemed to draw her into the Western whirlpool. For a
moment only she remained there. She has slipped back again behind her
veil of mist and shadow. We may trade with her, plunge into her
politics, steal from her Art, emphasise her religion--she remains alone,
I think it was with a kind of gulping surprise, as after a sudden plunge
into icy cold water, that we English became conscious of this. It came
to us first in the form that to us the war was everything--to the
Russian, by the side of an idea the war was nothing at all. How was I,
for instance, to recognise the men who took a leading part in the events
of this extraordinary year as the same men who fought with bare hands,
with fanatical bravery through all the Galician campaign of two years
Had I not realised sufficiently at that time that Russia moves always
according to the Idea that governs her--and that when that Idea changes
the world, _his_ world changes with it....
Well, to return to Markovitch....
I was on the point of setting out for the English Prospect on Saturday
evening when there was a knock on my door, and to my surprise Nicholas
Markovitch came in. He was in evening dress--rather quaint it seemed to
me, with his pointed collar so high, his tail-coat so much too small,
and his large-brimmed bowler hat. He explained to me confusedly that he
wished to walk with me alone to the church... that he had things to
tell me... that we should meet the others there. I saw at once two
things, that he was very miserable, that he was a little drunk. His
misery showed itself in his strange, pathetic, gleaming eyes, that
looked so often as though they held unshed tears (this gave him an
unfortunate ridiculous aspect), in his hollow pale cheeks and the droop
of his mouth, not petulant nor peevish, simply unhappy in the way that
animals or very young children express unhappiness. His drunkenness
showed itself in quite another way. He was unsteady a little on his
feet, and his hands trembled, his forehead was flushed, and he spoke
thickly, sometimes running his words together. At the same time he was
not very drunk, and was quite in control of his thoughts and
We went out together. It could not have been called a fine night--it was
too cold, and there was a hint of rain in the air--and yet there is
beauty, I believe, in every Russian Easter Eve. The day comes so
wonderfully at the end of the long heavy winter. The white nights with
their incredible, almost terrifying beauty are at hand, the ice is
broken, the new world of sun and flowers is ready, at an instant's magic
word, to be born. Nevertheless this year there was an incredible pathos
in the wind. The soul of Petrograd was indeed stirring, but mournfully,
ominously. There were not, for one thing, the rows of little fairy lamps
that on this night always make the streets so gay. They hang in chains
and clusters of light from street to street, blazing in the square,
reflected star-like in the canals, misty and golden-veiled in distance.
To-night only the churches had their lights; for the rest, the streets
were black chasms of windy desolation, the canals burdened with the
breaking ice which moved restlessly against the dead barges. Very strong
in the air was the smell of the sea; the heavy clouds that moved in a
strange kind of ordered procession overhead seemed to carry that scent
with them, and in the dim pale shadows of the evening glow one seemed to
see at the end of every street mysterious clusters of masts, and to hear
the clank of chains and the creak of restless boards. There were few
people about and a great silence everywhere. The air was damp and thick,
and smelt of rotten soil, as though dank grass was everywhere pushing
its way up through the cobbles and paving-stones.
As we walked Markovitch talked incessantly. It was only a very little
the talk of a drunken man, scarcely disconnected at all, but every now
and again running into sudden little wildnesses and extravagances. I
cannot remember nearly all that he said. He came suddenly, as I expected
him to do, to the subject of Semyonov.
"You know of course that Alexei Petrovitch is living with us now?"
"Yes. I know that."
"You can understand, Ivan Andreievitch, that when he came first and
proposed it to me I was startled. I had other things--very serious
things to think of just then. We weren't--we aren't--very happy at home
just now... you know that... I didn't think he'd be very gay with us.
I told him that. He said he didn't expect to be gay anywhere at this
time, but that he was lonely in his flat all by himself, and he thought
for a week or two he'd like company. He didn't expect it would be for
very long. No.... He said he was expecting 'something to happen.'
Something to himself, he said, that would alter his affairs. So, as it
was only for a little time, well, it didn't seem to matter. Besides,
he's a powerful man. He's difficult to resist--very difficult to
"Why have you given up your inventions, Nicolai Leontievitch?" I said to
him, suddenly turning round upon him.
"My inventions?" he repeated, seeming very startled at that.
"Yes, your inventions."
"No, no.... Understand, I have no more use for them. There are other
things now to think about--more important things."
"But you were getting on with them so well?"
"No--not really. I was deceiving myself as I have often deceived myself
before. Alexei showed me that. He told me that they were no good--"
"But I thought that he encouraged you?"
