Part 3 out of 8
"I know I am but a reed. But I beg you to allow
me the superiority of the thinking reed over the
unthinking forces that are about to crush him
out of existence. Practical thinking in the
last instance is but criticism. I may perhaps
be allowed to express my wonder at this action
of the police being delayed for two full days
during which, of course, I could have
annihilated everything compromising by burning
it--let us say--and getting rid of the very
ashes, for that matter."
"You are angry," remarked the official, with an
unutterable simplicity of tone and manner. "Is
that reasonable? "
Razumov felt himself colouring with annoyance.
"I am reasonable. I am even--permit me to say--
a thinker, though to be sure, this name nowadays
seems to be the monopoly of hawkers of
revolutionary wares, the slaves of some French
or German thought--devil knows what foreign
notions. But I am not an intellectual mongrel.
I think like a Russian. I think faithfully--and
I take the liberty to call myself a thinker. It
is not a forbidden word, as far as I know."
" No. Why should it be a forbidden word?"
Councillor Mikulin turned in his seat with
crossed legs and resting his elbow on the table
propped his head on the knuckles of a half-
closed hand. Razumov noticed a thick forefinger
clasped by a massive gold band set with a blood-
red stone--a signet ring that, looking as if it
could weigh half a pound, was an appropriate
ornament for that ponderous man with the
accurate middle-parting of glossy hair above a
rugged Socratic forehead.
"Could it be a wig?" Razumov detected himself
wondering with an unexpected detachment. His
self-confidence was much shaken. He resolved to
chatter no more. Reserve ! Reserve ! All he
had to do was to keep the Ziemianitch episode
secret with absolute determination, when the
questions came. Keep Ziemianitch strictly out
of all the answers.
Councillor Mikulin looked at him dimly.
Razumov's self-confidence abandoned him
completely. It seemed impossible to keep
Ziemianitch out. Every question would lead to
that, because, of course, there was nothing
else. He made an effort to brace himself up.
It was a failure. But Councillor Mikulin was
surprisingly detached too.
"Why should it be forbidden?" he repeated. "I
too consider myself a thinking man, I assure
you. The principal condition is to think
correctly. I admit it is difficult sometimes at
first for a young man abandoned to himself--with
his generous impulses undisciplined, so to speak-
-at the mercy of every wild wind that blows.
Religious belief, of course, is a great. . . ."
Councillor Mikulin glanced down his beard, and
Razumov, whose tension was relaxed by that
unexpected and discursive turn, murmured with
"That man, Haldin, believed in God."
"Ah! You are aware," breathed out Councillor
Mikulin, making the point softly, as if with
discretion, but making it nevertheless plainly
enough, as if he too were put off his guard by
Razumov's remark. The young man preserved an
impassive, moody countenance, though he
reproached himself bitterly for a pernicious
fool, to have given thus an utterly false
impression of intimacy. He kept his eyes on the
floor. "I must positively hold my tongue unless
I am obliged to speak," he admonished himself.
And at once against his will the question,
"Hadn't I better tell him everything?"
presented itself with such force that he had to
bite his lower lip. Councillor Mikulin could
not, however, have nourished any hope of
confession. He went on--
"You tell me more than his judges were able to
get out of him. He was judged by a commission
of three. He would tell them absolutely
nothing. I have the report of the
interrogatories here, by me. After every
question there stands "Refuses to answer--
refuses to answer.' It's like that page after
page. You see, I have been entrusted with some
further investigations around and about this
affair. He has left me nothing to begin my
investigations on. A hardened miscreant. And
so, you say, he believed in. . . ."
Again Councillor Mikulin glanced down his beard
with a faint grimace; but he did not pause for
long. Remarking with a shade of scorn that
blasphemers also had that sort of belief, he
concluded by supposing that Mr. Razumov had
conversed frequently with Haldin on the subject.
"No," said Razumov loudly, without looking up.
"He talked and I listened. That is not a
"Listening is a great art," observed Mikulin
"And getting people to talk is another," mumbled
"Well, no--that is not very difficult," Mikulin
said innocently, "except, of course, in special
cases. For instance, this Haldin. Nothing
could induce him to talk. He was brought four
times before the delegated judges. Four secret
interrogatories--and even during the last, when
your personality was put forward. . . ."
"My personality put forward?" repeated Razumov,
raising his head brusquely. "I don't
understand." Councillor Mikulin turned squarely
to the table, and taking up some sheets of grey
foolscap dropped them one after another,
retaining only the last in his hand. He held it
before his eyes while speaking.
"It was--you see--judged necessary. In a case
of that gravity no means of action upon the
culprit should be neglected. You understand
that yourself, I am certain."
Razumov stared with enormous wide eyes at the
side view of Councillor Mikulin, who now was not
looking at him at all.
"So it was decided (I was consulted by General T-
--) that a certain question should be put to the
accused. But in deference to the earnest wishes
of Prince K--- your name has been kept out of
the documents and even from the very knowledge
of the judges themselves. Prince K---
recognized the propriety, the necessity of what
we proposed to do, but he was concerned for your
safety. Things do leak out--that we can't deny.
One cannot always answer for the discretion of
inferior officials. There was, of course, the
secretary of the special tribunal--one or two
gendarmes in the room. Moreover, as I have
said, in deference to Prince K--- even the
judges themselves were to be left in ignorance.
The question ready framed was sent to them by
General T--- (I wrote it out with my own hand)
with instructions to put it to the prisoner the
very last of all. Here it is."
Councillor Mikulin threw back his head into
proper focus and went on reading monotonously:
"Question--Has the man well known to you, in
whose rooms you remained for several hours on
Monday and on whose information you have been
arrested--has he had any previous knowledge of
your intention to commit a political murder?. .
. Prisoner refuses to reply.
"Question repeated. Prisoner preserves the same
"The venerable Chaplain of the Fortress being
then admitted and exhorting the prisoner to
repentance, entreating him also to atone for his
crime by an unreserved and full confession which
should help to liberate from the sin of
rebellion against the Divine laws and the sacred
Majesty of the Ruler, our Christ-loving land--
the prisoner opens his lips for the first time
during this morning's audience and in a loud,
clear voice rejects the venerable Chaplain's
"At eleven o'clock the Court pronounces in
summary form the death sentence.
"The execution is fixed for four o'clock in the
afternoon, subject to further instructions from
Councillor Mikulin dropped the page of foolscap,
glanced down his beard, and turning to Razumov,
added in an easy, explanatory tone--
"We saw no object in delaying the execution.
The order to carry out the sentence was sent by
telegraph at noon. I wrote out the telegram
myself. He was hanged at four o'clock this
The definite information of Haldin's death gave
Razumov the feeling of general lassitude which
follows a great exertion or a great excitement.
He kept very still on the sofa, but a murmur
"He had a belief in a future existence."
Councillor Mikulin shrugged his shoulders
slightly, and Razumov got up with an effort.
There was nothing now to stay for in that room.
Haldin had been hanged at four o'clock. There
could be no doubt of that. He had, it seemed,
entered upon his future existence, long boots,
Astrakhan fur cap and all, down to the very
leather strap round his waist. A flickering,
vanishing sort of existence. It was not his
soul, it was his mere phantom he had left behind
on this earth--thought Razumov, smiling
caustically to himself while he crossed the
room, utterly forgetful of where he was and of
Councillor Mikulin's existence. The official
could have set a lot of bells ringing all over
the building without leaving his chair. He let
Razumov go quite up to the door before he spoke.
"Come, Kirylo Sidorovitch--what are you doing?"
Razumov turned his head and looked at him in
silence. He was not in the least disconcerted.
Councillor Mikulin's arms were stretched out on
the table before him and his body leaned forward
a little with an effort of his dim gaze.
"Was I actually going to clear out like this?"
