Part 7 out of 7
"You're exactly the man. You must come back with me. My diggings now are
only a yard away from here."
"It's very late," I began, "and--"
"Things are desperate," he said. "I don't know--" he broke off. "Oh!
come and help me, Durward, for God's sake!"
I went with him, and we did not exchange another word until we were in
He began hurriedly taking off his clothes. "There! Sit on the bed.
Different from Wilderling's, isn't it? Poor devil.... I'm going to have
a bath if you don't mind--I've got to clear my head."
He dragged out a tin bath from under his bed, then a big can of water
from a corner. Stripped, he looked so thick and so strong, with his
short neck and his bull-dog build, that I couldn't help saying,
"You don't look a day older than the last time you played Rugger for
"I am, though." He sluiced the cold water over his head, grunting. "Not
near so fit--gettin' fat too.... Rugger days are over. Wish all my other
days were over too."
He got out of the bath, wiped himself, put on pyjamas, brushed his
teeth, then his hair, took out a pipe, and then sat beside me on the
"Look here, Durward," he said. "I'm desperate, old man." (He said
"desprite.") "We're all in a hell of a mess."
"I know," I said.
He puffed furiously at his pipe.
"You know, if I'm not careful I shall go a bit queer in the head. Get so
angry, you know," he added simply.
"Angry with whom?" I asked.
"With myself mostly for bein' such a bloody fool. But not only
myself--with Civilisation, Durward, old cock!--and also with that swine
"Ah, I thought you'd come to him," I said.
"Now the points are these," he went on, counting on his thick stubbly
fingers. "First, I love Vera--and when I say love I mean love. Never
been in love before, you know--honest Injun, never.... Never had affairs
with tobacconists' daughters at Cambridge--never had an affair with a
woman in my life--no, never. Used to wonder what was the matter with me,
why I wasn't like other chaps. Now I know. I was waitin' for Vera. Quite
simple. I shall never love any one again--never. I'm not a kid, you
know, like young Bohun--I love Vera once and for all, and that's that..."
"Yes," I said. "And the next point?"
"The next point is that Vera loves me. No need to go into that--but she
"Yes, she does," I said.
"Third point, she's married, and although she don't love her man she's
sorry for him. Fourth point, he loves her. Fifth point, there's a
damned swine hangin' round called Alexei Petrovitch Semyonov.... Well,
then, there you have it."
He considered, scratching his head. I waited. Then he went on:
"Now it would be simpler if she didn't want to be kind to Nicholas, if
Nicholas didn't love her, if--a thousand things were different. But they
must be as they are, I suppose. I've just been with her. She's nearly
out of her mind with worry."
He paused, puffing furiously at his pipe. Then he went on:
"She's worrying about me, about Nina, and about Nicholas. And especially
about Nicholas. There's something wrong with him. He knows about my
kissing her in the flat. Well, that's all right. I meant him to know.
Everything's just got to be above-board. But Semyonov knows too, and
that devil's been raggin' him about it, and Nicholas is just like a
bloomin' kid. That's got to stop. I'll wring that feller's neck. But
even that wouldn't help matters much. Vera says Nicholas is not to be
hurt whatever happens. 'Never mind us,' she says, 'we're strong and can
stand it.' But he can't. He's weak. And she says he's just goin' off his
dot. And it's got to be stopped--it's just got to be stopped. There's
only one way to stop it."
He stayed: suddenly he put his heavy hand on my knee.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I've got to clear out. That's what I mean. Right away out. Back to
I didn't speak.
"That's it," he went on, but now as though he were talking to himself.
"That's what you've got to do, old son.... She says so, and she's right.
Can't alter our love, you know. Nothing changes that. We've got to hold
on... Ought to have cleared out before...."
Suddenly he turned. He almost flung himself upon me. He gripped my arms
so that I would have cried out if the agony in his eyes hadn't held me.
"Here," he muttered, "let me alone for a moment. I must hold on. I'm
pretty well beat. I'm just about done."
For what seemed hours we sat there. I believe it was, in reality, only a
few minutes. He sat facing me, his eyes staring at me but not seeing me,
his body close against me, and I could see the sweat glistening on his
chest through the open pyjamas. He was rigid as though he had been
struck into stone.
He suddenly relaxed.
"That's right," he said; "thanks, old man. I'm better now. It's a bit
late, I expect, but stay on a while."
He got into bed. I sat beside him, gripped his hand, and ten minutes
later he was asleep.
The next day, Tuesday, was stormy with wind and rain. It was strange to
see from my window the whirlpool of ice-encumbered waters. The rain fell
in slanting, hissing sheets upon the ice, and the ice, in lumps and
sheets and blocks, tossed and heaved and spun. At times it was as though
all the ice was driven by some strong movement in one direction, then it
was like the whole pavement of the world slipping down the side of the
firmament into space. Suddenly it would be checked and, with a kind of
quiver, station itself and hang chattering and clutching until the sweep
would begin in the opposite direction!
I could see only dimly through the mist, but it was not difficult to
imagine that, in very truth, the days of the flood had returned. Nothing
could be seen but the tossing, heaving welter of waters with the ice,
grim and grey through the shadows, like "ships and monsters,
sea-serpents and mermaids," to quote Galleon's _Spanish Nights_.
Of course the water came in through my own roof, and it was on that very
afternoon that I decided, once and for all, to leave this abode of mine.
Romantic it might be; I felt it was time for a little comfortable
realism. My old woman brought me the usual cutlets, macaroni, and tea
for lunch; then I wrote to a friend in England; and finally, about four
o'clock, after one more look at the hissing waters, drew my curtains,
lit my candles, and sat down near my stove to finish that favourite of
mine, already mentioned in these pages, De la Mare's _The Return_.
I read on with absorbed attention. I did not hear the dripping on the
roof, nor the patter-patter of the drops from the ceiling, nor the
beating of the storm against the glass. My candles blew in the draught,
and shadows crossed and recrossed the page. Do you remember the book's
"Once, like Lawford in the darkness at Widderstone, he glanced up
sharply across the lamplight at his phantasmagorical shadowy companion,
heard the steady surge of multitudinous rain-drops, like the roar of
Time's winged chariot hurrying near, then he too, with spectacles awry,
bobbed on in his chair, a weary old sentinel on the outskirts of his
friend's denuded battlefield."
"Shadowy companion," "multitudinous rain-drops," "a weary old sentinel,"
"his friend's denuded battlefield"... the words echoed like little
muffled bells in my brain, and it was, I suppose, to their chiming that
I fell into dreamless sleep.
From this I was suddenly roused by the sharp noise of knocking, and
starting up, my book clattering to the floor, I saw facing me, in the
doorway, Semyonov. Twice before he had come to me just like this--out of
the heart of a dreamless sleep. Once in the orchard near Buchatch, on a
hot summer afternoon; once in this same room on a moonlit night. Some
strange consciousness, rising, it seemed, deep out of my sleep, told me
that this would be the last time that I would so receive him.
"May I come in?" he said.
"If you must, you must," I answered. "I am not physically strong enough
to prevent you."
He laughed. He was dripping wet. He took off his hat and overcoat, sat
down near the stove, bending forward, holding his cloak in his hands and
watching the steam rise from it.
I moved away and stood watching. I was not going to give him any
possible illusion as to my welcoming him. He turned round and looked at
"Truly, Ivan Andreievitch," he said, "you are a fine host. This is a
"There can be no greetings between us ever again," I answered him. "You
are a blackguard. I hope that this is our last meeting."
"But it is," he answered, looking at me with friendliness; "that is
precisely why I've come. I've come to say good-bye."
"Good-bye?" I repeated with astonishment. This chimed in so strangely
with my premonition. "I never was more delighted to hear it. I hope
you're going a long distance from us all."
"That's as may be," he answered. "I can't tell you definitely."
"When are you going?" I asked.
"That I can't tell you either. But I have a premonition that it will be
"Oh, a premonition," I said, disappointed. "Is nothing settled?"
"No, not definitely. It depends on others."
"Have you told Vera and Nicholas?"
"No--in fact, only last night Vera begged me to go away, and I told her
that I would love to do anything to oblige her, but this time I was
afraid that I couldn't help her. I would be compelled, alas, to stay on
"Look here, Semyonov," I said, "stop that eternal fooling. Tell me
honestly--are you going or not?"
"Going away from where?" he asked, laughing.
"From the Markovitches, from all of us, from Petrograd?"
"Yes--I've told you already," he answered. "I've come to say good-bye."
"Then what did you mean by telling Vera--"
"Never you mind, Ivan Andreievitch. Don't worry your poor old head with
things that are too complicated for you--a habit of yours, I'm afraid.
Just believe me when I say that I've come to say good-bye. I have an
intuition that we shall never talk together again. I may be wrong. But
my intuitions are generally correct."
I noticed then that his face was haggard, his eyes dark, the light in
them exhausted as though he had not slept.... I had never before seen
him show positive physical distress. Let his soul be what it might, his
body seemed always triumphant.
"Whether your intuition is right or no," I said, "this _is_ the last
time. I never intend to speak to you again if I can help it. The day
that I hear that you have really left us, never to return, will be one
of the happiest days of my life."
Semyonov gave me a strange look, humorous, ironical, and, upon my word,
almost affectionate: "That's very sad what you say, Ivan
Andreievitch--if you mean it. And I suppose you mean it, because you
English always do mean what you say.... But it's sad because, truly, I
have friendly feelings towards you, and you're almost the only man in
the world of whom I could say that."
"You speak as though your friendship were an honour," I said hotly.
"It's a degradation."
He smiled. "Now that's melodrama, straight out of your worst English
plays. _And_ how bad they can be!... But you hadn't always this vehement
hatred. What's changed your mind?"