"Yes--at first--only at first. Afterwards he saw into them more
clearly; he changed his mind. I think he was only intending to be kind.
A strange man... a strange man...."
"A very strange man. Don't you let him influence you, Nicholas
"Influence me? Do you think he does that?" He suddenly came close to me,
catching my arm.
"I don't know. I haven't seen you often together."
"Perhaps he does... _Mojet bweet_... You may be right. I don't know--I
don't know what I feel about him at all. Sometimes he seems to me very
kind; sometimes I'm frightened of him, sometimes"--here he dropped his
voice--"he makes me very angry, so angry that I lose control of
myself--a despicable thing... a despicable thing... just as I used to
feel about the old man to whom I was secretary. I nearly murdered him
once. In the middle of the night I thought suddenly of his stomach, all
round and white and shining. It was an irresistible temptation to plunge
a knife into it. I was awake for hours thinking of it. Every man has
such hours.... At the same time Alexei can be very kind."
"How do you mean--kind?" I asked.
"For instance he has some very good wine--fifty bottles at least--he has
given it all to us. Then he insists on paying us for his food. He is a
generous-spirited man. Money is nothing to us--"
"Don't you drink his wine," I said.
Nicholas was instantly offended.
"What do you mean, Ivan Andreievitch? Not drink his wine? Am I an
infant? Can I not look after myself?--_Blagadaryoo Vas_.... I am more
than ten years old." He took his hand away from my arm.
"No, I didn't mean that at all," I assured him. "Of course not--only you
told me not long ago that you had given up wine altogether. That's why I
said what I did."
"So I have! So I have!" he eagerly assured me. "But Easter's a time for
rejoicing... Rejoicing!"--his voice rose suddenly shrill and
scornful--"rejoicing with the world in the state that it is. Truly, Ivan
Andreievitch, I don't wonder at Alexei's cynicism. I don't indeed. The
world is a sad spectacle for an observant man." He suddenly put his hand
through my arm, so close to me now that I could feel his beating heart.
"But you believe, don't you, Ivan Andreievitch, that Russia now has
found herself?" His voice became desperately urgent and beseeching. "You
must believe that. You don't agree with those fools who don't believe
that she will make the best of all this? Fools? Scoundrels! Scoundrels!
That's what they are. I must believe in Russia now or I shall die. And
so with all of us. If she does not rise now as one great country and
lead the world, she will never do so. Our hearts must break. But she
will... she will! No one who is watching events can doubt it. Only
cynics like Alexei doubt--he doubts everything. And he cannot leave
anything alone. He must smear everything with his dirty finger. But he
must leave Russia alone... I tell him...."
He broke off. "If Russia fails now," he spoke very quietly, "my life is
over. I have nothing left. I will die."
"Come, Nicolai Leontievitch," I said, "you mustn't let yourself go like
that. Life isn't over because one is disappointed in one's country. And
even though one is disappointed one does not love the less. What's
friendship worth if every disappointment chills one's affection? One
loves one's country because she is one's country, not because she's
disappointing...." And so I went on with a number of amiable platitudes,
struggling to comfort him somewhere, and knowing that I was not even
beginning to touch the trouble of his soul.
He drew very close to me, his fingers gripping my sleeve--"I'll tell
you, Ivan Andreievitch--but you mustn't tell anybody else. I'm afraid.
Yes, I am. Afraid of myself, afraid of this town, afraid of Alexei,
although that must seem strange to you. Things are very bad with me,
Ivan Andreievitch. Very bad, indeed. Oh! I have been disappointed! yes,
I have. Not that I expected anything else. But now it has come at last,
the blow that I have always feared has fallen--a very heavy blow. My own
fault, perhaps, I don't know. But I'm afraid of myself. I don't know
what I may do. I have such strange dreams--Why has Alexei come to stay
"I don't know," I said.
Then, thank God, we reached the church. It was only as we went up the
steps that I realised that he had never once mentioned Vera.
And yet with all our worries thick upon us it was quite impossible to
resist the sweetness and charm and mystery of that service.