Razumov wondered at himself with an impassive
countenance. And he was aware of this
impassiveness concealing a lucid astonishment.
"Evidently I was going out if he had not
spoken," he thought. "What would he have done
then? I must end this affair one way or
another. I must make him show his hand."
For a moment longer he reflected behind the mask
as it were, then let go the door-handle and came
back to the middle of the room.
"I'll tell you what you think," he said
explosively, but not raising his voice. "You
think that you are dealing with a secret
accomplice of that unhappy man. No, I do not
know that he was unhappy. He did not tell me.
He was a wretch from my point of view, because
to keep alive a false idea is a greater crime
than to kill a man. I suppose you will not deny
that? I hated him! Visionaries work
everlasting evil on earth. Their Utopias
inspire in the mass of mediocre minds a disgust
of reality and a contempt for the secular logic
of human development."
Razumov shrugged his shoulders and stared.
"What a tirade!" he thought. The silence and
immobility of Councillor Mikulin impressed him.
The bearded bureaucrat sat at his post,
mysteriously self-possessed like an idol with
dim, unreadable eyes. Razumov's voice changed
"If you were to ask me where is the necessity of
my hate for such as Haldin, I would answer you--
there is nothing sentimental in it. I did not
hate him because he had committed the crime of
murder. Abhorrence is not hate. I hated him
simply because I am sane. It is in that
character that he outraged me. His death. . ."
Razumov felt his voice growing thick in his
throat. The dimness of Councillor Mikulin's
eyes seemed to spread all over his face and made
it indistinct to Razumov's sight. He tried to
disregard these phenomena.
"Indeed," he pursued, pronouncing each word
carefully, "what is his death to me? If he were
lying here on the floor I could walk over his
breast. . . . The fellow is a mere phantom. . .
Razumov's voice died out very much against his
will. Mikulin behind the table did not allow
himself the slightest movement. The silence
lasted for some little time before Razumov could
go on again.
"He went about talking of me. Those
intellectual fellows sit in each other's rooms
and get drunk on foreign ideas in the same way
young Guards' officers treat each other with
foreign wines. Merest debauchery. . . . Upon
my Word,"--Razumov, enraged by a sudden
recollection of Ziemianitch, lowered his voice
forcibly,--"upon my word, we Russians are a
drunken lot. Intoxication of some sort we must
have: to get ourselves wild with sorrow or
maudlin with resignation; to lie inert like a
log or set fire to the house. What is a sober
man to do, I should like to know? To cut oneself
entirely from one's kind is impossible. To live
in a desert one must be a saint. But if a
drunken man runs out of the grog-shop, falls on
your neck and kisses you on both cheeks because
something about your appearance has taken his
fancy, what then--kindly tell me? You may break,
perhaps, a cudgel on his back and yet not
succeed in beating him off. . . ."
Councillor Mikulin raised his hand and passed it
down his face deliberately.
"That's. . . of course," he said in an undertone.
The quiet gravity of that gesture made Razumov
pause. It was so unexpected, too. What did it
mean? It had an alarming aloofness. Razumov
remembered his intention of making him show his
"I have said all this to Prince K---," he began
with assumed indifference, but lost it on seeing
Councillor Mikulin's slow nod of assent. "You
know it? You've heard. . . . Then why should I
be called here to be told of Haldin's execution?
Did you want to confront me with his silence
now that the man is dead? What is his silence
to me! This is incomprehensible. "You want in
some way to shake my moral balance."
"No. Not that," murmured Councillor Mikulin,
just audibly. "The service you have rendered is
appreciated. . . ."
"Is it?'' interrupted Razumov ironically.
". . .and your position too." Councillor
Mikulin did not raise his voice. "But only
think! You fall into Prince K---'s study as if
from the sky with your startling information. .
. . You are studying yet, Mr. Razumov, but we
are serving already--don't forget that. . . .
And naturally some curiosity was bound to. . . ."
Councillor Mikulin looked down his beard.
Razumov's lips trembled.
"An occurrence of that sort marks a man," the
homely murmur went on. "I admit I was curious
to see you. General T--- thought it would be
useful, too. . . . Don't think I am incapable
of understanding your sentiments. When I was
young like you I studied. . . ."
"Yes--you wished to see me," said Razumov in a
tone of profound distaste. "Naturally you have
the right--I mean the power. It all amounts to
the same thing. But it is perfectly useless, if
you were to look at me and listen to me for a
year. I begin to think there is something about
me which people don't seem able to make out.
It's unfortunate. I imagine, however, that
Prince K--- understands. He seemed to."
Councillor Mikulin moved slightly and spoke.
"Prince K--- is aware of everything that is
being done, and I don't mind informing you that
he approved my intention of becoming personally
acquainted with you."
Razumov concealed an immense disappointment
under the accents of railing surprise.
"So he is curious too!. . . Well--after all,
Prince K--- knows me very little. It is really
very unfortunate for me, but--it is not exactly
Councillor Mikulin raised a hasty deprecatory
hand and inclined his head slightly over his
"Now, Mr. Razumov--is it necessary to take it in
that way? Everybody I am sure can. . . ."
He glanced rapidly down his beard, and when he
looked up again there was for a moment an
interested expression in his misty gaze.
Razumov discouraged it with a cold, repellent
"No. That's of no importance to be sure--except
that in respect of all this curiosity being
aroused by a very simple matter. . . . What is
to be done with it? It is unappeasable. I mean
to say there is nothing to appease it with. I
happen to have been born a Russian with
patriotic instincts--whether inherited or not I
am not in a position to say."
Razumov spoke consciously with elaborate
"Yes, patriotic instincts developed by a faculty
of independent thinking--of detached thinking.
In that respect I am more free than any social
democratic revolution could make me. It is more
than probable that I don't think exactly as you
are thinking. Indeed, how could it be? You
would think most likely at this moment that I am
elaborately lying to cover up the track of my
Razumov stopped. His heart had grown too big
for his breast. Councillor Mikulin did not
"Why so?" he said simply. "I assisted
personally at the search of your rooms. I
looked through all the papers myself. I have
been greatly impressed by a sort of political
confession of faith. A very remarkable
document. Now may I ask for what purpose. . . ."
"To deceive the police naturally," said Razumov
savagely. . . . "What is all this mockery? Of
course you can send me straight from this room
to Siberia. That would be intelligible. To
what is intelligible I can submit. But I
protest against this comedy of persecution. The
whole affair is becoming too comical altogether
for my taste. A comedy of errors, phantoms, and
suspicions. It's positively indecent. . . ."
Councillor Mikulin turned an attentive ear.
"Did you say phantoms?" he murmured.
"I could walk over dozens of them." Razumov,
with an impatient wave of his hand, went on
headlong, "But, really, I must claim the right
to be done once for all with that man. And in
order to accomplish this I shall take the
liberty. . . ."
Razumov on his side of the table bowed slightly
to the seated bureaucrat.
". . . To retire--simply to retire," he finished
with great resolution.
He walked to the door, thinking, "Now he must
show his hand. He must ring and have me
arrested before I am out of the building, or he
must let me go. And either way. . . ."
An unhurried voice said--
"Kirylo Sidorovitch." Razumov at the door
turned his head.
"To retire," he repeated.
"Where to?" asked Councillor Mikulin softly.
In the conduct of an invented story there are,
no doubt, certain proprieties to be observed for
the sake of clearness and effect. A man of
imagination, however inexperienced in the art of
narrative, has his instinct to guide him in the
choice of his words, and in the development of
the action. A grain of talent excuses many
mistakes. But this is not a work of
imagination; I have no talent; my excuse for
this undertaking lies not in its art, but in its
artlessness. Aware of my limitations and strong
in the sincerity of my purpose, I would not try
(were I able) to invent anything. I push my
scruples so far that I would not even invent a
Dropping then Mr. Razumov's record at the point
where Councillor Mikulin's question "Where to?"
comes in with the force of an insoluble problem,
I shall simply say that I made the acquaintance
of these ladies about six months before that
time. By "these ladies" I mean, of course, the
mother and the sister of the unfortunate Haldin.