"I don't know that I _have_ changed my mind," I answered. "I think I've
always disliked you. But there at the Front and in the Forest you were
brave and extraordinarily competent. You treated Trenchard abominably,
of course--but he rather asked for it in some ways. Here you've been
nothing but the meanest skunk and sneak. You've set out deliberately to
poison the lives of some of the best-hearted and most helpless people on
this earth.... You deserve hanging, if any murderer ever did!"
He looked at me so mildly and with such genuine interest that I was
compelled to feel my indignation a whit melodramatic.
"If you are going," I said more calmly, "for Heaven's sake go! It
_can't_ be any pleasure to you, clever and talented as you are, to bait
such harmless people as Vera and Nicholas. You've done harm enough.
Leave them, and I forgive you everything."
"Ah, of course your forgiveness is of the first importance to me," he
said, with ironic gravity. "But it's true enough. You're going to be
bothered with me--I _do_ seem a worry to you, don't I?--for only a few
days more. And how's it going to end, do you think? Who's going to
finish me off? Nicholas or Vera? Or perhaps our English Byron, Lawrence?
Or even yourself? Have you your revolver with you? I shall offer no
resistance, I promise you."
Suddenly he changed. He came closer to me. His weary, exhausted eyes
gazed straight into mine: "Ivan Andreievitch, never mind about the
rest--never mind whether you do or don't hate me, that matters to
nobody. What I tell you is the truth. I have come to you, as I have
always come to you, like the moth to the flame. Why am I always pursuing
you? Is it for the charm and fascination of your society? Your wit? Your
beauty? I won't flatter you--no, no, it's because you alone, of all
these fools here, knew her. You knew her as no one else alive knew her.
She liked you--God knows why! At least I do know why--it was because of
her youth and innocence and simplicity, because she didn't know a wise
man from a fool, and trusted all alike.... But you knew her, you knew
her. You remember her and can talk of her. Ah, how I've hungered,
hungered, to talk to you about her! Sometimes I've come all this way and
then turned back at the door. How I've prayed that it might have been
some other who knew her, some real man, not a sentimental, gloomy old
woman like yourself, Ivan Andreievitch. And yet you have your points.
You have in you the things that she saw--you are honest, you are
brave.... You are like a good English clergyman. But she!... I should
have had some one with wit, with humour, with a sense of life about her.
All the things, all the little things--the way she walked, her clothes,
her smile--when she was cross! Ah, she was divine when she was cross!...
Ivan Andreievitch, be kind to me! Think for a moment less of your
morals, less of your principles--and talk to me of her! Talk to me of
He had drawn quite close to me; he looked like a madman--I have no doubt
that, at that moment, he was one.
"I can't!... I won't!" I answered, drawing away. "She is the most sacred
memory I have in my life. I hate to think of her with you. And that
because you smirch everything you touch. I have no feeling of
"You? Jealousy!" he said, looking at me scornfully. "Why should you be
"I loved her too," I said.
He looked at me. In spite of myself the colour flooded my face. He
looked at me from head to foot--my plainness, my miserable physique, my
lameness, my feeble frame--everything was comprehended in the scorn of
"No," I said, "you need not suppose that she ever realised. She did not.
I would have died rather than have spoken of it. But I will not talk
about her. I will not."
He drew away from me. His face was grave; the mockery had left it.
"Oh, you English, how strange you are!... In trusting, yes.... But the
things you miss! I understand now many things. I give up my desire. You
shan't smirch your precious memories.... And you, too, must understand
that there has been all this time a link that has bound us.... Well,
that link has snapped. I must go. Meanwhile, after I am gone, remember
that there is more in life, Ivan Andreievitch, than you will ever
understand. Who am I?... Rather ask, what am I? I am a Desire, a
Purpose, a Pursuit--what you like. If another suffer for that I cannot
help it, and if human nature is so weak, so stupid, it is right that it
should suffer. But perhaps I am not myself at all, Ivan Andreievitch.
Perhaps this is a ghost that you see.... What if the town has changed in
the night and strange souls have slipped into our old bodies?
"Isn't there a stir about the town? Is it I that pursue Nicholas, or is
it my ghost that pursues myself? Is it Nicholas that I pursue? Is not
Nicholas dead, and is it not my hope of release that I follow?... Don't
be so sure of your ground, Ivan Andreievitch. You know the proverb:
'There's a secret city in every man's heart. It is at that city's altars
that the true prayers are offered.' There has been more than one
Revolution in the last two months."
He came up to me:
"Do not think too badly of me, Ivan Andreievitch, afterwards. I'm a
haunted man, you know."
He bent forward and kissed me on the lips. A moment later he was gone.
That Tuesday night poor young Bohun will remember to his grave--and
beyond it, I expect.
He came in from his work about six in the evening and found Markovitch
and Semyonov sitting in the dining-room. Everything was ordinary enough.
Semyonov was in the armchair reading a newspaper; Markovitch was walking
very quietly up and down the farther end of the room. He wore faded blue
carpet slippers; he had taken to them lately. Everything was the same as
it had always been. The storm that had raged all day had now died down,
and a very pale evening sun struck little patches of colour on the big
table with the fading table-cloth, on the old brown carpet, on the
picture of the old gentleman with bushy eyebrows, on Semyonov's
musical-box, on the old knick-knacks and the untidy shelf of books.
(Bohun looked especially to see whether the musical-box were still
there. It was there on a little side-table.) Bohun, tired with his long
day's efforts to shove the glories of the British Empire down the
reluctant throats of the indifferent Russians, dropped into the other
armchair with a tattered copy of Turgenieff's _House of Gentle-folks_,
and soon sank into a state of half-slumber.
He roused himself from this to hear Semyonov reading extracts from the
newspaper. He caught, at first, only portions of sentences. I am writing
this, of course, from Bohun's account of it, and I cannot therefore
quote the actual words, but they were incidents of disorder at the
"There!" Semyonov would say, pausing. "Now, Nicholas... What do you say
to that? A nice state of things. The Colonel was murdered, of course,
although our friend the _Retch_ doesn't put it quite so bluntly. The
_Novaya Jezn_ of course highly approves. Here's another...." This went
on for some ten minutes, and the only sound beside Semyonov's voice was
Markovitch's padding steps. "Ah! here's another bit!... Now what about
that, my fine upholder of the Russian Revolution? See what they've been
doing near Riga! It says...."
"Can't you leave it alone, Alexei? Keep your paper to yourself!"
These words came in so strange a note, a tone so different from
Markovitch's ordinary voice, that they were, to Bohun, like a warning
blow on the shoulder.
"There's gratitude--when I'm trying to interest you! How childish, too,
not to face the real situation! Do you think you're going to improve
things by pretending that anarchy doesn't exist? So soon, too, after
your beautiful Revolution! How long is it? Let me see... March, April...
yes, just about six weeks.... Well, well!"
"Leave me alone, Alexei!... Leave me alone!"
Bohun had with that such a sense of a superhuman effort at control
behind the words that the pain of it was almost intolerable. He wanted,
there and then, to have left the room. It would have been better for him
had he done so. But some force held him in his chair, and, as the scene
developed, be felt as though his sudden departure would have laid too
emphatic a stress on the discomfort of it.
He hoped that in a moment Vera or Uncle Ivan would come and the scene
Semyonov, meanwhile, continued: "What were those words you used to me
not so long ago? Something about free Russia, I think--Russia moving
like one man to save the world--Russia with an unbroken front.... Too
optimistic, weren't you?"
The padding feet stopped. In a whisper that seemed to Bohun to fill the
room with echoing sound Markovitch said:
"You have tempted me for weeks now, Alexei.... I don't know why you hate
me so, nor why you pursue me. Go back to your own place. If I am an
unfortunate man, and by my own fault, that should be nothing to you who
are more fortunate."
"Torment you! I?... My dear Nicholas, never! But you are so childish in
your ideas--and are you unfortunate? I didn't know it. Is it about your
inventions that you are speaking? Well, they were never very happy, were
"You praised them to me!"
"Did I?... My foolish kindness of heart, I'm afraid. To tell the truth,
I was thankful when you saw things as they were..."
"You took them away from me."
"I took them away? What nonsense! It was your own wish--Vera's wish
"Yes, you persuaded both Vera and Nina that they were no good. They
believed in them before you came."
"You flatter me, Nicholas. I haven't such power over Vera's opinions,
I'm afraid. If I tell her anything she believes at once the opposite.
You must have seen that yourself."
"You took her belief away from me. You took her love away from me."
Semyonov laughed. That laugh seemed to rouse Markovitch to frenzy. He
screamed out. "You have taken everything from me!... You will not leave
me alone! You must be careful. You are in danger, I tell you."
Semyonov sprang up from his chair, and the two men, advancing towards
one another, came into Bohun's vision.
Markovitch was like a madman, his hands raised, his eyes staring from
his head, his body trembling. Semyonov was quiet, motionless, smiling,
standing very close to the other.
"Well, what are you going to do?" he asked.
Markovitch stood for a moment, his hands raised, then his whole body
seemed to collapse. He moved away, muttering something which Bohun could
not hear. With shuffling feet, his head lowered, he went out of the
room. Semyonov returned to his seat.
To Bohun, an innocent youth with very simple and amiable ideas about
life, the whole thing seemed "beastly beyond words."
"I saw a man torture a dog once," he told me. "He didn't do much to it
really. Tied it up to a tree and dug into it with a pen-knife. I went
home and was sick.... Well, I felt sick this time, too."