I think that perhaps it is true, as many have said, that people did not
crowd to the churches on that Easter as they had earlier ones, but our
church was a small one, and it seemed to us to be crammed. We stumbled
up the dark steps, and found ourselves at the far end of the very narrow
nave. At the other end there was a pool of soft golden light in which
dark figures were bathed mysteriously. At the very moment of our
entering, the procession was passing down the nave on its way round the
outside of the church to look for the Body of Our Lord. Down the nave
they came, the people standing on either side to let them pass, and
then, many of them, falling in behind. Every one carried a lighted
candle. First there were the singers, then men carrying the coloured
banners, then the priest in stiff gorgeous raiment, then officials and
dignitaries, finally the crowd. The singing, the forest of lighted
candles, the sudden opening of the black door and the blowing in of the
cold night wind, the passing of the voices out into the air, the soft,
dying away of the singing and then the hushed expectation of the waiting
for the return--all this had in it something so elemental, so simple,
and so true to the very heart of the mystery of life that all trouble
and sorrow fell away and one was at peace.
How strange was that expectation! We knew so well what the word must be;
we could tell exactly the moment of the knock of the door, the deep
sound of the priest's voice, the embracings and dropping of wax over
every one's clothes that would follow it--and yet every year it was the
same! There _was_ truth in it, there was some deep response to the human
dependence, some whispered promise of a future good. We waited there,
our hearts beating, crowded against the dark walls. It was a very
democratic assembly, bourgeoisie, workmen, soldiers, officers, women in
evening dress and peasant women with shawls over their heads. No one
spoke or whispered.
Suddenly there was a knock. The door was opened. The priest stood there,
in his crimson and gold. "Christ is risen!" he cried, his voice
vibrating as though he had indeed but just now, out there in the dark
and wind, made the great discovery.
"He is risen indeed!" came the reply from us all. Markovitch embraced
me. "Let us go," he whispered, "I can't bear it somehow to-night."
We went out. Everywhere the bells were ringing--the wonderful deep boom
of St. Isaac's, and then all the other bells, jangling, singing, crying,
chattering, answering from all over Petrograd. From the other side of
the Neva came the report of the guns and the fainter, more distant echo
of the guns near the sea. I could hear behind it all the incessant
"chuck-chuck, chuck-chuck," of the ice colliding on the river.
It was very cold, and we hurried back to Anglisky Prospect. Markovitch
was quite silent all the way.
When we arrived we found Vera and Uncle Ivan and Semyonov waiting for us
(Bohun was with friends). On the table was the _paskha_, a sweet paste
made of eggs and cream, curds and sugar, a huge ham, a large cake or
rather, sweet bread called _kulich_, and a big bowl full of Easter eggs,
as many-coloured as the rainbow. This would be the fare during the whole
week, as there was to be no cooking until the following Saturday--and
very tired of the ham and the eggs one became before that day. There was
also wine--some of Semyonov's gift, I supposed--and a tiny bottle of
We were not a very cheerful company. Uncle Ivan, who was really
distinguished by his complete inability to perceive what was going on
under his nose, was happy, and ate a great deal of the ham and certainly
more of the _paskha_ than was good for him.
I do not know who was responsible for the final incident--Semyonov
perhaps--but I have often wondered whether some word or other of mine
precipitated it. We had finished our meal and were sitting quietly
together, each occupied with his own thoughts. I had noticed that
Markovitch had been drinking a great deal.
I was just thinking it was time for me to go when I heard Semyonov say:
"Well, what do you think of your Revolution now, Nicholas?"
"What do you mean--my Revolution?" he asked.
(The strange thing on looking back is that the whole of this scene seems
to me to have passed in a whisper, as though we were all terrified of
"Well--do you remember how you talked to me?... about the saving of the
world and all the rest of it that this was going to be? Doesn't seem to
be quite turning out that way, does it, from all one hears? A good deal
of quarrelling, isn't there? And what about the army--breaking up a bit,
"Don't, Uncle Alexei," I heard Vera whisper.
"What I said I still believe," Nicholas answered very quietly. "Leave
Russia alone, Alexei--and leave me alone, too."
"I'm not touching you, Nicholas," Semyonov answered, laughing softly.
"Yes you are--you know that you are. I'm not angry--not yet. But it's
unwise of you--unwise...."
"Never mind. 'Below the silent pools there lie hidden many devils.'
Leave me alone. You are our guest."
"Indeed, Nicholas," said Semyonov, still laughing, "I mean you no harm.
Ask our friend Durward here whether I ever mean any one any harm. He
will, I'm sure, give me the best of characters."
"No--no harm perhaps--but still you tease me.... I'm a fool to mind....
But then I am a fool--every one knows it."
All the time he was looking with his pathetic eyes and his pale face at
Vera said again, very low, almost in a whisper: "Uncle Alexei...