By what arguments he had induced his mother to
sell their little property and go abroad for an
indefinite time, I cannot tell precisely. I
have an idea that Mrs. Haldin, at her son's
wish, would have set fire to her house and
emigrated to the moon without any sign of
surprise or apprehension; and that Miss Haldin--
Nathalie, caressingly Natalka--would have given
her assent to the scheme.
Their proud devotion to that young man became
clear to me in a very short time. Following his
directions they went straight to Switzerland--to
Zurich--where they remained the best part of a
year. From Zurich, which they did not like,
they came to Geneva. A friend of mine in
Lausanne, a lecturer in history at the
University (he had married a Russian lady, a
distant connection of Mrs. Haldin's), wrote to
me suggesting I should call on these ladies. It
was a very kindly meant business suggestion.
Miss Haldin wished to go through a course of
reading the best English authors with a
Mrs. Haldin received me very kindly. Her bad
French, of which she was smilingly conscious,
did away with the formality of the first
interview. She was a tall woman in a black silk
dress. A wide brow, regular features, and
delicately cut lips, testified to her past
beauty. She sat upright in an easy chair and in
a rather weak, gentle voice told me that her
Natalka simply thirsted after knowledge. Her
thin hands were lying on her lap, her facial
immobility had in it something monachal. "In
Russia," she went on, "all knowledge was tainted
with falsehood. Not chemistry and all that, but
education generally," she explained. The
Government corrupted the teaching for its own
purposes. Both her children felt that. Her
Natalka had obtained a diploma of a Superior
School for Women and her son was a student at
the St. Petersburg University. He had a
brilliant intellect, a most noble unselfish
nature, and he was the oracle of his comrades.
Early next year, she hoped he would join them
and they would then go to Italy together. In
any other country but their own she would have
been certain of a great future for a man with
the extraordinary abilities and the lofty
character of her son--but in Russia. . . .
The young lady sitting by the window turned her
head and said--
"Come, mother. Even with us things change with
Her voice was deep, almost harsh, and yet
caressing in its harshness. She had a dark
complexion, with red lips and a full figure.
She gave the impression of strong vitality. The
old lady sighed.
"You are both young--you two. It is easy for
you to hope. But I, too, am not hopeless.
Indeed, how could I be with a son like this."
I addressed Miss Haldin, asking her what authors
she wished to read. She directed upon me her
grey eyes shaded by black eyelashes, and I
became aware, notwithstanding my years, how
attractive physically her personality could be
to a man capable of appreciating in a woman
something else than the mere grace of
femininity. Her glance was as direct and
trustful as that of a young man yet unspoiled by
the world's wise lessons. And it was intrepid,
but in this intrepidity there was nothing
aggressive. A naive yet thoughtful assurance is
a better definition. She had reflected already
(in Russia the young begin to think early), but
she had never known deception as yet because
obviously she had never yet fallen under the
sway of passion. She was--to look at her was
enough--very capable of being roused by an idea
or simply by a person. At least, so I judged
with I believe an unbiassed mind; for clearly my
person could not be the person--and as to my
ideas!. . .
We became excellent friends in the course of our
reading. It was very pleasant. Without fear of
provoking a smile, I shall confess that I became
very much attached to that young girl. At the
end of four months I told her that now she could
very well go on reading English by herself. It
was time for the teacher to depart. My pupil
looked unpleasantly surprised.
Mrs. Haldin, with her immobility of feature and
kindly expression of the eyes, uttered from her
armchair in her uncertain French, "_Mais l'ami
reviendra._" And so it was settled. I returned-
-not four times a week as before, but pretty
frequently. In the autumn we made some short
excursions together in company with other
Russians. My friendship with these ladies gave
me a standing in the Russian colony which
otherwise I could not have had.
The day I saw in the papers the news of Mr. de P-
--'s assassination--it was a Sunday--I met the
two ladies in the street and walked with them
for some distance. Mrs. Haldin wore a heavy
grey cloak, I remember, over her black silk
dress, and her fine eyes met mine with a very
"We have been to the late service," she said.
"Natalka came with me. Her girl-friends, the
students here, of course don't. . . . With us
in Russia the church is so identified with
oppression, that it seems almost necessary when
one wishes to be free in this life, to give up
all hope of a future existence. But I cannot
give up praying for my son."
She added with a sort of stony grimness,
colouring slightly, and in French, "_Ce n'est
peut etre qu'une habitude._" ("It may be only
Miss Haldin was carrying the prayer-book. She
did not glance at her mother.
"You and Victor are both profound believers,"
I communicated to them the news from their
country which I had just read in a cafe. For a
whole minute we walked together fairly briskly
in silence. Then Mrs. Haldin murmured--
"There will be more trouble, more persecutions
for this. They may be even closing the
University. There is neither peace nor rest in
Russia for one but in the grave.
"Yes. The way is hard," came from the daughter,
looking straight before her at the Chain of Jura
covered with snow, like a white wall closing the
end of the street. "But concord is not so very
"That is what my children think," observed Mrs.
Haldin to me.
I did not conceal my feeling that these were
strange times to talk of concord. Nathalie
Haldin surprised me by saying, as if she had
thought very much on the subject, that the
occidentals did not understand the situation.
She was very calm and youthfully superior.
"You think it is a class conflict, or a conflict
of interests, as social contests are with you in
Europe. But it is not that at all. It is
something quite different."
"It is quite possible that I don't understand,"
That propensity of lifting every problem from
the plane of the understandable by means of some
sort of mystic expression, is very Russian. I
knew her well enough to have discovered her
scorn for all the practical forms of political
liberty known to the western world. I suppose
one must be a Russian to understand Russian
simplicity, a terrible corroding simplicity in
which mystic phrases clothe a naive and hopeless
cynicism. I think sometimes that the
psychological secret of the profound difference
of that people consists in this, that they
detest life, the irremediable life of the earth
as it is, whereas we westerners cherish it with
perhaps an equal exaggeration of its sentimental
value. But this is a digression indeed. . . .
I helped these ladies into the tramcar and they
asked me to call in the afternoon. At least
Mrs. Haldin asked me as she climbed up, and her
Natalka smiled down at the dense westerner
indulgently from the rear platform of the moving
car. The light of the clear wintry forenoon was
softened in her grey eyes.
Mr. Razumov's record, like the open book of
fate, revives for me the memory of that day as
something startlingly pitiless in its freedom
from all forebodings. Victor Haldin was still
with the living, but with the living whose only
contact with life is the expectation of death.
He must have been already referring to the last
of his earthly affections, the hours of that
obstinate silence, which for him was to be
prolonged into eternity. That afternoon the
ladies entertained a good many of their
compatriots--more than was usual for them to
receive at one time; and the drawing-room on the
ground floor of a large house on the Boulevard
des Philosophes was very much crowded.
I outstayed everybody; and when I rose Miss
Haldin stood up too. I took her hand and was
moved to revert to that morning's conversation
in the street.
"Admitting that we occidentals do not understand
the character of your. . . ." I began.
It was as if she had been prepared for me by
some mysterious fore-knowledge. She checked me
"Their impulses--their. . . " she sought the
proper expression and found it, but in French. .
." their _mouvements d'ame._"
Her voice was not much above a whisper.
"Very well," I said. " But still we are looking
at a conflict. You say it is not a conflict of
classes and not a conflict of interests.
Suppose I admitted that. Are antagonistic ideas
then to be reconciled more easily--can they be
cemented with blood and violence into that
concord which you proclaim to be so near?"