Nevertheless his own "sickness" was not the principal affair. The point
was the sense of danger that seemed now to tinge with its own faint
stain every article in the room. Bohun's hatred of Semyonov was so
strong that he felt as though he would never be able to speak to him
again; but it was not really of Semyonov that he was thinking. His
thoughts were all centred round Markovitch. You must remember that for a
long time now he had considered himself Markovitch's protector. This
sense of his protection had developed in him an affection for the man
that he would not otherwise have felt. He did not, of course, know of
any of Markovitch's deepest troubles. He could only guess at his
relations with Vera, and he did not understand the passionate importance
that he attached to his Russian idea. But he knew enough to be aware of
his childishness, his simplicity, his _naivete_, and his essential
goodness. "He's an awfully decent sort, really," he used to say in a
kind of apologetic defence. The very fact of Semyonov's strength made
his brutality seem now the more revolting. "Like hitting a fellow half
He saw that things in that flat were approaching a climax, and he knew
enough now of Russian impetuosity to realise that climaxes in that
country are, very often, no ordinary affairs. It was just as though
there were an evil smell in the flat, he explained to me. "It seemed to
hang over everything. Things looked the same and yet they weren't the
same at all."
His main impression that "something would very soon happen if he didn't
look out," drove everything else from his mind--but he didn't quite see
what to do. Speak to Vera? To Nicholas? To Semyonov?... He didn't feel
qualified to do any of these things.
He went to bed that night early, about ten o'clock. He couldn't sleep.
His door was not quite closed and he could hear first Vera, then Uncle
Ivan, lastly Markovitch go to bed. He lay awake then, with that
exaggerated sense of hearing that one has in the middle of the night,
when one is compelled, as it were, against one's will, to listen for
sounds. He heard the dripping of the tap in the bathroom, the creaking
of some door in the wind (the storm had risen again) and all the
thousand and one little uncertainties, like the agitated beating of
innumerable hearts that penetrate the folds and curtains of the night.
As he lay there he thought of what he would do did Markovitch really go
off his head. He had a revolver, he knew. He had seen it in his hand.
And then what was Semyonov after? My explanation had seemed, at first,
so fantastic and impossible that Bohun had dismissed it, but now, after
the conversation that he had just overheard, it did not seem impossible
at all--especially in the middle of the night. His mind travelled back
to his own first arrival in Petrograd, that first sleep at the "France"
with the dripping water and the crawling rats, the plunge into the Kazan
Cathedral, and everything that followed.
He did not see, of course, his own progress since that day, or the many
things that Russia had already done for him, but he did feel that such
situations as the one he was now sharing were, to-day, much more in the
natural order of things than they would have been four months before....
He dozed off and then was awakened, sharply, abruptly, by the sound of
Markovitch's padded feet. There could be no mistaking them; very softly
they went past Bohun's door, down the passage towards the dining-room.
He sat up in bed, and all the other sounds of the night seemed suddenly
to be accentuated--the dripping of the tap, the blowing of the wind, and
even the heavy breathing of old Sacha, who always slept in a sort of
cupboard near the kitchen, with her legs hanging out into the passage.
Suddenly no sound! The house was still, and, with that, the sense of
danger and peril was redoubled, as though the house were holding its
breath as it watched....
Bohun could endure it no longer; he got up, put on his dressing-gown and
bedroom slippers, and went out. When he got as far as the dining-room
door he saw that Markovitch was standing in the middle of the room with
a lighted candle in his hand. The glimmer of the candle flung a circle,
outside which all was dusk. Within the glimmer there was Markovitch, his
hair rough and strangely like a wig, his face pale yellow, and wearing
an old quilted bed-jacket of a purple green colour. He was in a
night-dress, and his naked legs were like sticks of tallow.
He stood there, the candle shaking in his hand, as though he were
uncertain as to what he would do next. He was saying something to
himself, Bohun thought.
At any rate his lips were moving. Then he put his hand into the pocket
of his bed-coat and took out a revolver. Bohun saw it gleam in the
candle-light. He held it up close to his eyes as though he were
short-sighted and seemed to sniff at it. Then, clumsily, Bohun said, he
opened it, to see whether it were loaded, I suppose, and closed it
again. After that, very softly indeed, he shuffled off towards the door
of Semyonov's room, the room that had once been the sanctuary of his
All this time young Bohun was paralysed. He said that all his life now,
in spite of his having done quite decently in France, he would doubt his
capacity in a crisis because, during the whole of this affair, he never
stirred. But that was because it was all exactly like a dream. "I was in
the dream, you know, as well as the other fellows. You know those dreams
when you're doing your very damnedest to wake up--when you struggle and
sweat and know you'll die if something doesn't happen--well, it was like
that, except that I didn't struggle and swear, but just stood there,
like a painted picture, watching...."
Markovitch had nearly reached Semyonov's door (you remember that there
was a little square window of glass in the upper part of it) when he did
a funny thing. He stopped dead as though some one had rapped him on the
shoulder. He stopped and looked round, then, very slowly, as though he
were compelled, gazed with his nervous blinking eyes up at the portrait
of the old gentleman with the bushy eyebrows. Bohun looked up too and
saw (it was probably a trick of the faltering candle-light) that the old
man was not looking at him at all, but steadfastly, and, of course,
ironically at Markovitch. The two regarded one another for a while, then
Markovitch, still moving with the greatest caution, slipped the
revolver back into his pocket, got a chair, climbed on to it and lifted
the picture down from its nail. He looked at it for a moment, staring
into the cracked and roughened paint, then hung it deliberately back on
its nail again, but with its face to the wall. As he did this his bare,
skinny legs were trembling so on the chair that, at every moment, he
threatened to topple over. He climbed down at last, put the chair back
in its place, and then once more turned towards Semyonov's door.
When he reached it he stopped and again took out the revolver, opened
it, looked into it, and closed it. Then he put his hand on the
It was then that Bohun had, as one has in dreams, a sudden impulse to
scream: "Look out! Look out! Look out!" although, Heaven knows, he had
no desire to protect Semyonov from anything. But it was just then that
the oddest conviction came over him, namely, an assurance that Semyonov
was standing on the other side of the door, looking through the little
window and waiting. He could not have told, any more than one can ever
tell in dreams, how he was so certain of this. He could only see the
little window as the dimmest and darkest square of shadow behind
Markovitch's candle, but he was sure that this was so. He could even see
Semyonov standing there, in his shirt, with his thick legs, his head a
little raised, listening...
For what seemed an endless time Markovitch did not move. He also seemed
to be listening. Was it possible that he heard Semyonov's breathing?...
But, of course, I have never had any actual knowledge that Semyonov was
there. That was simply Bohun's idea....
Then Markovitch began very slowly, bending a little, as though it were
stiff and difficult, to turn the handle. I don't know what then Bohun
would have done. He must, I think, have moved, shouted, screamed, done
something or other. There was another interruption. He heard a quick,
soft step behind him. He moved into the shadow.
It was Vera, in her night-dress, her hair down her back.
She came forward into the room and whispered very quietly: "Nicholas!"
He turned at once. He did not seem to be startled or surprised; he had
dropped the revolver at once back into his pocket. He came up to her,
she bent down and kissed him, then put her arm round him and led him
When they had gone Bohun also went back to bed. The house was very still
and peaceful. Suddenly he remembered the picture. It would never do, he
thought, if in the morning it were found by Sacha or Uncle Ivan with its
face to the wall. After hesitating he lit his own candle, got out of bed
again, and went down the passage.
"The funny thing was," he said, "that I really expected to find it just
as it always was, face outwards.... as though the whole thing really had
been a dream. But it wasn't. It had its face to the wall all right. I
got a chair, turned it round, and went back to bed again."
That night, whether as a result of my interview with Semyonov I do not
know, my old enemy leapt upon me once again. I had, during the next
three days, one of the worst bouts of pain that it has ever been my
fortune to experience. For twenty-four hours I thought it more than any
man could bear, and I hid my head and prayed for death; during the next
twenty-four I slowly rose, with a dim far-away sense of deliverance; on
the third day I could hear, in the veiled distance, the growls of my
Through it all, behind the wall of pain, my thoughts knocked and
thudded, urging me to do something. It was not until the Friday or the
Saturday that I could think consecutively. My first thought was driven
in on me by the old curmudgeon of a doctor, as his deliberate opinion
that it was simply insanity to stay on in those damp rooms when I
suffered from my complaint, that I was only asking for what I got, and
that he, on his part, had no sympathy for me. I told him that I entirely
agreed with him, that I had determined several weeks ago to leave these
rooms, and that I thought that I had found some others in a different,
more populated part of the town. He grunted his approval, and,
forbidding me to go out for at least a week, left me. At least a
week!... No, I must be out long before that. Now that the pain had left
me, weak though I was, I was wildly impatient to return to the
Markovitches. Through all these last days' torments I had been conscious
of Semyonov, seen his hair and his mouth and his beard and his square
solidity and his tired, exhausted eyes, and strangely, at the end of it
all, felt the touch of his lips on mine. Oddly, I did not hate Semyonov;
I saw quite clearly that I had never hated him--something too impersonal
about him, some sense, too, of an outside power driving him. No, I did
not hate him, but God! how I feared him--feared him not for my own sake,
but for the sake of those who had--was this too arrogant?--been given as
it seemed to me,--into my charge.
I remembered that Monday was the 30th of April, and that, on that
evening, there was to be a big Allied meeting at the Bourse, at which
our Ambassador, Sir George Buchanan, the Belgian Consul, and others,
were to speak. I had promised to take Vera to this. Tuesday the 1st of
May was to see a great demonstration by all the workmen's and soldiers'
committees. It was to correspond with the Labour demonstrations arranged
to take place on that day all over Europe, and the Russian date had been
altered to the new style in order to provide for this. Many people
considered that the day would be the cause of much rioting, of definite
hostility to the Provisional Government, of anti-foreign demonstrations,
and so on; others, idealistic Russians, believed that all the soldiers,
the world over, would on that day throw down their arms and proclaim a
I for my part believed that it would mark the ending of the first phase
of the Revolution and the beginning of the second, and that for Russia
at any rate it would mean the changing from a war of nations into a war
of class--in other words, that it would mean the rising up of the
Russian peasant as a definite positive factor in the world's affairs.