"But really, Nicholas," Semyonov went on, "you under-rate yourself. You
do indeed. Nobody thinks you a fool. I think you a very lucky man. With
"Talents!" said Nicholas softly, looking at Vera. "I have no talents."
"--And Vera's love for you," went on Semyonov--
"Ah! that is over!" Nicholas said, so low that I scarcely heard it. I do
not know what then exactly happened. I think that Vera put out her hand
to cover Nicholas'. At any rate I saw him draw his away, very gently. It
lay on the table, and the only sound beside the voices was the tiny
rattle of his nails as his hand trembled against the woodwork.
Vera said something that I did not catch.
"No..." Nicholas said. "No... We must be true with one another, Vera.
I have been drinking too much wine. My head is aching, and perhaps my
words are not very clear. But it gives me courage to say what I have in
my mind. I haven't thought out yet what we must do. Perhaps you can
help me. But I must tell you that I saw everything that happened here on
that Thursday afternoon in the week of the Revolution--"
Vera made a little movement of distress
"Yes, you didn't know--but I was in my room--where Alexei sleeps now,
you know. I couldn't help seeing. I'm very sorry."
"No, Nicholas, I'm very glad," Vera answered quietly.
"I would have told you in any case. I should have told you before. I
love him and he loves me, just as you saw. I would like Ivan
Andreievitch and Uncle Ivan and every one to know. There is nothing to
conceal. I have never loved any one before, and I'm not ashamed of
loving some one now.... It doesn't alter our life, Nicholas. I care for
you just as I did care, and I will do just as you tell me. I will never
see him again if that's what you wish, but I shall always love him."
"Ah, Vera--you are cruel." Nicholas gave a little cry like a hurt
animal, then he went away from us, standing for a moment looking at us.
"We'll have to consider what we must do. I don't know. I can't think
to-night.... And you, Alexei, you leave me alone...."
He went stumbling away towards his bedroom.
Vera said nothing to any of us. She got up slowly, looked about her for
a moment as though she were bewildered by the light and then went after
Nicholas. I turned to Semyonov.
"You'd better go back to your own place," I said.
"Not yet, thank you," he answered, smiling.
On the afternoon of Easter Monday I was reminded by Bohun of an
engagement that I had made some weeks before to go that evening to a
party at the house of a rich merchant, Rozanov by name. I have, I think,
mentioned him earlier in this book. I cannot conceive why I had ever
made the promise, and in the afternoon, meeting Bohun at Watkins'
bookshop in the Morskaia, I told him that I couldn't go.
"Oh, come along!" he said. "It's your duty."
"Why my duty?"
"They're all talking as hard as they can about saving the world by
turning the other cheek, and so on; and a few practical facts about
Germany from you will do a world of good."
"Oh, your propaganda!" I said.
"No, it isn't my propaganda," he answered. "It's a matter of life and
death to get these people to go on with the war, and every little
"Well, I'll come," I said, shaking my head at the book-seller, who was
anxious that I should buy the latest works of Mrs. Elinor Glyn and Miss
Ethel Dell. I had in fact reflected that a short excursion into other
worlds would be good for me. During these weeks I had been living in the
very heart of the Markovitches, and it would be healthy to escape for a
But I was not to escape.
I met Bohun at the top of the English Prospect, and we decided to walk.
Rozanov lived in the street behind the Kazan Cathedral. I did not know
very much about him except that he was a very wealthy merchant, who had
made his money by selling cheap sweets to the peasant. He lived, I knew,
an immoral and self-indulgent life, and his hobby was the quite
indiscriminate collection of modern Russian paintings, his walls being
plastered with innumerable works by Benois, Somoff, Dobeijinsky,
Yakofflyeff, and Lanceray. He had also two Serovs, a fine Vrubel, and
several Ryepins. He had also a fine private collection of indecent
"I really don't know what on earth we're going to this man for," I said
discontentedly. "I was weak this afternoon."
"No, you weren't," said Bohun. "And I'll tell you frankly that I'm jolly
glad not to be having a meal at home to-night. Do you know, I don't
believe I can stick that flat much longer!"
"Why, are things worse?" I asked.
"It's getting so jolly creepy," Bohun said. "Everything goes on normally
enough outwardly, but I suppose there's been some tremendous row. Of
course I don't knew any-thing about that. After what you told me the
other night though, I seem to see everything twice its natural size."
"What do you mean?" I asked him.