She looked at me searchingly with her clear grey
eyes, without answering my reasonable question--
my obvious, my unanswerable question.
"It is inconceivable," I added, with something
"Everything is inconceivable," she said. "The
whole world is inconceivable to the strict logic
of ideas. And yet the world exists to our
senses, and we exist in it. There must be a
necessity superior to our conceptions. It is a
very miserable and a very false thing to belong
to the majority. We Russians shall find some
better form of national freedom than an
artificial conflict of parties--which is wrong
because it is a conflict and contemptible
because it is artificial. It is left for us
Russians to discover a better way."
Mrs. Haldin had been looking out of the window.
She turned upon me the almost lifeless beauty of
her face, and the living benign glance of her
big dark eyes.
"That's what my children think," she declared.
"I suppose," I addressed Miss Haldin, "that you
will be shocked if I tell you that I haven't
understood--I won't say a single word; I've
understood all the words. . . . But what can be
this era of disembodied concord you are looking
forward to. Life is a thing of form. It has
its plastic shape and a definite intellectual
aspect. The most idealistic conceptions of love
and forbearance must be clothed in flesh as it
were before they can be made understandable."
I took my leave of Mrs. Haldin, whose beautiful
lips never stirred. She smiled with her eyes
only. Nathalie Haldin went with me as far as
the door, very amiable.
"Mother imagines that I am the slavish echo of
my brother Victor. It is not so. He
understands me better than I can understand him.
When he joins us and you come to know him you
will see what an exceptional soul it is." She
paused. "He is not a strong man in the
conventional sense, you know," she added. "But
his character is without a flaw"
"I believe that it will not be difficult for me
to make friends with your brother Victor."
"Don't expect to understand him quite," she
said, a little maliciously. "He is not at all--
at all--western at bottom."
And on this unnecessary warning I left the room
with another bow in the doorway to Mrs. Haldin
in her armchair by the window. The shadow of
autocracy all unperceived by me had already
fallen upon the Boulevard des Philosophes, in
the free, independent and democratic city of
Geneva, where there is a quarter called "La
Petite Russie." Whenever two Russians come
together, the shadow of autocracy is with them,
tinging their thoughts, their views, their most
intimate feelings, their private life, their
public utterances--haunting the secret of their
What struck me next in the course of a week or
so was the silence of these ladies. I used to
meet them walking in the public garden near the
University. They greeted me with their usual
friendliness, but I could not help noticing
their taciturnity. By that time it was
generally known that the assassin of M. de P---
had been caught, judged, and executed. So much
had been declared officially to the news
agencies. But for the world at large he
remained anonymous. The official secrecy had
withheld his name from the public. I really
cannot imagine for what reason.
One day I saw Miss Haldin walking alone in the
main valley of the Bastions under the naked
"Mother is not very well," she explained.
As Mrs.Haldin had, it seemed, never had a day's
illness in her life, this indisposition was
disquieting. It was nothing definite, too.
"I think she is fretting because we have not
heard from my brother for rather a long time."
"No news--good news," I said cheerfully, and we
began to walk slowly side by side.
"Not in Russia," she breathed out so low that I
only just caught the words. I looked at her
with more attention.
"You too are anxious? "
She admitted after a moment of hesitation that
"It is really such a long time since we heard. .
And before I could offer the usual banal
suggestions she confided in me.
"Oh! But it is much worse than that. I wrote
to a family we know in Petersburg. They had not
seen him for more than a month. They thought he
was already with us. They were even offended a
little that he should have left Petersburg
without calling on them. The husband of the
lady went at once to his lodgings. Victor had
left there and they did not know his address."
I remember her catching her breath rather
pitifully. Her brother had not been seen at
lectures for a very long time either. He only
turned up now and then at the University gate to
ask the porter for his letters. And the
gentleman friend was told that the student
Haldin did not come to claim the last two
letters for him. But the police came to inquire
if the student Haldin ever received any
correspondence at the University and took them
"My two last letters," she said.
We faced each other. A few snow-flakes
fluttered under the naked boughs. The sky was
"What do you think could have happened?" I
Her shoulders moved slightly.
"One can never tell--in Russia."
I saw then the shadow of autocracy lying upon
Russian lives in their submission or their
revolt. I saw it touch her handsome open face
nestled in a fur collar and darken her clear
eyes that shone upon me brilliantly grey in the
murky light of a beclouded, inclement afternoon.
"Let us move on," she said." It is cold
She shuddered a little and stamped her little
feet. We moved briskly to the end of the alley
and back to the great gates of the garden.
"Have you told your mother? " I ventured to ask.
"No. Not yet. I came out to walk off the
impression of this letter."
I heard a rustle of paper somewhere. It came
from her muff. She had the letter with her in
"What is it that you are afraid of?" I asked.
To us Europeans of the West, all ideas of
political plots and conspiracies seem childish,
crude inventions for the theatre or a novel. I
did not like to be more definite in my inquiry.
"For us--for my mother specially, what I am
afraid of is incertitude. People do disappear.
Yes, they do disappear. I leave you to imagine
what it is--the cruelty of the dumb weeks--
months--years! This friend of ours has
abandoned his inquiries when he heard of the
police getting hold of the letters. I suppose
he was afraid of compromising himself. He has a
wife and children--and why should he, after all.
. . . Moreover, he is without influential
connections and not rich. What could he do?. .
. Yes, I am afraid of silence--for my poor
mother. She won't be able to bear it. For my
brother I am afraid of. . ." she became almost
indistinct, "of anything."
We were now near the gate opposite the theatre.
She raised her voice.
"But lost people do turn up even in Russia. Do
you know what my last hope is? Perhaps the next
thing we know, we shall see him walking into our
I raised my hat and she passed out of the
gardens, graceful and strong, after a slight
movement of the head to me, her hands in the
muff, crumpling the cruel Petersburg letter.
On returning home I opened the newspaper I
receive from London, and glancing down the
correspondence from Russia--not the telegrams
but the correspondence--the first thing that
caught my eye was the name of Haldin. Mr. de P--
-'s death was no longer an actuality, but the
enterprising correspondent was proud of having
ferreted out some unofficial information about
that fact of modern history. He had got hold of
Haldin's name, and had picked up the story of
the midnight arrest in the street. But the
sensation from a journalistic point of view was
already well in the past. He did not allot to
it more than twenty lines out of a full column.
It was quite enough to give me a sleepless
night. I perceived that it would have been a
sort of treason to let Miss Haldin come without
preparation upon that journalistic discovery
which would infallibly be reproduced on the
morrow by French and Swiss newspapers. I had a
very bad time of it till the morning, wakeful
with nervous worry and night-marish with the
feeling of being mixed up with something
theatrical and morbidly affected. The
incongruity of such a complication in those two
women's lives was sensible to me all night in
the form of absolute anguish. It seemed due to
their refined simplicity that it should remain
concealed from them for ever. Arriving at an
unconscionably early hour at the door of their
apartment, I felt as if I were about to commit
an act of vandalism. . . .
The middle-aged servant woman led me into the
drawing-room where there was a duster on a chair
and a broom leaning against the centre table.
The motes danced in the sunshine; I regretted I
had not written a letter instead of coming
myself, and was thankful for the brightness of
the day. Miss Haldin in a plain black dress
came lightly out of her mother's room with a
fixed uncertain smile on her lips.
I pulled the paper out of my pocket. I did not
imagine that a number of the _Standard_ could
have the effect of Medusa's head. Her face went
stony in a moment--her eyes--her limbs. The
most terrible thing was that being stony she
remained alive. One was conscious of her
palpitating heart. I hope she forgave me the
delay of my clumsy circumlocution. It was not
very prolonged; she could not have kept so still
from head to foot for more than a second or two;
and then I heard her draw a breath. As if the
shock had paralysed her moral resistance, and
affected the firmness of her muscles, the
contours of her face seemed to have given way.