But all that political business was only remotely, at that moment, my
concern. What I wanted to know was what was happening to Nicholas, to
Vera, to Lawrence, and the others. Even whilst I was restlessly
wondering what I could do to put myself into touch with them, my old
woman entered with a letter which she said had been brought by hand.
The letter was from Markovitch.
I give this odd document here exactly as I received it. I do not attempt
to emphasise or explain or comment in any way. I would only add that no
Russian is so mad as he seems to any Englishman, and no Englishman so
foolish as he seems to any Russian.
I must have received this letter, I think, late on Sunday afternoon,
because I was, I remember, up and dressed, and walking about my room. It
was written on flimsy grey paper in pencil, which made it difficult to
read. There were sentences unfinished, words misspelt, and the whole of
it in the worst of Russian handwritings. Certain passages, I am, even
now, quite unable to interpret:
It ran as follows:
Dear Ivan Andreievitch--Vera tells me that you are ill again. She has
been round to enquire, I think. I did not come because I knew that if I
did I should only talk about my own troubles, the same as you've always
listened to, and what kind of food is that for a sick man? All the same,
that is just what I am doing now, but reading a letter is not like
talking to a man; you can always stop and tear the paper when perhaps it
would not be polite to ask a man to go. But I hope, nevertheless, that
you won't do that with this--not because of any desire I may have to
interest you in myself, but because of something of much more importance
than either of us, something I want you to believe--something you _must_
believe.... Don't think me mad. I am quite sane sitting here in my room
writing.... Every one is asleep. Every one but not everything. I've been
queer, now and again, lately... off and on. Do you know how it comes?
When the inside of the world goes further and further within dragging
you after it, until at last you are in the bowels of darkness choking.
I've known such moods all my life. Haven't you known them? Lately, of
course, I've been drinking again. I tell you, but I wouldn't own it to
most people. But they all know, I suppose.... Alexei made me start
again, but it's foolish to put everything on to him. If I weren't a weak
man he wouldn't be able to do anything with me, would he? Do you believe
in God, and don't you think that He intended the weak to have some
compensation somewhere, because it isn't their fault that they're weak,
is it! They can struggle and struggle, but it's like being in a net.
Well, one must just make a hole in the net large enough to get out of,
that's all. And now, ever since two days ago, when I resolved to make
that hole, I've been quite calm. I'm as calm as anything now writing to
you. Two days ago Vera told me that he was going back to England.... Oh,
she was so good to me that day, Ivan Andreievitch. We sat together all
alone in the flat, and she had her hand in mine, just as we used to do
in the old days when I pretended to myself that she loved me. Now I know
that she did not, but the warmer and more marvellous was her kindness to
me, her goodness, and nobility. Do you not think, Ivan Andreievitch,
that if you go deep enough in every human heart, there is this kernel of
goodness, this fidelity to some ideal. Do you know we have a proverb:
"In each man's heart there is a secret town at whose altars the true
prayers are offered!" Even perhaps with Alexei it is so, only there you
must go very deep, and there is no time.
But I must tell you about Vera. She told me so kindly that he was going
to England, and that now her whole life would be led in Nina and myself.
I held her hand very close in mine and asked her, Was it really true
that she loved him. And she said, yes she did, but that that she could
not help. She said that she had spoken with him, and that they had
decided that it would be best for him to go away. Then she begged my
forgiveness for many things, because she had been harsh or cross,--I
don't know what things.... Oh, Ivan Andreievitch, _she_ to beg
forgiveness of _me!_
But I held her hand closer and closer, because I knew that it was the
last time that I would be able so truly to hold it. How could she not
see that now everything was over--everything--quite everything! Am I one
to hold her, to chain her down, to keep her when she has already
escaped? Is that the way to prove my fidelity to her?
Of course I did not speak to her of this, but for the first time in all
our years together, I felt older than her and wiser. But of course
Alexei saw it. How he heard I do not know, but that same day he came to
me and he seemed to be very kind.
I don't know what he said, but he explained that Vera would always be
unhappy now, always, longing and waiting and hoping.... "Keep him here
in Russia!" he whispered to me. "She will get tired of him then--they
will tire of one another; but if you send him away...." Oh! he is a
devil, Ivan Andreievitch, and why has he persecuted me so? What have I
ever done to him? Nothing... but for weeks now he has pursued me and
destroyed my inventions, and flung Russia in my face and made Nina, dear
Nina, laugh at me, and now, when the other things are finished, he shows
me that Vera will be unhappy so long as I am alive. What have I ever
done, Ivan Andreievitch? I am so unimportant, why has he taken such a
trouble? To-day I gave him his last chance... or last night... it is
four in the morning now, and the bells are already ringing for the early
Mass. I said to him:
"Will you go away? Leave us all for ever? Will you promise never to
He said in that dreadful quiet sure way of his: "No, I will never go
away until you make me."
Vera hates him. I cannot leave her alone with him, can I? I (here there
are three lines of illegible writing)... so I will think again and
again of that last time when we sat together and all the good things
that she said. What greatness of soul, what goodness, what splendour!
And perhaps after all I am a fortunate man to be allowed to be faithful
to so fine a grandeur! Many men have poor ambitions, and God bestows
His gifts with strange blindness, I often think. But I am tired, and you
too will be tired. Perhaps you have not got so far. I must thank you for
your friendship to me. I am very grateful for it. And you, if afterwards
you ever think of me, think that I always wished to... no, why should
you think of me at all? But think of Russia! That is why I write this.
You love Russia, and I believe that you will continue to love Russia
whatever she will do. Never forget that it is because she cares so
passionately for the good of the world that she makes so many mistakes.
She sees farther than other countries, and she cares more. But she is
also more ignorant. She has never been allowed to learn anything or to
try to do anything for herself.
You are all too impatient, too strongly aware of your own conditions,
too ignorant of hers! Of course there are wicked men here and many idle
men, but every country has such. You must not judge her by that nor by
all the talk you hear. We talk like blind men on a dark road.... Do you
believe that there are no patriots here? Ah! how bitterly I have been
disappointed during these last weeks! It has broken my heart... but do
not let your heart be broken. You can wait. You are young. Believe in
Russian patriotism, believe in Russian future, believe in Russian
soul.... Try to be patient and understand that she is blindfolded,
ignorant, stumbling... but the glory will come; I can see it shining
far away!... It is not for me, but for you--and for Vera... for Vera...
Here the letter ended; only scrawled very roughly across the paper the
As soon as I had finished reading the letter I went to the telephone and
rang up the Markovitches' flat. Bohun spoke to me. I asked him whether
Nicholas was there, he said, "Yes, fast asleep in the arm-chair," Was
Semyonov there? "No, he was dining out that night." I asked him to
remind Vera that I was expecting to take her to the meeting next day,
and rang off. There was nothing more to be done just then. Two minutes
later there was a knock on my door and Vera came in.
"Why!" I cried. "I've just been ringing up to tell you that, of course,
I was coming on Monday."
"That is partly what I wanted to know," she said, smiling. "And also I
thought that you'd fancied we'd all deserted you."
"No," I answered. "I don't expect you round here every time I'm ill.
That would be absurd. You'll be glad to know at any rate that I've
decided to give up these ridiculous rooms. I deserve all the illness I
get so long as I'm here."
"Yes, that's good," she answered. "How you could have stayed so long--"
She dropped into a chair, closed her eyes and lay back. "Oh, Ivan
Andreievitch, but I'm tired!"
She looked, lying there, white-faced, her eyelids like grey shadows,
utterly exhausted. I waited in silence. After a time she opened her eyes
and said, suddenly:
"We all come and talk to you, don't we? I, Nina, Nicholas, Sherry (she
meant Lawrence), even Uncle Alexei. I wonder why we do, because we never
take your advice, you know.... Perhaps it's because you seem right
I coloured a little at that.
"Did I hurt you?... I'm sorry. No, I don't know that I am. I don't mind
now whether I hurt any one. You know that he's going back to England?"
I nodded my head.
"He told you himself?"
"Yes," I said.
She lay back in her chair and was silent for a long time.
"You think I'm a noble woman, don't you. Oh yes, you do! I can see you
just thirsting for my nobility. It's what Uncle Alexei always says about
you, that you've learnt from Dostoieffsky how to be noble, and it's
become a habit with you."
"If you're going to believe--" I began angrily.
"Oh, I hate him! I listen to nothing that he says. All the same,
Durdles, this passion for nobility on your part is very irritating. I
can see you now making up the most magnificent picture of my nobility.
I'm sure if you were ever to write a book about us all, you'd write of
me something like this: 'Vera Michailovna had won her victory. She had
achieved her destiny.... Having surrendered her lover she was as fine as
a Greek statue!' Something like that.... Oh, I can see you at it!"
"You don't understand--" I began.
"Oh, but I do!" she answered. "I've watched your attitude to me from the
first. You wanted to make poor Nina noble, and then Nicholas, and then,
because they wouldn't either of them do, you had to fall back upon me:
memories of that marvellous woman at the Front, Marie some one or other,
have stirred up your romantic soul until it's all whipped cream and
jam--mulberry jam, you know, so as to have the proper dark colour."
"Why all this attack on me?" I asked. "What have I done?"
