I stared at him. I could not take my eyes away. I instantly forgot every on_lse, the room, the tree, the lights…. With a force, with a poignancy an_athos and brutality that were more cruel than I could have believed possibl_hat other world came back to me. Ah! I could see now that all these months _ad been running away from this very thing, seeking to pretend that it did no_xist, that it had never existed. All in vain—utterly in vain. I saw Semyono_s I had just seen him, sitting on his horse outside the shining white hous_t O——. Then Semyonov operating in a stinking room, under a red light, hi_rms bathed in blood; then Semyonov and Trenchard; then Semyonov speaking t_arie Ivanovna, her eyes searching his face; then that day when I woke from m_ream in the orchard to find his eyes staring at me through the bright gree_rees, and afterwards when we went in to look at her dead; then worst of al_hat ride back to the "Stab" with my hand on his thick, throbbing arm….
Semyonov in the Forest, working, sneering, hating us, despising us, carryin_is tragedy in his eyes and defying us to care; Semyonov that last time o_ll, vanishing into the darkness with his "Nothing!" that lingering echo of _efiant desperate soul that had stayed with me, against my bidding, ever sinc_ had heard it.
What a fool had I been to know these people! I had felt from the first to wha_t must lead, and I might have avoided it and I would not. I looked at him, _aced him, I smiled. He was the same as he had been. A little stouter,
perhaps, his pale hair and square-cut beard looking as though it had bee_arved from some pale honey-coloured wood, the thick stolidity of his lon_ody and short legs, the squareness of his head, the coldness of his eyes an_he violent red of his lips, all were just as they had been—the same man, sav_hat now he was in civilian clothes, in a black suit with a black bow tie.
There was a smile on his lips, that same smile half sneer half friendlines_hat I knew so well. His eyes were veiled….
He was, I believe, as violently surprised to see me as I had been to see him,
but he held himself in complete control!
He said, "Why, Durward!… Ivan Andreievitch!" Then he greeted the others.
I was able, now, to notice the general effect of his arrival. It was as thoug_ cold wind had suddenly burst through the windows, blown out all the candle_pon the tree and plunged the place into darkness. Those who did not know hi_elt that, with his entrance, the gaiety was gone. Markovitch's face was pale,
he was looking at Vera who, for an instant, had stood, quite silently, starin_t her uncle, then, recovering herself, moved forward.
"Why, Uncle Alexei!" she cried, holding out her hand. "You're too late for th_ree! Why didn't you tell us? Then you could have come to dinner… and now i_s all over. Why didn't you tell us?"
He took her hand, and, very solemnly, bent down and kissed it.
"I didn't know myself, dear Vera Michailovna. I only arrived in Petrogra_esterday; and then in my house everything was wrong, and I've been busy al_ay. But I felt that I must run in and give you the greetings of the season….
Ah, Nicholas, how are you? And you, Ivan?… I telephoned to you…. Nina, m_ear…." And so on. He went round and shook hands with them all. He wa_ntroduced to Bohun and Lawrence. He was very genial, praising the tree,
laughing, shouting in the ears of the great-aunt. But no one responded. As s_requently happens in Russia the atmosphere was suddenly changed. No one ha_nything to say. The candles on the tree were blown out. Of course, th_vening was not nearly ended. There would be tea and games, perhaps—at an_ate every one would sit and sit until three or four if, for no other reason,
simply because it demanded too much energy to rise and make farewells. But th_pirit of the party was utterly dead….
The samovar hissed at the end of the table. Vera Michailovna sat there makin_ea for every one. Semyonov (I should now in the heart of his relations, hav_hought of him as Alexei Petrovitch, but so long had he been Semyonov to m_hat Semyonov he must remain) was next to her, and I saw that he took trouble,
talking to her, smiling, his stiff strong white fingers now and then strokin_is thick beard, his red lips parting a little, then closing so firmly that i_eemed that they would never open again.
I noticed that his eyes often wandered towards me. He was uneasy about m_resence there, I thought, and that disturbed me. I felt as I looked at hi_he same confusion as I had always felt. I did not hate him. His strength o_haracter, his fearlessness, these things in a country famous for neithe_uality I was driven to admire and to respect. And I could not hate what _dmired.
And yet my fear gathered and gathered in volume as I watched him. What woul_e do with these people? What plans had he? What purpose? What secret, selfis_mbitions was he out now to secure?
Markovitch was silent, drinking his tea, watching his wife, watching us al_ith his nervous frowning expression.
I rose to go and then, when I had said farewell to every one and went toward_he door, Semyonov joined me.
"Well, Ivan Andreievitch," he said. "So we have not finished with one anothe_et."
He looked at me with his steady unswerving eyes; he smiled.
I also smiled as I found my coat and hat in the little hall. Sacha helped m_nto my Shuba. He stood, his lips a little apart, watching me.
"What have you been doing all this time?" he asked me.
"I've been ill," I answered.
"Not had, I hope."
"No, not had. But enough to keep me very idle."
"As much of an optimist as ever?"
"Was I an optimist?"
"Why, surely. A charming one. Do you love Russia as truly as ever?"
I laughed, my hand on the door. "That's my affair, Alexei Petrovitch," _nswered.
"Certainly," he said, smiling. "You're looking older, you know."
"You too," I said.
"Yes, perhaps. Would I still think you sentimental, do you suppose?"
"It is of no importance, Alexei Petrovitch," I said. "I'm sure you have othe_etter things to do. Are you remaining in Petrograd?"
He looked at me then very seriously, his eyes staring straight into mine.
"I hope so."
"You will work at your practice?"
"Perhaps." He nodded to me. "Strange to find you here…." he said. "We shal_eet again. Good-night."