She was frightfully altered. She looked aged--
ruined. But only for a moment. She said with
"I am going to tell my mother at once."
"Would that be safe in her state?" I objected.
"What can be worse than the state she has been
in for the last month? We understand this in
another way. The crime is not at his door.
Don't imagine I am defending him before you."
She went to the bedroom door, then came back to
ask me in a low murmur not to go till she
returned. For twenty interminable minutes not a
sound reached me. At last Miss Haldin came out
and walked across the room with her quick light
step. When she reached the armchair she dropped
into it heavily as if completely exhausted.
Mrs. Haldin, she told me, had not shed a tear.
She was sitting up in bed, and her immobility,
her silence, were very alarming. At last she
lay down gently and had motioned her daughter
"She will call me in presently," added Miss
Haldin. "I left a bell near the bed."
I confess that my very real sympathy had no
standpoint. The Western readers for whom this
story is written will understand what I mean.
It was, if I may say so, the want of experience.
Death is a remorseless spoliator. The anguish
of irreparable loss is familiar to us all.
There is no life so lonely as to be safe against
that experience. But the grief I had brought to
these two ladies had gruesome associations. It
had the associations of bombs and gallows--a
lurid, Russian colouring which made the
complexion of my sympathy uncertain.
I was grateful to Miss Haldin for not
embarrassing me by an outward display of deep
feeling. I admired her for that wonderful
command over herself, even while I was a little
frightened at it. It was the stillness of a
great tension. What if it should suddenly snap?
Even the door of Mrs. Haldin's room, with the
old mother alone in there, had a rather awful
Nathalie Haldin murmured sadly--
"I suppose you are wondering what my feelings
Essentially that was true. It was that very
wonder which unsettled my sympathy of a dense
Occidental. I could get hold of nothing but of
some commonplace phrases, those futile phrases
that give the measure of our impotence before
each other's trials I mumbled something to the
effect that, for the young, life held its hopes
and compensations. It held duties too--but of
that I was certain it was not necessary to
She had a handkerchief in her hands and pulled
at it nervously.
"I am not likely to forget my mother," she said.
"We used to be three. Now we are two--two
women. She's not so very old. She may live
quite a long time yet. What have we to look for
in the future ? For what hope and what
"You must take a wider view," I said resolutely,
thinking that with this exceptional creature
this was the right note to strike. She looked
at me steadily for a moment, and then the tears
she had been keeping down flowed unrestrained.
She jumped up and stood in the window with her
back to me.
I slipped away without attempting even to
approach her. Next day I was told at the door
that Mrs. Haldin was better. The middle-aged
servant remarked that a lot of people--Russians--
had called that day, but Miss Haldin bad not
seen anybody. A fortnight later, when making my
daily call, I was asked in and found Mrs. Haldin
sitting in her usual place by the window.
At first one would have thought that nothing was
changed. I saw across the room the familiar
profile, a little sharper in outline and
overspread by a uniform pallor as might have
been expected in an invalid. But no disease
could have accounted for the change in her black
eyes, smiling no longer with gentle irony. She
raised them as she gave me her hand. I observed
the three weeks' old number of the _Standard_
folded with the correspondence from Russia
uppermost, lying on a little table by the side
of the armchair. Mrs. Haldin's voice was
startlingly weak and colourless. Her first
words to me framed a question.
"Has there been anything more in papers?"
I released her long emaciated hand, shook my
head negatively, and sat down.
"The English press is wonderful. Nothing can be
kept secret from it, and all the world must
hear. Only our Russian news is not always easy
to understand. Not always easy. . . . But
English mothers do not look for news like that.
. . ."
She laid her hand on the newspaper and took it
away again. I said--
"We too have had tragic times in our history."
"A long time ago. A very long time ago."
"There are nations that have made their bargain
with fate," said Miss Haldin, who had approached
us. "We need not envy them."
"Why this scorn?" I asked gently. "It may be
that our bargain was not a very lofty one. But
the terms men and nations obtain from Fate are
hallowed by the price."
Mrs. Haldin turned her head away and looked out
of the window for a time, with that new, sombre,
extinct gaze of her sunken eyes which so
completely made another woman of her.
"That Englishman, this correspondent," she
addressed me suddenly, "do you think it is
possible that he knew my son?"
To this strange question I could only say that
it was possible of course. She saw my surprise.
"If one knew what sort of man he was one could
perhaps write to him," she murmured.
"Mother thinks," explained Miss Haldin, standing
between us, with one hand resting on the back of
my chair, "that my poor brother perhaps did not
try to save himself."
I looked up at Miss Haldin in sympathetic
consternation, but Miss Haldin was looking down
calmly at her mother. The latter said--
"We do not know the address of any of his
friends. Indeed, we know nothing of his
Petersburg comrades. He had a multitude of
young friends, only he never spoke much of them.
One could guess that they were his disciples
and that they idolized him. But he was so
modest. One would think that with so many
devoted. . . ."
She averted her head again and looked down the
Boulevard des Philosophes, a singularly arid and
dusty thoroughfare, where nothing could be seen
at the moment but two dogs, a little girl in a
pinafore hopping on one leg, and in the distance
a workman wheeling a bicycle.
"Even amongst the Apostles of Christ there was
found a Judas," she whispered as if to herself,
but with the evident intention to be heard by me.
The Russian visitors assembled in little knots,
conversed amongst themselves meantime, in low
murmurs, and with brief glances in our
direction. It was a great contrast to the usual
loud volubility of these gatherings. Miss
Haldin followed me into the ante-room.
"People will come," she said. "We cannot shut
the door in their faces."
While I was putting on my overcoat she began to
talk to me of her mother. Poor Mrs. Haldin was
fretting after more news. She wanted to go on
hearing about her unfortunate son. She could
not make up her mind to abandon him quietly to
the dumb unknown. She would persist in pursuing
him in there through the long days of motionless
silence face to face with the empty Boulevard
des Philosophes. She could not understand why
he had not escaped--as so many other
revolutionists and conspirators had managed to
escape in other instances of that kind. It was
really inconceivable that the means of secret
revolutionary organisations should have failed
so inexcusably to preserve her son. But in
reality the inconceivable that staggered her
mind was nothing but the cruel audacity of Death
passing over her head to strike at that young
and precious heart.
Miss Haldin mechanically, with an absorbed look,
handed me my hat. I understood from her that
the poor woman was possessed by the sombre and
simple idea that her son must have perished
because he did not want to be saved. It could
not have been that he despaired of his country's
future. That was impossible. Was it possible
that his mother and sister had not known how to
merit his confidence; and that, after having
done what he was compelled to do, his spirit
became crushed by an intolerable doubt, his mind
distracted by a sudden mistrust.
I was very much shocked by this piece of
"Our three lives were like that!" Miss Haldin
twined the fingers of both her hands together in
demonstration, then separated them slowly,
looking straight into my face. "That's what
poor mother found to torment herself and me
with, for all the years to come," added the
strange girl. At that moment her indefinable
charm was revealed to me in the conjunction of
passion and stoicism. I imagined what her life
was likely to be by the side of Mrs. Haldin's
terrible immobility, inhabited by that fixed
idea. But my concern was reduced to silence by
my ignorance of her modes of feeling.
Difference of nationality is a terrible obstacle
for our complex Western natures. But Miss
Haldin probably was too simple to suspect my
embarrassment. She did not wait for me to say
anything, but as if reading my thoughts on my
face she went on courageously--
"At first poor mother went numb, as our peasants
say; then she began to think and she will go on
now thinking and thinking in that unfortunate
strain. You see yourself how cruel that is. . .
I never spoke with greater sincerity than when I
agreed with her that it would be deplorable in
the highest degree. She took an anxious breath.