"You've done nothing," she cried. "We all love you, Durdles, because
you're such a baby, because you dream such dreams, see nothing as it
is.... And perhaps after all you're right--your vision is as good as
another. But this time you've made me restless. You're never to see me
as a noble woman again, Ivan Andreievitch. See me as I am, just for
five minutes! I haven't a drop of noble feeling in my soul!"
"You've just given him up," I said. "You've sent him back to England,
although you adore him, because your duty's with your husband. You're
breaking your heart--"
"Yes, I am breaking my heart," she said quietly. "I'm a dead woman
without him. And it's my weakness, my cowardice, that is sending him
away. What would a French woman or an English woman have done? Given up
the world for their lover. Given up a thousand Nicholases, sacrificed a
hundred Ninas--that's real life. That's real, I tell you. What feeling
is there in my soul that counts for a moment beside my feeling for
Sherry? I say and I feel and I know that I would die for him, die with
him, happily, gladly. Those are no empty words.
"I who have never been in love before, I am devoured by it now until
there is nothing left of me--nothing.... And yet I remain. It is our
weakness, our national idleness. I haven't the strength to leave
Nicholas. I am soft, sentimental, about his unhappiness. Pah! how I
despise myself.... I am capable of living on here for years with husband
and lover, going from one to another, weeping for both of them. Already
I am pleading with Sherry that he should remain here. We will see what
will happen. We will see what will happen! Ah, my contempt for myself!
Without bones, without energy, without character.
"But this is life, Ivan Andreievitch! I stay here, I send him away
because I cannot bear to see Nicholas suffer. And I do not care for
Nicholas. Do you understand that? I never loved him, and now I have a
contempt for him--in spite of myself. Uncle Alexei has done that. Oh
yes! He has made a fool of Nicholas for months, and although I have
hated him for doing that, I have seen, also, what a fool Nicholas is!
But he is a hero, too. Make _him_ as noble as you like, Ivan
Andreievitch. You cannot colour it too high. He is the real thing and I
am the sham.... But oh! I do not want to live with him any more, I am
tired of him, his experiments, his lamentations, his weakness, his lack
of humour--tired of him, sick of him. And yet I cannot leave him,
because I am soft, soft without bones, like my country, Ivan
Andreievitch.... My lover is strong. Nothing can change his will. He
will go, will leave me, until he knows that I am free. Then he will
never leave me again.
"Perhaps I will get tired of his strength one day--it may be--just as
now I am tired of Nicholas's weakness. Everything has its end.
"But no! he has humour, and he sees life as it is. I shall be able
always to tell him the truth. With Nicholas it is always lies...."
She suddenly sprang up and stood before me.
"Now, do you think me noble?" she cried.
"Yes," I answered.
"Ah! you are incorrigible! You have drunk Dostoieffsky until you can see
nothing but God and the moujik! But I am alive, Ivan Andreievitch, not a
heroine in a book! Alive, alive, alive! Not one of your Lisas or Annas
or Natashas. I'm alive enough to shoot Uncle Alexei and poison
Nicholas--but I'm soft too, soft so that I cannot bear to see a rabbit
killed... and yet I love Sherry so that I am blind for him and deaf for
him and dead for him--when he is not there. My love--the only one of my
life--the first and the last--"
She flung out her arms:
"Life! Now! Before it is too late! I want it, I want him, I want
She stood thus for a moment, staring out to the sea. Then her arms
dropped, she laughed, fastening her cloak--
"There's your nobility, Ivan Andreievitch--theatrical, all of it. I know
what I am, and I know what I shall do. Nicholas will live to eighty; I
also. I shall hate him, but I shall he in an agony when he cuts his
finger. I shall never see Sherry again. Later, he will marry a fresh
English girl like an apple.... I, because I am weak, soft putty--I have
made it so."
She turned away from me, staring desperately at the wall. When she
looked back to me her face was grey.
She smiled. "What a baby you are!... But take care of yourself. Don't
come on Monday if it's bad weather. Good-bye."
After a bad, sleepless night, and a morning during which I dozed in a
nightmareish kind of way, I got up early in the afternoon, had some tea,
and about six o'clock started out.
It was a lovely evening; the spring light was in the air, the tufted
trees beside the canal were pink against the pale sky, and thin layers
of ice, like fragments of jade, broke the soft blue of the water. How
pleasant to feel the cobbles firm beneath one's feet, to know that the
snow was gone for many months, and that light now would flood the
streets and squares! Nevertheless, my foreboding was not raised, and the
veils of colour hung from house to house and from street to street could
not change the realities of the scene.
I climbed the stairs to the flat and found Vera waiting for me. She was
with Uncle Ivan, who, I found to my disappointment, was coming with us.
We started off.
"We can walk across to the Bourse," she said. "It's such a lovely
evening, and we're a little early."
We talked of nothing but the most ordinary things; Uncle Ivan's company
prevented anything else. To say that I cursed him is to put it very
mildly. He had been, I believe, oblivious of all the scenes that had
occurred during the last weeks. If the Last Judgement occurred under his
very nose, and he had had a cosy meal in front of him, he would have
noticed nothing. The Revolution had had no effect on him at all; it did
not seem strange to him that Semyonov should come to live with them; he
had indeed fancied that Nicholas had not "been very well" lately, but
then Nicholas had always been an odd and cantankerous fellow, and he, as
he told me, never paid too much attention to his moods. His one anxiety
was lest Sacha should be hindered from her usual shopping on the morrow,
it being May Day, when there would be processions and other tiresome
things. He hoped that there was enough food in the house.
"There will be cold cutlets and cheese," Vera said.
He told me that he really did not know why he was going to this meeting.
He took no interest in politics, and he hated speeches, but he would
like to see our Ambassador. He had heard that he was always excellently
Vera said very little. Her troubles that evening must have been
accumulating upon her with terrible force--I did not know, at that time,
about her night-scene with Nicholas. She was very quiet, and just as we
entered the building she whispered to me:
"Once over to-morrow--"
I did not catch the rest. People pressed behind us, and for a moment we
were separated; we were not alone again. I have wondered since what she
meant by that, whether she had a foreboding or some more definite
warning, or whether she simply referred to the danger of riots and
general lawlessness. I shall never know now.
I had expected a crowded meeting, but I was not prepared for the
multitude that I found. We entered by a side-door, and then passed up a
narrow passage, which led us to the reserved seats at the side of the
platform. I had secured these some days before. In the dark passage one
could realise nothing; important gentlemen in frock-coats, officers, and
one or two soldiers, were hurrying to and fro, with an air of having a
great deal to do, and not knowing at all how to do it. Beyond the
darkness there was a steady hum, like the distant whirr of a great
machine. There was a very faint smell in the air of boots and human
flesh. A stout gentleman with a rosette in his buttonhole showed us to
our seats. Vera sat between Uncle Ivan and myself. When I looked about
me I was amazed. The huge hall was packed so tightly with human beings
that one could see nothing but wave on wave of faces, or, rather, the
same face, repeated again and again and again, the face of a baby, of a
child, of a credulous, cynical dreamer, a face the kindest, the naivest,
the cruellest, the most friendly, the most human, the most savage, the
most Eastern, and the most Western in the world.
That vast presentation of that reiterated visage seemed suddenly to
explain everything to me. I felt at once the stupidity of any appeal,
and the instant necessity for every kind of appeal. I felt the negation,
the sudden slipping into insignificant unimportance of the whole of the
Western world--and, at the same time, the dismissal of the East. "No
longer my masters" a voice seemed to cry from the very heart of that
multitude. "No longer will we halt at your command, no longer will your
words be wisdom to us, no longer shall we smile with pleasure at your
stories, and cringe with fear at your displeasure; you may hate our
defection, you may lament our disloyalty, you may bribe us and smile
upon us, you may preach to us and bewail our sins. We are no longer
yours--WE ARE OUR OWN--Salute a new world, for it is nothing less that
you see before you!..."
And yet never were there forces more unconscious of their
destiny--utterly unselfconscious as animals, babies, the flowers of the
field. Still there to be driven, perhaps to be persuaded, to be whipped,
to be cajoled, to be blinded, to be tricked and deceived, drugged and
deafened--but not for long! The end of that old world had come--the new
world was at hand--"Life begins to-morrow!"
The dignitaries came upon the platform, and, beyond them all, in
distinction, nobility, wisdom was our own Ambassador. This is no place
for a record of the discretion and tact and forbearance that he had
shown during those last two years. To him had fallen perhaps the most
difficult work of all in the war. It might seem that on broad grounds
the Allies had failed with Russia, but the end was not yet, and in years
to come, when England reaps unexpected fruit from her Russian alliance,
let her remember to whom she owed it. No one could see him there that
night without realising that there stood before Russia, as England's
representative, not only a great courtier and statesman, but a great
gentleman, who had bonds of courage and endurance that linked him to the
meanest soldier there.
I have emphasised this because he gave the note to the whole meeting.
Again and again one's eyes came back to him and always that high brow,
that unflinching carriage of the head, the nobility and breeding of
every movement gave one reassurance and courage. One's own troubles
seemed small beside that example, and the tangled morality of that vexed
time seemed to be tested by a simpler and higher standard.
It was altogether a strange affair. At first it lacked interest, some
member of the Italian Embassy spoke, I think, and then some one from
Serbia. The audience was apathetic. All those bodies, so tightly wedged
together that arms and legs were held in an iron vice, stayed
motionless, and once and again there would be a short burst of applause
or a sibilant whisper, but it would be something mechanical and
uninspired. I could see one soldier, in the front row behind the
barrier, a stout fellow with a face of supreme good humour, down whose
forehead the sweat began to trickle; he was patient for a while, then he
tried to raise his hand. He could not move without sending a ripple down
the whole front line. Heads were turned indignantly in his direction. He
submitted; then the sweat trickled into his eyes. He made a superhuman
effort and half raised his arm; the crowd pushed again and his arm fell.