"You know when something queer's going on inside a house you seem to
notice the furniture of the rooms much more than you ordinarily do. I
remember once a fellow's piano making me quite sick whenever I looked at
it. I didn't know why; I don't know why now, but the funny thing is that
another man who knew him once said exactly the same thing to me about
it. He felt it too. Of course we're none of us quite normal just now.
The whole town seems to be turning upside down. I'm always imagining
there are animals in the canals; and don't you notice what lots of queer
fellows there are in the Nevski now, and Chinese and Japs--all sorts of
wild men. And last night I had a dream that all the lumps of ice in the
Nevski turned into griffins and went marching through the Red Square
eating every one up on their way...." Bohun laughed. "That's because
_I'd_ eaten something of course--too much _paskha_ probably.
"But, seriously, I came in this evening at five o'clock, and the first
thing I noticed was that little red lacquer musical box of Semyonov's.
You know it. The one with a sports-man in a top hat and a horse and a
dog on the lid. He brought it with some other little things when he
moved in. It's a jolly thing to look at, but it's got two most
irritating tunes. One's like 'The Blue Bells of Scotland.' You said
yourself the other day it would drive you mad if you heard it often.
Well, there it was, jangling away in its self-sufficient wheezy voice.
Semyonov was sitting in the armchair reading the newspaper, Markovitch
was standing behind the chair with the strangest look on his face.
Suddenly, just as I came in he bent down and I heard him say: 'Won't you
stop the beastly thing?' 'Certainly,' said Semyonov, and he went across
in his heavy plodding kind of way and stopped it. I went off to my room
and then, upon my word, five minutes after I heard it begin again, thin
and reedy through the walls. But when I came back into the dining-room
there was no one there. You can't think how that tune irritated me, and
I tried to stop it. I went up to it, but I couldn't find the hinge or
the key. So on it went, over and over again. Then there's another thing.
Have you ever noticed how some chairs will creak in a room, just as
though some one were sitting down or getting up? It always, in ordinary
times, makes you jump, but when you're strung up about something--!
There's a chair in the Markovitches' dining-room just like that. It
creaks more like a human being than anything you ever heard, and
to-night I could have sworn Semyonov got up out of it. It was just like
his heavy slow movement. However, there wasn't any one there. Do you
think all this silly?" he asked.
"No, indeed I don't," I answered.
"Then there's a picture. You know that awful painting of a mid-Victorian
ancestor of Vera's--a horrible old man with bushy eyebrows and a high,
rather dirty-looking stock?"
"Yes, I know it," I said.
"It's one of those pictures with eyes that follow you all round the
room. At least it has now. I usen't to notice them. Now they stare at
you as though they'd eat you, and I know that Markovitch feels them
because he keeps looking up at the beastly thing. Then there's--But no,
I'm not going to talk any more about it. It isn't any good. One gets
thinking of anything these days. One's nerves are all on edge. And that
flat's too full of people any way."
"Yes, it is," I agreed.
We arrived at Rozanov's house, and went up in a very elegant
heavily-gilt lift. Once in the flat we were enveloped in a cloud of men
and women, tobacco smoke, and so many pictures that it was like tumbling
into an art-dealer's. Where there weren't pictures there was gilt, and
where there wasn't gilt there was naked statuary, and where there wasn't
naked statuary there was Rozanov, very red and stout and smiling, gay in
a tightly fitting black-tail coat, white waistcoat and black trousers.
Who all the people were I haven't the least idea. There was a great
many. A number of Jews and Jewesses, amiable, prosperous, and kindly, an
artist or two, a novelist, a lady pianist, two or three actors. I
noticed these. Then there was an old maid, a Mlle. Finisterre, famous in
Petrograd society for her bitterness and acrimony, and in appearance an
exact copy of Balzac's Sophie Gamond.
I noticed several of those charming, quiet, wise women of whom Russia is
so prodigal, a man or two whom I had met at different times, especially
one officer, one of the finest, bravest, and truest men I have ever
known; some of the inevitable giggling girls--and then suddenly,
standing quite alone, Nina!
Her loneliness was the first thing that struck me. She stood back
against the wall underneath the shining frames, looking about her with a
nervous, timid smile. Her hair was piled up on top of her head in the
old way that she used to do when she was trying to imitate Vera, and I
don't know why but that seemed to me a good omen, as though she were
already on her way back to us. She was wearing a very simple white
In spite of her smile she looked unhappy, and I could see that during
this last week experience had not been kind to her, because there was an
air of shyness and uncertainty which had never been there before. I was
just going over to speak to her when two of the giggling girls
surrounded her and carried her off.