"But all these strange details in the English
paper," she exclaimed suddenly. "What is the
meaning of them? I suppose they are true? But
is it not terrible that my poor brother should
be caught wandering alone, as if in despair,
about the streets at night. . . ."
We stood so close to each other in the dark
anteroom that I could see her biting her lower
lip to suppress a dry sob. After a short pause
"I suggested to mother that he may have been
betrayed by some false friend or simply by some
cowardly creature. It may be easier for her to
I understood now the poor woman's whispered
allusion to Judas.
"It may be easier," I admitted, admiring
inwardly the directness and the subtlety of the
girl's outlook. She was dealing with life as it
was made for her by the political conditions of
her country. She faced cruel realities, not
morbid imaginings of her own making. I could
not defend myself from a certain feeling of
respect when she added simply--
"Time they say can soften every sort of
bitterness. But I cannot believe that it has
any power over remorse. It is better that
mother should think some person guilty of
Victor's death, than that she should connect it
with a weakness of her son or a shortcoming of
"But you, yourself, don't suppose that. . . ."
She compressed her lips and shook her head. She
harboured no evil thoughts against any one, she
declared--and perhaps nothing that happened was
unnecessary. On these words, pronounced low and
sounding mysterious in the half obscurity of the
ante-room, we parted with an expressive and warm
handshake. The grip of her strong, shapely hand
had a seductive frankness, a sort of exquisite
virility. I do not know why she should have
felt so friendly to me. It may be that she
thought I understood her much better than I was
able to do. The most precise of her sayings
seemed always to me to have enigmatical
prolongations vanishing somewhere beyond my
reach. I am reduced to suppose that she
appreciated my attention and my silence. The
attention she could see was quite sincere, so
that the silence could not be suspected of
coldness. It seemed to satisfy her. And it is
to be noted that if she confided in me it was
clearly not with the expectation of receiving
advice, for which, indeed she never asked.
Our daily relations were interrupted at this
period for something like a fortnight. I had to
absent myself unexpectedly from Geneva. On my
return I lost no time in directing my steps up
the Boulevard des Philosophes.
Through the open door of the drawing-room I was
annoyed to hear a visitor holding forth steadily
in an unctuous deep voice.
Mrs. Haldin's armchair by the window stood
empty. On the sofa, Nathalie Haldin raised her
charming grey eyes in a glance of greeting
accompanied by the merest hint of a welcoming
smile. But she made no movement. With her
strong white hands lying inverted in the lap of
her mourning dress she faced a man who presented
to me a robust back covered with black
broadcloth, and well in keeping with the deep
voice. He turned his head sharply over his
shoulder, but only for a moment.
"Ah! your English friend. I know. I know.
He wore spectacles with smoked glasses, a tall
silk hat stood on the floor by the side of his
chair. Flourishing slightly a big soft hand he
went on with his discourse, precipitating his
delivery a little more.
"I have never changed the faith I held while
wandering in the forests and bogs of Siberia.
It sustained me then--it sustains me now. The
great Powers of Europe are bound to disappear--
and the cause of their collapse will be very
simple. They will exhaust themselves struggling
against their proletariat. In Russia it is
different. In Russia we have no classes to
combat each other, one holding the power of
wealth, and the other mighty with the strength
of numbers. We have only an unclean bureaucracy
in the face of a people as great and as
incorruptible as the ocean. No, we have no
classes. But we have the Russian woman. The
admirable Russian woman! I receive most
remarkable letters signed by women. So elevated
in tone, so courageous, breathing such a noble
ardour of service! The greatest part of our
hopes rests on women. I behold their thirst for
knowledge. It is admirable. Look how they
absorb, how they are making it their own. It is
miraculous. But what is knowledge? . . . I
understand that you have not been studying
anything especially--medicine for instance. No?
That's right. Had I been honoured by being
asked to advise you on the use of your time when
you arrived here I would have been strongly
opposed to such a course. Knowledge in itself
is mere dross."
He had one of those bearded Russian faces
without shape, a mere appearance of flesh and
hair with not a single feature having any sort
of character. His eyes being hidden by the dark
glasses there was an utter absence of all
expression. I knew him by sight. He was a
Russian refugee of mark. All Geneva knew his
burly black-coated figure. At one time all
Europe was aware of the story of his life
written by himself and translated into seven or
more languages. In his youth he had led an
idle, dissolute life. Then a society girl he
was about to marry died suddenly and thereupon
he abandoned the world of fashion, and began to
conspire in a spirit of repentance, and, after
that, his native autocracy took good care that
the usual things should happen to him. He was
imprisoned in fortresses, beaten within an inch
of his life, and condemned to work in mines,
with common criminals. The great success of his
book, however, was the chain.
I do not remember now the details of the weight
and length of the fetters riveted on his limbs
by an "Administrative" order, but it was in the
number of pounds and the thickness of links an
appalling assertion of the divine right of
autocracy. Appalling and futile too, because
this big man managed to carry off that simple
engine of government with him into the woods.
The sensational clink of these fetters is heard
all through the chapters describing his escape--
a subject of wonder to two continents. He had
begun by concealing himself successfully from
his guard in a hole on a river bank. It was the
end of the day; with infinite labour he managed
to free one of his legs. Meantime night fell.
He was going to begin on his other leg when he
was overtaken by a terrible misfortune. He
dropped his file.
All this is precise yet symbolic; and the file
had its pathetic history. It was given to him
unexpectedly one evening, by a quiet, pale-faced
girl. The poor creature had come out to the
mines to join one of his fellow convicts, a
delicate young man, a mechanic and a social
democrat, with broad cheekbones and large
staring eyes. She had worked her way across
half Russia and nearly the whole of Siberia to
be near him, and, as it seems, with the hope of
helping him to escape. But she arrived too
late. Her lover had died only a week before.
Through that obscure episode, as he says, in the
history of ideas in Russia, the file came into
his hands, and inspired him with an ardent
resolution to regain his liberty. When it
slipped through his fingers it was as if it had
gone straight into the earth. He could by no
manner of means put his hand on it again in the
dark. He groped systematically in the loose
earth, in the mud, in the water; the night was
passing meantime, the precious night on which he
counted to get away into the forests, his only
chance of escape. For a moment he was tempted
by despair to give up; but recalling the quiet,
sad face of the heroic girl, he felt profoundly
ashamed of his weakness. She had selected him
for the gift of liberty and he must show himself
worthy of the favour conferred by her feminine,
indomitable soul. It appeared to be a sacred
trust. To fail would have been a sort of
treason against the sacredness of self-sacrifice
and womanly love.
There are in his book whole pages of self-
analysis whence emerges like a white figure from
a dark confused sea the conviction of woman's
spiritual superiority--his new faith confessed
since in several volumes. His first tribute to
it, the great act of his conversion, was his
extraordinary existence in the endless forests
of the Okhotsk Province, with the loose end of
the chain wound about his waist. A strip torn
off his convict shirt secured the end firmly.
Other strips fastened it at intervals up his
left leg to deaden the clanking and to prevent
the slack links from getting hooked in the
bushes. He became very fierce. He developed an
unsuspected genius for the arts of a wild and
hunted existence. He learned to creep into
villages without betraying his presence by
anything more than an occasional faint jingle.
He broke into outhouses with an axe he managed
to purloin in a wood-cutters' camp. In the
deserted tracts of country he lived on wild
berries and hunted for honey. His clothing
dropped off him gradually. His naked tawny
figure glimpsed vaguely through the bushes with
a cloud of mosquitoes and flies hovering about
the shaggy head, spread tales of terror through
whole districts. His temper grew savage as the
days went by, and he was glad to discover that
that there was so much of a brute in him. He
had nothing else to put his trust in. For it
was as though there had been two human beings
indissolubly joined in that enterprise. The
civilized man, the enthusiast of advanced
humanitarian ideals thirsting for the triumph of
spiritual love and political liberty; and the
stealthy, primeval savage, pitilessly cunning in
the preservation of his freedom from day to day,
like a tracked wild beast.