His face wore an expression of ludicrous despair....
The hall got hotter and hotter. Soldiers seemed to be still pressing in
at the back. The Italian gentleman screamed and waved his arms, but the
faces turned up to his were blank and amiably expressionless.
"It is indeed terribly hot," said Uncle Ivan.
Then came a sailor from the Black Sea Fleet who had made himself famous
during these weeks by his impassioned oratory. He was a thin dark-eyed
fellow, and he obviously knew his business. He threw himself at once
into the thick of it all, paying no attention to the stout frock-coated
gentlemen who sat on the platform, dealing out no compliments, whether
to the audience or the speakers, wasting no time at all. He told them
all that they had debts to pay, that their honour was at stake, and that
Europe was watching them. I don't know that that Face that stared at him
cared very greatly for Europe, but it is certain that a breath of
emotion passed across it, that there was a stir, a movement, a
He sat down, there was a roar of applause; he regarded them
contemptuously. At that moment I caught sight of Boris Grogoff. I had
been on the watch for him. I had thought it very likely that he would be
there. Well, there he was, at the back of the crowd, listening with a
contemptuous sneer on his face, and a long golden curl poking out from
under his cap.
And then something else occurred--something really strange. I was
conscious, as one sometimes is in a crowd, that I was being stared at by
some one deliberately. I looked about me, and then, led by the
attraction of the other's gaze, I saw quite close to me, on the edge of
the crowd nearest to the platform, the Rat.
He was dressed rather jauntily in a dark suit with his cup set on one
side, and his hair shining and curled. His face glittered with soap, and
he was smiling in his usual friendly way. He gazed at me quite steadily.
My lips moved very slightly in recognition. He smiled and, I fancy,
Then, as though he had actually spoken to me, I seemed to hear him say:
"Well, good-bye.... I'm never coming to you again. Good-bye, good-bye."
It was as definite a farewell as you can have from a man, more definite
than you will have from most, as though, further, he said: "I'm gone for
good and all. I have other company and more profitable plunder. On the
back of our glorious Revolution I rise from crime to crime....
I was, in sober truth, never to speak to him again. I cannot but regret
that on the last occasion when I should have a real opportunity of
looking him full in the face, he was to offer me a countenance of
friendly good-humour and amiable rascality.
I shall have, until I die, a feeling of tenderness....
I was recalled from my observation of Grogoff and the Rat by the
sensation that the waters of emotion were rising higher around me. I
raised my eyes and saw that the Belgian Consul was addressing the
meeting. He was a stout little man, with eye-glasses and a face of no
importance, but it was quite obvious at once that he was most terribly
in earnest. Because he did not know the Russian language he was under
the unhappy necessity of having a translator, a thin and amiable
Russian, who suffered from short sight and a nervous stammer.
He could not therefore have spoken under heavier disadvantages, and my
heart ached for him. It need not have done so. He started in a low
voice, and they shouted to him to speak up. At the end of his first
paragraph the amiable Russian began his translation, sticking his nose
into the paper, losing the place and stuttering over his sentences.
There was a restless movement in the hall, and the poor Belgian Consul
seemed lost. He was made, however, of no mean stuff. Before the Russian
had finished his translation the little man had begun again. This time
he had stepped forward, waving his glasses and his head and his hand,
bending forward and backward, his voice rising and rising. At the end of
his next paragraph he paused and, because the Russian was slow and
stammering once again, went forward on ids own account. Soon he forgot
himself, his audience, his translator, everything except his own dear
Belgium. His voice rose and rose; he pleaded with a marvellous rhythm of
eloquence her history, her fate, her shameful devastation. He appealed
on behalf of her murdered children, her ravished women, her slaughtered
He appealed on behalf of her Arts, her Cathedrals, and libraries ruined,
her towns plundered. He told a story, very quietly, of an old
grandfather and grandmother murdered and their daughter ravished before
the eyes of her tiny children. Here he himself began to shed tears. He
tried to brush them back. He paused and wiped his eyes.... Finally,
breaking down altogether, he turned away and hid his face....
I do not suppose that there were more than a dozen persons in that hall
who understood anything of the language in which he spoke. Certainly it
was the merest gibberish to that whole army of listening men.
Nevertheless, with every word that he uttered the emotion grew tenser.
Cries--little sharp cries like the bark of a puppy--broke out here and
there. "_Verrno! Verrno! Verrno_! (True! True! True!)" Movements, like
the swift finger of the wind on the sea, hovered, wavered, and
He turned back to them, his voice broken with sobs, and he could only
cry the one word "Belgia... Belgia... Belgia"... To that they
responded. They began to shout, to cry aloud. The screams of "_Verrno...
Verrno_" rose until it seemed that the roof would rise with them.
The air was filled with shouts, "Bravo for the Allies." "_Soyousniki!
Soyousniki_!" Men raised their caps and waved them, smiled upon one
another as though they had suddenly heard wonderful news, shouted and
shouted and shouted... and in the midst of it all the little rotund
Belgian Consul stood bowing and wiping his eyes.
How pleased we all were! I whispered to Vera: "You see! They do care!
Their hearts are touched. We can do anything with them now!"
Even Uncle Ivan was moved, and murmured to himself "Poor Belgium! Poor
How delighted, too, were the gentlemen on the platform. Smiling, they
whispered to one another, and I saw several shake hands. A great moment.
The little Consul bowed finally and sat down.
Never shall I forget the applause that followed. Like one man the
thousands shouted, tears raining down their cheeks, shaking hands, even
embracing! A vast movement, as though the wind had caught them and
driven them forward, rose, lifted them, so that they swayed like bending
corn towards the platform, for an instant we were all caught up
together. There was one great cry: "Belgium!"
The sound rose, fell, sunk into a muttering whisper, died to give way to
the breathless attention that awaited the next speaker.
I whispered to Vera: "I shall never forget that. I'm going to leave on
that. It's good enough for me."
"Yes," she said, "we'll go."
"What a pity," whispered Uncle Ivan, "that they didn't understand what
they were shouting about."
We slipped out behind the platform; turned down the dark long passage,
hearing the new speaker's voice like a bell ringing beyond thick walls,
and found our way into the open.
The evening was wonderfully fresh and clear. The Neva lay before us like
a blue scarf, and the air faded into colourless beauty above the dark
purple of the towers and domes. Vera caught my arm: "Look!" she
whispered. "There's Boris!" I knew that she had on several occasions
tried to force her way into his flat, that she had written every day to
Nina (letters as it afterwards appeared, that Boris kept from her). I
was afraid that she would do something violent.
"Wait!" I whispered, "perhaps Nina is here somewhere."
Grogoff was standing with another man on a small improvised platform
just outside the gates of the Bourse.
As the soldiers came out (many of them were leaving now on the full tide
of their recent emotions) Grogoff and his friend caught them, held them,
and proceeded to instruct their minds.
I caught some of Grogoff's sentences: "_Tovaristchi_!" I heard him cry,
"Comrades! Listen to me. Don't allow your feelings to carry you away!
You have serious responsibilities now, and the thing for you to do is
not to permit sentiment to make you foolish. Who brought you into this
war? Your leaders? No, your old masters. They bled you and robbed you
and slaughtered you to fill their own pockets. Who is ruling the world
now? The people to whom the world truly belongs? No, the Capitalists,
the money-grubbers, the old thieves like Nicholas who is now under lock
and key... Capitalists... England, France... Thieves, Robbers....
"Belgium? What is Belgium to you? Did you swear to protect her people?
Does England, who pretends such loving care for Belgium, does she look
after Ireland? What about her persecution of South Africa? Belgium? Have
you heard what she did in the Congo?..."
As the men came, talking, smiling, wiping their eyes, they were caught
by Grogoff's voice. They stood there and listened. Soon they began to
nod their heads. I heard them muttering that good old word "_Verrno!
Verrno_!" again. The crowd grew. The men began to shout their approval.
"Aye! it's true," I heard a solder near me mutter. "The English are
thieves"; and another "Belgium?... After all I could not understand a
word of what that little fat man said."
I heard no more, but I did not wonder now at the floods that were rising
and rising, soon to engulf the whole of this great country. The end of
this stage of our story was approaching for all of us.
We three had stood back, a little in the shadow, gazing about to see
whether we could hail a cab.
As we waited I took my last look at Grogoff, his stout figure against
the purple sky, the masts of the ships, the pale tumbling river, the
black line of the farther shore. He stood, his arms waving, his mouth
open, the personification of the disease from which Russia was
A cab arrived. I turned, said as it were, my farewell to Grogoff and
everything for which he stood, and went.
We drove home almost in silence. Vera, staring in front of her, her face
proud and reserved, building up a wall of her own thoughts.
"Come in for a moment, won't you?" she asked me, rather reluctantly I
thought. But I accepted, climbed the stairs and followed Uncle Ivan's
stubby and self-satisfied progress into the flat.
I heard Vera cry. I hurried after her and found, standing close
together, in the middle of the room Henry Bohun and Nina!
With a little sob of joy and shame too, Nina was locked in Vera's arms.
This is obviously the place for the story, based, of course, on the very
modest and slender account given me by the hero of it, of young Bohun's
knightly adventure. In its inception the whole affair is still
mysterious to me. Looking back from this distance of time I see that he
was engaged on one knightly adventure after another--first Vera, then
Markovitch, lastly Nina. The first I caught at the very beginning, the
second I may be said to have inspired, but to the third I was completely
blind. I was blind, I suppose, because, in the first place, Nina had,
from the beginning, laughed at Bohun, and in the second, she had been
entirely occupied with Lawrence.