I carried the little picture of her in my mind all through the noisy,
strident meal that followed. I couldn't see her from where I sat, nor
did I once catch the tones of her voice, although I listened. Only a
month ago there would have been no party at which Nina was present where
her voice would not have risen above all others.
No one watching us would have believed any stories about food shortage
in Petrograd. I daresay at this very moment in Berlin they are having
just such meals. Until the last echo of the last Trump has died away in
the fastnesses of the advancing mountains the rich will be getting from
somewhere the things that they desire! I have no memory of what we had
to eat that night, but I know that it was all very magnificent and
noisy, kind-hearted and generous and vulgar. A great deal of wine was
drunk, and by the end of the meal every one was talking as loudly as
possible. I had for companion the beautiful Mlle. Finisterre. She had
lived all her life in Petrograd, and she had a contempt for the citizens
of that fine town worthy of Semyonov himself. Opposite us sat a stout,
good-natured Jewess, who was very happily enjoying her food. She was
certainly the most harmless being in creation, and was probably guilty
of a thousand generosities and kindnesses in her private life.
Nevertheless, Mlle. Finisterre had for her a dark and sinister hatred,
and the remarks that she made about her, in her bitter and piercing
voice, must have reached their victim. She also abused her host very
roundly, beginning to tell me in the fullest detail the history of an
especially unpleasant scandal in which he had notoriously figured. I
stopped her at last.
"It seems to me," I said, "that it would be better not to say these
things about him while you're eating his bread and salt."
She laughed shrilly, and tapped me on the arm with a bony finger.
"Oh, you English!... always so moral and strict about the proprieties...
and always so hypercritical too. Oh, you amuse me! I'm French, you
see--not Russian at all; these poor people see through nothing--but we
After dinner there was a strange scene. We all moved into the long,
over-decorated drawing-room. We sat about, admired the pictures (a
beautiful one by Somoff I especially remember--an autumn scene with
eighteenth-century figures and colours so soft and deep that the effect
was inexpressibly delicate and mysterious), talked and then fell into
one of those Russian silences that haunt every Russian party. I call
those silences "Russian," because I know nothing like them in any other
part of the world. It is as though the souls of the whole company
suddenly vanished through the windows, leaving only the bodies and
clothes. Every one sits, eyes half closed, mouths shut, hands
motionless, host and hostess, desperately abandoning every attempt at
rescue, gaze about them in despair.
The mood may easily last well into the morning, when the guests, still
silent, will depart, assuring everybody that they have enjoyed
themselves immensely, and really believing that they have; or it may
happen that some remark will suddenly be made, and instantly back
through the windows the souls will come, eagerly catching up their
bodies again, and a babel will arise, deafening, baffling, stupefying.
Or it may happen that a Russian will speak with sudden authority, almost
like a prophet, and will continue for half an hour and more, pouring out
his soul, and no one will dream of thinking it an improper exhibition.
In fine, anything can happen at a Russian party. What happened on this
occasion was this. The silence had lasted for some minutes, and I was
wondering for how much longer I could endure it (I had one eye on Nina
somewhere in the background, and the other on Bohun restlessly kicking
his patent-leather shoes one against the other), when suddenly a quiet,
ordinary little woman seated near me said:
"The thing for Russia to do now is to abandon all resistance and so
shame the world." She was a mild, pleasant-looking woman, with the eyes
of a very gentle cow, and spoke exactly as though she were still
pursuing her own private thoughts. It was enough; the windows flew open,
the souls came flooding in, and such a torrent of sound poured over the
carpet that the naked statuary itself seemed to shiver at the threatened
deluge. Every one talked; every one, even, shouted. Just as, during the
last weeks, the streets had echoed to the words "Liberty," "Democracy,"
"Socialism," "Brotherhood," "Anti-annexation," "Peace of the world," so
now the art gallery echoed. The very pictures shook in their frames.
One old man in a white beard continued to cry, over and over again,
"Firearms are not our weapons... bullets are not our weapons. It's the
Peace of God, the Peace of God that we need."
One lady (a handsome Jewess) jumped up from her chair, and standing
before us all recited a kind of chant, of which I only caught sentences
once, and again:
"Russia must redeem the world from its sin... this slaughter must be
slayed... Russia the Saviour of the world... this slaughter must be
I had for some time been watching Bohun. He had travelled a long journey
since that original departure from England in December; but I was not
sure whether he had travelled far enough to forget his English terror of
making a fool of himself. Apparently he had.... He said, his voice
shaking a little, blushing as he spoke:
"What about Germany?"