The wild beast was making its way instinctively
eastward to the Pacific coast, and the civilised
humanitarian in fearful anxious dependence
watched the proceedings with awe. Through all
these weeks he could never make up his mind to
appeal to human compassion. In the wary
primeval savage this shyness might have been
natural, but the other too, the civilized
creature, the thinker, the escaping "political"
had developed an absurd form of morbid
pessimism, a form of temporary insanity,
originating perhaps in the physical worry and
discomfort of the chain. These links, he
fancied, made him odious to the rest of mankind.
It was a repugnant and suggestive load. Nobody
could feel any pity at the disgusting sight of a
man escaping with a broken chain. His
imagination became affected by his fetters in a
precise, matter-of-fact manner. It seemed to
him impossible that people could resist the
temptation of fastening the loose end to a
staple in the wall while they went for the
nearest police official. Crouching in holes or
hidden in thickets, he had tried to read the
faces of unsuspecting free settlers working in
the clearings or passing along the paths within
a foot or two of his eyes. His feeling was that
no man on earth could be trusted with the
temptation of the chain.
One day, however, he chanced to come upon a
solitary woman. It was on an open slope of
rough grass outside the forest. She sat on the
bank of a narrow stream; she had a red
handkerchief on her head and a small basket was
lying on the ground near her hand. At a little
distance could be seen a cluster of log cabins,
with a water-mill over a dammed pool shaded by
birch trees and looking bright as glass in the
twilight. He approached her silently, his
hatchet stuck in his iron belt, a thick cudgel
in his hand; there were leaves and bits of twig
in his tangled hair, in his matted beard;
bunches of rags he had wound round the links
fluttered from his waist. A faint clink of his
fetters made the woman turn her head. Too
terrified by this savage apparition to jump up
or even to scream, she was yet too stout-hearted
to faint. . . . Expecting nothing less than to
be murdered on the spot she covered her eyes
with her hands to avoid the sight of the
descending axe. When at last she found courage
to look again, she saw the shaggy wild man
sitting on the bank six feet away from her. His
thin, sinewy arms hugged his naked legs; the
long beard covered the knees on which he rested
his chin; all these clasped, folded limbs, the
bare shoulders, the wild head with red staring
eyes, shook and trembled violently while the
bestial creature was making efforts to speak.
It was six weeks since he had heard the sound of
his own voice. It seemed as though he had lost
the faculty of speech. He had become a dumb and
despairing brute, till the woman's sudden,
unexpected cry of profound pity, the insight of
her feminine compassion discovering the complex
misery of the man under the terrifying aspect of
the monster, restored him to the ranks of
humanity. This point of view is presented in
his book, with a very effective eloquence. She
ended, he says, by shedding tears over him,
sacred, redeeming tears, while he also wept with
joy in the manner of a converted sinner.
Directing him to hide in the bushes and wait
patiently (a police patrol was expected in the
Settlement) she went away towards the houses,
promising to return at night.
As if providentially appointed to be the newly
wedded wife of the village blacksmith, the woman
persuaded her husband to come out with her,
bringing some tools of his trade, a hammer, a
chisel, a small anvil. . . . "My fetters"--the
book says--" were struck off on the banks of the
stream, in the starlight of a calm night by an
athletic, taciturn young man of the people,
kneeling at my feet, while the woman like a
liberating genius stood by with clasped hands."
Obviously a symbolic couple. At the same time
they furnished his regained humanity with some
decent clothing, and put heart into the new man
by the information that the seacoast of the
Pacific was only a very few miles away. It
could be seen, in fact, from the top of the next
ridge. . . .
The rest of his escape does not lend itself to
mystic treatment and symbolic interpretation.
He ended by finding his way to the West by the
Suez Canal route in the usual manner. Reaching
the shores of South Europe he sat down to write
his autobiography--the great literary success of
its year. This book was followed by other books
written with the declared purpose of elevating
humanity. In these works he preached generally
the cult of the woman. For his own part he
practised it under the rites of special devotion
to the transcendental merits of a certain Madame
de S---, a lady of advanced views, no longer
very young, once upon a time the intriguing wife
of a now dead and forgotten diplomat. Her loud
pretensions to be one of the leaders of modern
thought and of modern sentiment, she sheltered
(like Voltaire and Mme. de Stael) on the
republican territory of Geneva. Driving through
the streets in her big landau she exhibited to
the indifference of the natives and the stares
of the tourists a long-waisted, youthful figure
of hieratic stiffness, with a pair of big
gleaming eyes, rolling restlessly behind a short
veil of black lace, which, coming down no
further than her vividly red lips, resembled a
mask. Usually the "heroic fugitive" (this name
was bestowed upon him in a review of the English
edition of his book)--the " heroic fugitive "
accompanied her, sitting, portentously bearded
and darkly bespectacled, not by her side, but
opposite her, with his back to the horses.
Thus, facing each other, with no one else in the
roomy carriage, their airings suggested a
conscious public manifestation. Or it may have
been unconscious. Russian simplicity often
marches innocently on the edge of cynicism for
some lofty purpose. But it is a vain enterprise
for sophisticated Europe to try and understand
these doings. Considering the air of gravity
extending even to the physiognomy of the
coachman and the action of the showy horses,
this quaint display might have possessed a
mystic significance, but to the corrupt
frivolity of a Western mind, like my own, it
seemed hardly decent.
However, it is not becoming for an obscure
teacher of languages to criticize a "heroic
fugitive" of worldwide celebrity. I was aware
from hearsay that he was an industrious busy-
body, hunting up his compatriots in hotels, in
private lodgings, and--I was told--conferring
upon them the honour of his notice in public
gardens when a suitable opening presented
itself. I was under the impression that after a
visit or two, several months before, he had
given up the ladies Haldin--no doubt
reluctantly, for there could be no question of
his being a determined person. It was perhaps
to be expected that he should reappear again on
this terrible occasion, as a Russian and a
revolutionist, to say the right thing, to strike
the true, perhaps a comforting, note. But I did
not like to see him sitting there. I trust that
an unbecoming jealousy of my privileged position
had nothing to do with it. I made no claim to a
special standing for my silent friendship.
Removed by the difference of age and nationality
as if into the sphere of another existence, I
produced, even upon myself, the effect of a dumb
helpless ghost, of an anxious immaterial thing
that could only hover about without the power to
protect or guide by as much as a whisper. Since
Miss Haldin with her sure instinct had refrained
from introducing me to the burly celebrity, I
would have retired quietly and returned later
on, had I not met a peculiar expression in her
eyes which I interpreted as a request to stay,
with the view, perhaps, of shortening an
He picked up his hat, but only to deposit it on
"We shall meet again, Natalia Victorovna. To-
day I have called only to mark those feelings
towards your honoured mother and yourself, the
nature of which you cannot doubt. I needed no
urging, but Eleanor--Madame de S--- herself has
in a way sent me. She extends to you the hand
of feminine fellowship. There is positively in
all the range of human sentiments no joy and no
sorrow that woman cannot understand, elevate,
and spiritualize by her interpretation. That
young man newly arrived from St. Petersburg, I
have mentioned to you, is already under the
At this point Miss Haldin got up abruptly. I
was glad. He did not evidently expect anything
so decisive and, at first, throwing his head
back, he tilted up his dark glasses with bland
curiosity. At last, recollecting himself, he
stood up hastily, seizing his hat off his knees
with great adroitness.