Bohun's knight-errantry came upon her with, I am sure, as great a shock
of surprise as it did upon me. And yet, when you come to think of it, it
was the most natural thing. They were the only two of our party who had
any claim to real youth, and they were still so young that they could
believe in one ideal after another as quick as you can catch goldfish in
a bowl of water. Bohun would, of course, have indignantly denied that he
was out to help anybody, but that, nevertheless, was the direction in
which his character led him; and once Russia had stripped from him that
thin coat of self-satisfaction, he had nothing to do but mount his white
charger and enter the tournament.
I've no idea when he first thought of Nina. He did not, of course, like
her at the beginning, and I doubt whether she caused him any real
concern, too, until her flight to Grogoff. That shocked him terribly. He
confessed as much to me. She had always been so happy and easy about
life. Nothing was serious to her. I remember once telling her she ought
to take the war more deeply. I was a bit of a prig about it, I suppose.
At any rate she thought me one.... And then to go off to a fellow like
He thought of it the more seriously when he saw the agony Vera was in.
She did not ask him to help her, and so he did nothing; but he watched
her efforts, the letters that she wrote, the eagerness with which she
ravished the post, her fruitless visits to Grogoff's flat, her dejected
misery over her failure. He began himself to form plans, not, I am
convinced, from any especial affection for Nina, but simply because he
had the soul of a knight, although, thank God, he didn't know it. I
expect, too, that he was pretty dissatisfied with his knight-errantries.
His impassioned devotion to Vera had led to nothing at all, his
enthusiasm for Russia had led to a most unsatisfactory Revolution, and
his fatherly protection of Markovitch had inspired apparently nothing
more fruitful than distrust. I would like to emphasise that it was in no
way from any desire to interfere in other people's affairs that young
Bohun undertook these Quests. He had none of my own meddlesome quality.
He had, I think, very little curiosity and no psychological
self-satisfaction, but he had a kind heart, an adventurous spirit, and a
hatred for the wrong and injustice which seemed just now to be creeping
about the world; but all this, again thank God, was entirely
subconscious. He knew nothing whatever about himself.
The thought of Nina worried him more and more. After he went to bed at
night, he would hear her laugh and see her mocking smile and listen to
her shrill imitations of his own absurdities. She had been the one happy
person amongst them all, and now--! Well, he had seen enough of Boris
Grogoff to know what sort of fellow he was. He came at last to the
conclusion that, after a week or two she would be "sick to death of it,"
and longing to get away, but then "her pride would keep her at it. She'd
got a devil of a lot of pride." He waited, then, for a while, and hoped,
I suppose, that some of Vera's appeals would succeed. They did not; and
then it struck him that Vera was the very last person to whom Nina would
yield--just because she wanted to yield to her most, which was pretty
subtle of him and very near the truth.
No one else seemed to be making any very active efforts, and at last he
decided that he must do something himself. He discovered Grogoff's
address, went to the Gagarinskaya and looked up at the flat, hung about
a bit in the hope of seeing Nina. Then he did see her at Rozanov's
party, and this, although he said nothing to me about it at the time,
had a tremendous effect on him. He thought she looked "awful." All the
joy had gone from her; she was years older, miserable, and defiant. He
didn't speak to her, but from that night he made up his mind. Rozanov's
party may be said to have been really the turning-point of his life. It
was the night that he came out of his shell, grew up, faced the
world--and it was the night that he discovered that he cared about Nina.
The vision of her poor little tired face, her "rather dirty white
dress," her "grown-up" hair, her timidity and her loneliness, never left
him for a moment. All the time that I thought he was occupied only with
the problem of Markovitch and Semyonov, he was much more deeply occupied
with Nina. So unnaturally secretive can young men be!
At last he decided on a plan. He chose the Monday, the day of the Bourse
meeting, because he fancied that Grogoff would be present at that and he
might therefore catch Nina alone, and because he and his
fellow-propagandists would be expected also at the meeting and he would
therefore be free of his office earlier on that afternoon. He had no
idea at all how he would get into the flat, but he thought that fortune
would be certain to favour him. He always thought that.
Well, fortune did. He left the office and arrived in the Gagarinskaya
about half-past five in the evening. He walked about a little, and then
saw a bearded tall fellow drive up in an Isvostchick. He recognised this
man as Lenin, the soul of the anti-Government party, and a man who was
afterwards to figure very prominently in Russia's politics. This fellow
argued very hotly with the Isvostchick about his fare, then vanished
through the double doors. Bohun followed him. Outside Grogoff's flat
Lenin waited and rang the bell. Bohun waited on the floor below; then,
when he heard the door open, he noiselessly slipped up the stairs, and,
as Lenin entered, followed behind him whilst the old servant's back was
turned helping Lenin with his coat. He found, as he had hoped, a crowd
of cloaks and a Shuba hanging beside the door in the dark corner of the
wall. He crept behind these. He heard Lenin say to the servant that,
after all, he would not take off his coat, as he was leaving again
immediately. Then directly afterwards Grogoff came into the hall.
That was the moment of crisis. Did Grogoff go to the rack for his coat
and all was over; a very unpleasant scene must follow--a ludicrous
expulsion, a fling or two at the amiable habits of thieving and deceit
on the part of the British nation, and any hope of seeing Nina ruined
perhaps for ever. Worst of all, the ignominy of it! No young man likes
to be discovered hidden behind a coat-rack, however honest his original
His heart beat to suffocation as he peeped between the coats.... Grogoff
was already wearing his own overcoat. It was, thank God, too warm an
evening for a Shuba. The men shook hands, and Grogoff saying something
rather deferentially about the meeting, Lenin, in short, brusque tones,
put him immediately in his place. Then they went out together, the door
closed behind them, and the flat was as silent as an aquarium. He waited
for a while, and then, hearing nothing, crept into the hall. Perhaps
Nina was out. If the old servant saw him she would think him a burglar
and would certainly scream. He pushed back the door in front of him,
stepped forward, and almost stepped upon Nina!
She gave a little cry, not seeing whom it was. She was looking very
untidy, her hair loose down her back, and a rough apron over her dress.
She looked ill, and there were heavy black lines under her eyes as
though she had not slept for weeks.
Then she saw who it was and, in spite of herself, smiled.
"Genry!" she exclaimed.
"Yes," he said in a whisper, closing the door very softly behind him.
"Look here, don't scream or do anything foolish. I don't want that old
woman to catch me."
He has no very clear memory of the conversation that followed. She stood
with her back to the wall, storing at him, and every now and again
taking up a corner of her pinafore and biting it. He remembered that
action of hers especially as being absurdly childish. But the
overwhelming impression that he had of her was of her terror--terror of
everything and of everybody, of everybody apparently except himself.
(She told him afterwards that he was the only person in the world who
could have rescued her just then because she simply couldn't be
frightened of some one at whom she'd laughed so often.) She was
terrified, of course, of Grogoff--she couldn't mention his name without
trembling--but she was terrified also of the old servant, of the flat,
of the room, of the clock, of every sound or hint of a sound that there
was in the world. She to be so frightened! She of whom he would have
said that she was equal to any one or anything! What she must have been
through during those weeks to have brought her to this!... But she told
him very little. He urged her at once that she must come away with him,
there and then, just as she was. She simply shook her head at that.
"No... No... No..." she kept repeating. "You don't understand."
"I do understand," he answered, always whispering, and with one ear on
the door lest the old woman should hear and come in. "We've got very
little time," he said. "Grogoff will never let you go if he's here. I
know why you don't come back--you think we'll all look down on you for
having gone. But that's nonsense. We are all simply miserable without
But she simply continued to repeat "No... No..." Then, as he urged her
still further, she begged him to go away. She said that he simply didn't
know what Grogoff would do if he returned and found him, and although
he'd gone to a meeting he might return at any moment. Then, as though
to urge upon him Grogoff's ferocity, in little hoarse whispers she let
him see some of the things that during these weeks she'd endured. He'd
beaten her, thrown things at her, kept her awake hour after hour at
night making her sing to him... and, of course, worst things, things
far, far worse that she would never tell to anybody, not even to Vera!
Poor Nina, she had indeed been punished for her innocent impetuosities.
She was broken in body and soul; she had faced reality at last and been
beaten by it. She suddenly turned away from him, buried her head in her
arm, as a tiny child does, and cried....
It was then that he discovered he loved her. He went to her, put his arm
round her, kissed her, stroked her hair, whispering little consoling
things to her. She suddenly collapsed, burying her head in his breast
and watering his waistcoat with her tears....
After that he seemed to be able to do anything with her that he pleased.
He whispered to her to go and get her hat, then her coat, then to hurry
up and come along.... As he gave these last commands he heard the door
open, turned and saw Masha, Grogoff's old witch of a servant, facing
The scene that followed must have had its ludicrous side. The old woman
didn't scream or make any kind of noise, she simply asked him what he
was doing there; he answered that he was going out for a walk with the
mistress of the house. She said that he should do nothing of the kind.
He told her to stand away from the door. She refused to move. He then
rushed at her, caught her round the waist, and a most impossible
struggle ensued up and down the middle of the room. He called to Nina to
run, and had the satisfaction of seeing her dart through the door like a
frightened hare. The old woman bit and scratched and kicked, making
sounds all the time like a kettle just on the boil. Suddenly, when he
thought that Nina had had time to get well away, he gave the old woman a
very unceremonious push which sent her back against Grogoff's chief
cabinet, and he had the comfort to hear the whole of this crash to the
ground as he closed the door behind him. Out in the street he found
Nina, and soon afterwards an Isvostchick. She crouched up close against
him, staring in front of her, saying nothing, shivering and
shivering.... As he felt her hot hand shake inside his, he vowed that he
would never leave her again. I don't believe that he ever will.