The lady in the middle of the floor turned upon him furiously:
"Germany! Germany will learn her lesson from us. When we lay down our
arms her people, too, will lay down theirs."
"Supposing she doesn't?"
The interest of the room was now centred on him, and every one else was
"That is not our fault. We shall have made our example."
A little hum of applause followed this reply, and that irritated Bohun.
He raised his voice:
"Yes, and what about your allies, England and France, are you going to
Several voices took him up now. A man continued:
"It is not betrayal. We are not betraying the proletariat of England and
France. They are our friends. But the alliance with the French and
English Capitalistic Governments was made not by us but by our own
Capitalistic Government, which is now destroyed."
"Very well, then," said Bohun. "But when the war began did you not--all
of you, not only your Government, but you people now sitting in this
room--did you not all beg and pray England to come in? During those days
before England's intervention, did you not threaten to call us cowards
and traitors if we did not come in? _Pomnite_?"
There was a storm of answers to this. I could not distinguish much of
what it was. I was fixed by Mlle. Finisterre's eagle eye, gleaming at
the thought of the storm that was rising.
"That's not our affair.... That's not our affair," I heard voices
crying. "We did support you. For years we supported you. We lost
millions of men in your service.... Now this terrible slaughter must
cease, and Russia show the way to peace."
Bohun's moment then came upon him. He sprang to his feet, his face
crimson, his body quivering; so desperate was his voice, so urgent his
distress that the whole room was held.
"What has happened to you all? Don't you see, don't you see what you are
doing? What has come to you, you who were the most modest people in
Europe and are now suddenly the most conceited? What do you hope to do
by this surrender?
"Do you know, in the first place, what you will do? You will deliver the
peoples of three-quarters of the globe into hopeless slavery; you will
lose, perhaps for ever, the opportunity of democracy; you will establish
the grossest kind of militarism for all time. Why do you think Germany
is going to listen to you? What sign has she ever shown that she would?
When have her people ever turned away or shown horror at any of the
beastly things her rulers have been doing in this war?... What about
your own Revolution? Do you believe in it? Do you treasure it? Do you
want it to last? Do you suppose for a moment that, if you bow to
Germany, she won't instantly trample out your Revolution and give you
hack your monarchy? How can she afford to have a revolutionary republic
close to her own gates? What is she doing at this moment? Piling up
armies with which to invade you, and conquer you, and lead you into
slavery. What have you done so far by your Revolutionary orders? What
have you done by relaxing discipline in the army? What good have you
done to any one or anything? Is any one the happier? Isn't there
disorder everywhere--aren't all your works stopping and your industries
failing? What about the eighty million peasants who have been liberated
in the course of a night? Who's going to lead them if you are not? This
thing has happened by its own force, and you are sitting down under it,
doing nothing. Why did it succeed? Simply because there was nothing to
oppose it. Authority depended on the army, not on the Czar, and the army
was the people. So it is with the other armies of the world. Do you
think that the other armies couldn't do just as you did if they wished.
They could, in half an hour. They hate the war as much as you do, but
they have also patriotism. They see that their country must be made
strong first before other countries will listen to its ideas. But where
is your patriotism? Has the word Russia been mentioned once by you since
the Revolution? Never once.... 'Democracy,' 'Brotherhood'--but how are
Democracy and Brotherhood to be secured unless other countries respect
you.... Oh, I tell you it's absurd!... It's more than absurd, it's
wicked, it's rotten...."
Poor boy, he was very near tears. He sat down suddenly, staring blankly
in front of him, his hands clenched.
Rozanov answered him, Rozanov flushed, his fat body swollen with food
and drink, a little unsteady on his legs, and the light of the true
mystic in his pig-like eyes. He came forward into the middle of the
"That's perhaps true what you say," he cried; "it's very English, very
honest, and, if you will forgive me, young man, very simple. You say
that we Russians are conceited. No, we are not conceited, but we see
farther than the rest of the world. Is that our curse? Perhaps it is,
but equally, perhaps, we may save the world by it. Now look at me! Am I
a fine man? No, I am not. Every one knows I am not. No man could look at
my face and say that I am a fine man. I have done disgraceful things all
my life. All present know some of the things I have done, and there are
some worse things which nobody knows save myself. Well, then.... Am I
going to stop doing such things? Am I now, at fifty-five, about to
become instantly a saint? Indeed not. I shall continue to do the things
that I have already done, and I shall drop into a beastly old age. I
"So, young man, I am a fair witness. You may trust me to speak the truth
as I see it. I believe in Christ. I believe in the Christ-life, the
Christ-soul. If I could, I would stop my beastliness and become
Christlike. I have tried on several occasions, and failed, because I
have no character. But does that mean that I do not believe in it when I
see it? Not at all. I believe in it more than ever. And so with
Russia--you don't see far enough, young man, neither you nor any of your
countrymen. It is one of your greatest failings that you do not care for
ideas. How is this war going to end? By the victory of Germany?