"How is it, Natalia Victorovna, that you have
kept aloof so long, from what after all is--let
disparaging tongues say what they like--a unique
centre of intellectual freedom and of effort to
shape a high conception of our future? In the
case of your honoured mother I understand in a
measure. At her age new ideas--new faces are
not perhaps. . . . But you! Was it mistrust--
or indifference? You must come out of your
reserve. We Russians have no right to be
reserved with each other. In our circumstances
it is almost a crime against humanity. The
luxury of private grief is not for us. Nowadays
the devil is not combated by prayers and
fasting. And what is fasting after all but
starvation. You must not starve yourself,
Natalia Victorovna. Strength is what we want.
Spiritual strength, I mean. As to the other
kind, what could withstand us Russians if we
only put it forth? Sin is different in our day,
and the way of salvation for pure souls is
different too. It is no longer to be found in
monasteries but in the world, in the. . . ."
The deep sound seemed to rise from under the
floor, and one felt steeped in it to the lips.
Miss Haldin's interruption resembled the effort
of a drowning person to keep above water. She
struck in with an accent of impatience--
"But, Peter Ivanovitch, I don't mean to retire
into a monastery. Who would look for salvation
"I spoke figuratively," he boomed.
"Well, then, I am speaking figuratively too.
But sorrow is sorrow and pain is pain in the old
way. They make their demands upon people. One
has got to face them the best way one can. I
know that the blow which has fallen upon us so
unexpectedly is only an episode in the fate of a
people. You may rest assured that I don't
forget that. But just now I have to think of my
mother. How can you expect me to leave her to
herself. . . ?"
"That is putting it in a very crude way," he
protested in his great effortless voice.
Miss Haldin did not wait for the vibration to
"And run about visiting amongst a lot of strange
people. The idea is distasteful for me; and I
do not know what else you may mean?"
He towered before her, enormous, deferential,
cropped as close as a convict and this big
pinkish poll evoked for me the vision of a wild
head with matted locks peering through parted
bushes, glimpses of naked, tawny limbs slinking
behind the masses of sodden foliage under a
cloud of flies and mosquitoes. It was an
involuntary tribute to the vigour of his
writing. Nobody could doubt that he had
wandered in Siberian forests, naked and girt
with a chain. The black broadcloth coat
invested his person with a character of austere
decency--something recalling a missionary.
"Do you know what I want, Natalia Victorovna?"
he uttered solemnly. "I want you to be a
"Yes. Faith alone won't do."
His voice dropped to a still lower tone. He
raised for a moment one thick arm; the other
remained hanging down against his thigh, with
the fragile silk hat at the end.
"I shall tell you now something which I entreat
you to ponder over carefully. Listen, we need a
force that would move heaven and earth--nothing
The profound, subterranean note of this "nothing
less" made one shudder, almost, like the deep
muttering of wind in the pipes of an organ.
"And are we to find that force in the salon of
Madame de S---? Excuse me, Peter Ivanovitch, if
I permit myself to doubt it. Is not that lady a
woman of the great world, an aristocrat?"
"Prejudice!" he cried. "You astonish me. And
suppose she was all that! She is also a woman
of flesh and blood. There is always something
to weigh down the spiritual side in all of us.
But to make of it a reproach is what I did not
expect from you. No! I did not expect that.
One would think you have listened to some
"I have heard no gossip, I assure you. In our
province how could we? But the world speaks of
her. What can there be in common in a lady of
that sort and an obscure country girl like me?"
"She is a perpetual manifestation of a noble and
peerless spirit," he broke in. "Her charm--no,
I shall not speak of her charm. But, of course,
everybody who approaches her falls under the
spell. . . . Contradictions vanish, trouble
falls away from one. . . . Unless I am mistaken-
-but I never make a mistake in spiritual matters-
-you are troubled in your soul, Natalia
Miss Haldin's clear eyes looked straight at his
soft enormous face; I received the impression
that behind these dark spectacles of his he
could be as impudent as he chose.
"Only the other evening walking back to town
from Chateau Borel with our latest interesting
arrival from Petersburg, I could notice the
powerful soothing influence--I may say
reconciling influence. . . . There he was, all
these kilometres along the shores of the lake,
silent, like a man who has been shown the way of
peace. I could feel the leaven working in his
soul, you understand. For one thing he listened
to me patiently. I myself was inspired that
evening by the firm and exquisite genius of
Eleanor--Madame de S---, you know. It was a
full moon and I could observe his face. I
cannot be deceived. . . ."
Miss Haldin, looking down, seemed to hesitate.
"Well! I will think of what you said, Peter
Ivanovitch. I shall try to call as soon as I
can leave mother for an hour or two safely."
Coldly as these words were said I was amazed at
the concession. He snatched her right hand with
such fervour that I thought he was going to
press it to his lips or his breast. But he only
held it by the finger-tips in his great paw and
shook it a little up and down while he delivered
his last volley of words.
"That's right. That's right. I haven't
obtained your full confidence as yet, Natalia
Victorovna, but that will come. All in good
time. The sister of Viktor Haldin cannot be
without importance. . . . It's simply
impossible. And no woman can remain sitting on
the steps. Flowers, tears, applause--that has
had its time; it's a mediaeval conception. The
arena, the arena itself is the place for women!"
He relinquished her hand with a flourish, as if
giving it to her for a gift, and remained still,
his head bowed in dignified submission before
"The arena! . . . You must descend into the
He made one step backwards, inclined his
enormous body, and was gone swiftly. The door
fell to behind him. But immediately the
powerful resonance of his voice was heard
addressing in the ante-room the middle-aged
servant woman who was letting him out. Whether
he exhorted her too to descend into the arena I
cannot tell. The thing sounded like a lecture,
and the slight crash of the outer door cut it
We remained looking at each other for a time."
"Do you know who he is?"
Miss Haldin, coming forward, put this question
to me in English.
I took her offered hand.
"Everybody knows. He is a revolutionary
feminist, a great writer, if you like, and--how
shall I say it--the--the familiar guest of
Madame de S---'s mystic revolutionary salon."
Miss Haldin passed her hand over her forehead.
"You know, he was with me for more than an hour
before you came in. I was so glad mother was
lying down. She has many nights without sleep,
and then sometimes in the middle of the day she
gets a rest of several hours. It is sheer
exhaustion--but still, I am thankful. . . . If
it were not for these intervals. . . ."
She looked at me and, with that extraordinary
penetration which used to disconcert me, shook
"No. She would not go mad."
"My dear young lady," I cried, by way of
protest, the more shocked because in my heart I
was far from thinking Mrs. Haldin quite sane.
"You don't know what a fine, lucid intellect
mother had," continued Nathalie Haldin, with her
calm, clear-eyed simplicity, which seemed to me
always to have a quality of heroism.
"I am sure. . . ." I murmured.
"I darkened mother's room and came out here.
I've wanted for so long to think quietly."
She paused, then, without giving any sign of
distress, added, "It's so difficult," and looked
at me with a strange fixity, as if watching for
a sign of dissent or surprise.
I gave neither. I was irresistibly impelled to
"The visit from that gentleman has not made it
any easier, I fear."
Miss Haldin stood before me with a peculiar
expression in her eyes.
"I don't pretend to understand completely. Some
guide one must have, even if one does not wholly
give up the direction of one's conduct to him.
I am an inexperienced girl, but I am not
slavish, There has been too much of that in
Russia. Why should I not listen to him? There
is no harm in having one's thoughts directed.
But I don't mind confessing to you that I have
not been completely candid with Peter
Ivanovitch. I don't quite know what prevented
me at the moment. . . ."
She walked away suddenly from me to a distant
part of the room; but it was only to open and
shut a drawer in a bureau. She returned with a
piece of paper in her hand. It was thin and
blackened with close handwriting. It was
obviously a letter.
"I wanted to read you the very words," she said.
"This is one of my poor brother's letters. He
never doubted. How could he doubt? They make