So he took her home, and his Knight Errantry was justified at last.
These events had for a moment distracted my mind, but as soon as I was
alone I felt the ever-increasing burden of my duty towards Markovitch.
The sensation was absolutely dream-like in its insistence on the one
hand that I should take some kind of action, and its preventing me, on
the other, from taking any action at all. I felt the strange inertia of
the spectator in the nightmare, who sees the house tumbling about his
head and cannot move. Besides, what action could I take? I couldn't
stand over Markovitch, forbid him to stir from the flat, or imprison
Semyonov in his room, or warn the police... besides, there were now no
police. Moreover, Vera and Bohun and the others were surely capable of
watching Markovitch. Nevertheless something in my heart insisted that it
was I who was to figure in this.... Through the dusk of the streets, in
the pale ghostly shadows that prelude the coming of the white nights, I
seemed to see three pursuing figures, Semyonov, Markovitch, and myself.
I was pursuing, and yet held.
I went back to my flat, but all that night I could not sleep. Already
the first music of the May Day processions could be heard, distant
trumpets and drums, before I sank into uneasy, bewildered slumber.
I dreamt then dreams so fantastic and irresolute that I cannot now
disentangle them. I remember that I was standing beside the banks of the
Neva. The river was rising, flinging on its course in the great
tempestuous way that it always has during the first days of its release
from the ice. The sky grew darker--the water rose. I sought refuge in
the top gallery of a church with light green domes, and from here I
watched the flood, first as it covered the quays, tumbling in cascades
of glittering water over the high parapet, trickling in little lines and
pools, then rising into sheeted levels, then billowing in waves against
the walls of the house, flooding the doors and the windows, until so far
as the eye could reach there were only high towers remaining above its
grasp. I do not know what happened to my security, and saw at length the
waters stretch from sky to sky, one dark, tossing ocean.
The sun rose, a dead yellow; slowly the waters sank again, islands
appeared, stretches of mud and waste. Heaving their huge bodies out of
the ocean, vast monsters crawled through the mud, scaled and horned,
lying like logs beneath the dead sun. The waters sank--forests rose. The
sun sank and there was black night, then a faint dawn, and in the early
light of a lovely morning a man appeared standing on the beach, shading
his eyes, gazing out to sea. I fancied that in that strong bearded
figure I recognised my peasant, who had seemed to haunt my steps so
often. Gravely he looked round him, then turned back into the forest....
Was my dream thus? Frankly I do not know--too neat an allegory to be
true, perhaps--and yet there was something of this in it. I know that I
saw Boris, and the Rat, and Vera, and Semyonov, and Markovitch,
appearing, vanishing, reappearing, and that I was strongly conscious
that the submerged and ruined world did not _touch_ them, and was only a
background to their own individual activities.... I know that Markovitch
seemed to come to me again and cry, "Be patient... be patient.... Have
faith... be faithful!"
I know that I woke struggling to keep him with me, crying out that he
was not to leave me, that that way was danger.... I woke to find my room
flooded with sunshine, and my old woman looking at me with disapproval.
"Wake up, Barin," she was saying, "it's three o'clock."
"Three o'clock?" I muttered, trying to pull myself together.
"Three in the afternoon... I have some tea for you."
When I realised the time I had the sensation of the wildest panic. I
jumped from my bed, pushing the old woman out of the room. I had
betrayed my trust! I had betrayed my trust! I felt assured 'that some
awful catastrophe had occurred, something that I might have prevented.
When I was dressed, disregarding my housekeeper's cries, I rushed out
into the street. At my end of the Ekaterinsgofsky Canal I was stopped by
great throngs of men and women returning homewards from the procession.
They were marching, most of them, in ordered lines across the street,
arm in arm, singing the "Marseillaise."
Very different from the procession a few weeks before. That had been
dumb, cowed, bewildered. This was the movement of a people conscious of
their freedom, sure of themselves, disdaining the world. Everywhere
bands were playing, banners were glittering, and from the very heart of
the soil, as it seemed, the "Marseillaise" was rising.
Although the sun only shone at brief intervals, there was a sense of
spring warmth in the air. For some time I could not cross the street,
then I broke through and almost ran down the deserted stretch of the
Canal. I arrived almost breathless at the door in the English Prospect.
There I found Sacha watching the people and listening to the distant
"Sacha!" I cried, "is Alexei Petrovitch at home?"
"No, Barin," she answered, looking at me in some surprise. "He went out
about a quarter of an hour ago."
"And Nicholas Markovitch?"
"He went out just now."
"Did he tell you where he was going?"
"No, Barin, but I heard Alexei Petrovitch tell him, an hour back, that
he was going to Katerinhof."
I did not listen to more. I turned and went. Katerinhof was a park, ten
minutes distant from my island; it was so called because there was there
the wooden palace of Katherine the Great. She had once made it her place
of summer residence, but it was now given over to the people and was,
during the spring and summer, used by them as a kind of fair and
pleasure-garden. The place had always been to me romantic and
melancholy, with the old faded wooden palace, the deserted ponds, and
the desolate trees. I had never been there in the summer. I don't know
with what idea I hurried there. I can only say that I had no choice but
to go, and that I went as though I were still continuing my dream of the
Great numbers of people were hurrying there also. The road was thronged,
and many of them sang as they went.
Looking back now it has entirely a dream-like colour. I stepped from the
road under the trees, and was at once in a world of incredible fantasy.
So far as the eye could see there were peasants; the air was filled with
an indescribable din. As I stepped deeper into the shelter of the
leafless trees the colour seemed, like fluttering banners, to mingle and
spread and sway before my eyes. Near to me were the tub-thumpers now so
common to us all in Petrograd--men of the Grogoff kind stamping and
shouting on their platforms, surrounded by open-mouthed soldiers and
Here, too, were the quacks such as you might see at any fair in
Europe--quack dentists, quack medicine-men, men with ointments for
healing sores, men with pills, and little bottles of bright liquid, and
tricks for ruptures and broken legs and arms. A little way beyond them
were the pedlars. Here were the wildest men in the world. Tartars and
Letts and Indians, Asiatics with long yellow faces, and strange fellows
from Northern Russia. They had everything to sell, bright beads and
looking-glasses and little lacquered trays, coloured boxes, red and
green and yellow, lace and silk and cloths of every colour, purple and
crimson and gold. From all these men there rose a deafening gabble.
I pressed farther, although the crowd now around me was immense, and so
I reached the heart of the fair. Here were enormous merry-go-rounds, and
I had never seen such glittering things. They were from China, Japan,
where you will. They were hung in shining, gleaming colours, covered
with tinsel and silver, and, as they went tossing round, emitting from
their hearts a wild barbaric wail that may have been, in some far
Eastern city, the great song of all the lovers of the world for all I
know, the colours flashed and wheeled and dazzled, and the light
glittered from stem to stem of the brown silent trees. Here was the very
soul of the East. Near me a Chinaman, squatting on his haunches, was
showing before a gaping crowd the exploits of his trained mice, who
walked up and down little crimson ladders, poked their trembling noses
through holes of purple silk, and ran shivering down precipices of
golden embroidery. Near to him two Japanese were catching swords in
their mouths, and beyond them again a great number of Chinese were
tumbling and wrestling, and near to them again some Japanese children
did little tricks, catching coloured balls in wooden cups and turning
Around all these a vast mass of peasants pushed and struggled. Like
children they watched and smiled and laughed, and always, like the flood
of the dream, their numbers seemed to increase and increase....
The noise was deafening, but always above the merry-go-rounds and the
cheap-jacks and the shrill screams of the Japanese and the cries of the
pedlars I heard the chant of the "Marseillaise" carried on high through
the brown leafless park. I was bewildered and dazzled by the noise and
the light. I turned desperately, pushing with my hands as one does in a
Then I saw Markovitch and Semyonov.
I had no doubt at all that the moment had at last arrived. It was as
though I had seen it all somewhere before. Semyonov was standing a
little apart leaning against a tree, watching with his sarcastic smile
the movements of the crowd. Markovitch was a little way off. I could see
his eyes fixed absolutely on Semyonov. He did not move nor notice the
people who jostled him. Semyonov made a movement with his hand as though
he had suddenly come to some decision. He walked slowly away in the
direction of the palace. Markovitch, keeping a considerable distance
from him, followed. For a moment I was held by the crowd around me, and
when at last I got free Semyonov had disappeared, and I could just see
Markovitch turning the corner of the palace.
I ran across the grass, trying to call out, but I could not hear my own
voice. I turned the corner, and instantly I was in a strange place of
peace. The old building with its wooden lattices and pillars stood
melancholy guard over the dead pond on whose surface some fragments of
ice still lay. There was no sun, only a heavy, oppressive air. All the
noise was muffled as though a heavy door had swung to.
They were standing quite close to me. Semyonov had turned and faced us
both. I saw him smile, and his lips moved. A moment later I saw
Markovitch fling his hand forward, and in the air the light on the
revolver twinkled. I heard no sound, but I saw Semyonov raise his arm,
as though in self-defence. His face, lifted strangely to the bare
branches, was triumphant, and I heard quite clearly the words, like a
cry of joy and welcome:
"At last!... At last!"
He tumbled forward on his face.
I saw Markovitch turn the revolver on himself, and then heard a report,
sharp and deafening, as though we had been in a small room. I saw
Markovitch put his hand to his side, and his mouth, open as though in
astonishment, was suddenly filled with blood. I ran to him, caught him
in my arms; he turned on me a face full of puzzled wonder, I caught the
word "Vera," and he crumpled up against my heart.
Even as I held him, I heard coming closer and closer the rough
triumphant notes of the "Marseillaise."