Perhaps.... Perhaps even it may be that Russia by her weakness will help
to that victory. But is that the end? No.... If Russia has an Idea and
because of her faith in that Idea, she will sacrifice everything, will
be buffeted on both cheeks, will be led into slavery, will deliver up
her land and her people, will be mocked at by all the world... perhaps
that is her destiny.... She will endure all that in order that her Idea
may persist. And her Idea will persist. Are not the Germans and
Austrians human like ourselves? Slowly, perhaps very slowly, they will
say to themselves: 'There is Russia who believes in the peace of the
world, in the brotherhood of man, and she will sacrifice everything for
it, she will go out, as Christ did, and be tortured and be
crucified--and then on the third day she will rise again.' Is not that
the history of every triumphant Idea?... You say that meanwhile Germany
will triumph. Perhaps for a time she may, but our Idea will not die.
"The further Germany goes, the deeper will that Idea penetrate into her
heart. At the end she will die of it, and a new Germany will be born
into a new world.... I tell you I am an evil man, but I believe in God
and in the righteousness of God."
What do I remember after those words of Rozanov? It was like a voice
speaking to me across a great gulf of waters--but that voice was honest.
I do not know what happened after his speech. I think there was a lot of
talk. I cannot remember.
Only just before I was going I was near Nina for a moment.
She looked up at me just as she used to do.
"Durdles--is Vera all right?"
"She's miserable, Nina, because you're not there. Come back to us."
But she shook her head.
"No, no, I can't. Give her my--" Then she stopped. "No, tell her
"Can I tell her you're happy?" I asked.
"Oh, I'm all right," she answered roughly, turning away from me.
But the adventures of that Easter Monday night were not yet over. I had
walked away with Bohun; he was very silent, depressed, poor boy, and shy
with the reaction of his outburst.
"I made the most awful fool of myself," he said.
"No, you didn't," I answered.
"The trouble of it is," he said slowly, "that neither you nor I see the
humorous side of it all strongly enough. We take it too seriously. It's
got a funny side all right."
"Maybe you're right," I said. "But you must remember that the Markovitch
situation isn't exactly funny just now--and we're both in the middle of
it. Oh! if only I could find Nina back home and Semyonov away, I believe
the strain would lift. But I'm frightened that something's going to
happen. I've grown very fond of these people, you know, Bohun--Vera and
Nina and Nicholas. Isn't it odd how one gets to love Russians--more than
one's own people? The more stupid things they do the more you love
them--whereas with one's own people it's quite the other way. Oh, I do
_want_ Vera and Nina and Nicholas to be happy!"
"Isn't the town queer to-night?" said Bohun, suddenly stopping. (We were
just at the entrance to the Mariensky Square.)
"Yes," I said. "I think these days between the thaw and the white nights
are in some ways the strangest of all. There seems to be so much going
on that one can't quite see."
"Yes--over there--at the other end of the Square--there's a kind of
mist--a sort of water-mist. It comes from the Canal."
"And do you see a figure like an old bent man with a red lantern? Do you
see what I mean--that red light?"
"And those shadows on the further wall like riders passing with
silver-tipped spears? Isn't it...? There they go--ten, eleven, twelve,
"How still the Square is? Do you see those three windows all alight?
Isn't there a dance going on? Don't you hear the music?"
"No, it's the wind."
"No, surely.... That's a flute--and then violins. Listen! Those are
fiddles for certain!"
"How still, how still it is!"
We stood and listened whilst the white mist gathered and grew over the
cobbles. Certainly there was a strain of music, very faint and dim,
threading through the air.
"Well, I must go on," said Bohun. "You go up to the left, don't you?
Good-night." I watched Bohun's figure cross the Square. The light was
wonderful, like fold on fold of gauze, but opaque, so that buildings
showed with sharp outline behind it. The moon was full and quite red. I
turned to go home and ran straight into Lawrence.
"Good heavens!" I cried. "Are you a ghost too?"
He didn't seem to feel any surprise at meeting me. He was plainly in a
state of tremendous excitement. He spoke breathlessly.
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