They didn't come to see me again together. Vera came twice, kind and good a_lways, but with no more confidences; and Nina once with flowers and fruit an_ wild chattering tongue about the cinemas and Smyrnov, who was delighting th_orld at the Narodny Dom, and the wonderful performance of Lermontov's
"Masquerade" that was shortly to take place at the Alexander Theatre.
"Are you and Vera friends again?" I asked her.
"Oh yes! Why not?" And she went on, snapping a chocolate almond between he_eeth—"The one at the 'Piccadilly' is the best. It's an Italian one, an_here's a giant in it who throws people all over the place, out of windows an_verywhere. Ah! how lovely!… I wish I could go every night."
"You ought to be helping with the war," I said severely.
"Oh, I hate the war!" she answered. "We're all terribly tired of it. Tanya'_iven up going to the English hospital now, and is just meaning to be as ga_s she can be; and Zinaida Fyodorovna had just come back from her Otriad o_he Galician front, and she says it's shocking there now—no food or dancing o_nything. Why doesn't every one make peace?"
"Do you want the Germans to rule Russia?" I asked.
"Why not?" she said, laughing. "We can't do it ourselves. We don't care wh_oes it. The English can do it if they like, only they're too lazy to bother.
The German's aren't lazy, and if they were here we'd have lots of theatres an_inematographs."
"Don't you love your country?" I asked.
"This isn't our country," she answered. "It just belongs to the Empress an_rotopopoff."
"Supposing it became your country and the Emperor went?"
"Oh, then it would belong to a million different people, and in the end no on_ould have anything. Can't you see how they'd fight?"… She burst out laughing:
"Boris and Nicholas and Uncle Alexei and all the others!"
Then she was suddenly serious.
"I know, Durdles, you consider that I'm so young and frivolous that I don'_hink of anything serious. But I can see things like any one else. Can't yo_ee that we're all so disappointed with ourselves that nothing matters? W_hought the war was going to be so fine—but now it's just like the Japanes_ne, all robbery and lies—and we can't do anything to stop it."
"Perhaps some day some one will," I said.
"Oh yes!" she answered scornfully, "men like Boris."
After that she refused to be grave for a moment, danced about the room, singing, and finally vanished, a whirlwind of blue silk.
* * * * *
A week later I was out in the world again. That curious sense of excitemen_hat had first come to me during the early days of my illness burnt now mor_iercely than ever. I cannot say what it was exactly that I thought was goin_o happen. I have often looked back, as many other people must have done, t_hose days in February and wondered whether I foresaw anything of what was t_ome, and what were the things that might have seemed to me significant if _ad noticed them. And here I am deliberately speaking of both public an_rivate affairs. I cannot quite frankly dissever the two. At the Front, a yea_nd a half before, I had discovered how intermingled the souls of individual_nd the souls of countries were, and how permanent private history seemed t_e and how transient public events; but whether that was true or no before, i_as now most certain that it was the story of certain individuals that I wa_o record,—the history that was being made behind them could at its best b_nly a background.
I seemed to step into a city ablaze with a sinister glory. If that appear_elodramatic I can only say that the dazzling winter weather of those week_as melodramatic. Never before had I seen the huge buildings tower so high, never before felt the shadows so vast, the squares and streets so limitless i_heir capacity for swallowing light and colour. The sky was a bitte_hangeless blue; the buildings black; the snow and ice, glittering with purpl_nd gold, swept by vast swinging shadows as though huge doors opened and shu_n heaven, or monstrous birds hovered, their wings spread, motionless in th_imitless space.
And all this had, as ever, nothing to do with human life. The littl_ourtyards with their woodstacks and their coloured houses, carts and th_obbled squares and the little stumpy trees that bordered the canals and th_ittle wooden huts beside the bridges with their candles and fruit—these wer_uman and friendly and good, but they had their precarious condition like th_est of us.
On the first afternoon of my new liberty I found myself in the Nevsk_rospect, bewildered by the crowds and the talk and trams and motors and cart_hat passed in unending sequence up and down the long street. Standing at th_orner of the Sadovia and the Nevski one was carried straight to the point o_he golden spire that guarded the farther end of the great street. All wa_old, the surface of the road was like a golden stream, the canal was gold, the thin spire caught into its piercing line all the colour of the swiftl_ading afternoon; the wheels of the carriages gleamed, the flower-baskets o_he women glittered like shining foam, the snow flung its crystal colour int_he air like thin fire dim before the sun. The street seemed to have gathere_n to its pavements the citizens of every country under the sun. Tartars, Mongols, Little Russians, Chinamen, Japanese, French officers, Britis_fficers, peasants and fashionable women, schoolboys, officials, actors an_rtists and business men and priests and sailors and beggars and hawkers and, guarding them all, friendly, urbane, filled with a pleasant self-importanc_hat seemed at that hour the simplest and easiest of attitudes, the Police.
"Rum—rum—rum—whirr—whirr—whirr—whirr"—like the regular beat of a shuttle th_um rose and fell, as the sun faded into rosy mist and white vapours stol_bove the still canals.
I turned to go home and felt some one touch my elbow.
I swung round and there, his broad face ruddy with the cold, was Jerry Lawrence.
I was delighted to see him and told him so.
"Well, I'm damned glad," he said gruffly. "I thought you might have a grudg_gainst me."
"A grudge?" I said. "Why?"
"Haven't been to see you. Heard you were ill, but didn't think you'd want m_anging round."
"Why this modesty?" I asked.
"No—well—you know what I mean." He shuffled his feet. "No good in a sick- room."
"Mine wasn't exactly a sick-room," I said. "But I heard that you did come."
"Yes. I came twice," he answered, looking at me shyly. "Your old woma_ouldn't let me see you."
"Never mind that," I said; "let's have an evening together soon."
"Yes—as soon as you like." He looked up and down the street. "There are som_hings I'd like to ask your advice about."
"Certainly," I said.
"What do you say to coming and dining at my place? Ever met Wilderling?"
"Wilderling?" I could not remember for the moment the name.
"Yes—the old josser I live with. Fine old man—got a point of view of his own!"
"Delighted," I said.
"To-morrow. Eight o'clock. Don't dress."
He was just going off when he turned again.
"Awfully glad you're better," he said. He cleared his throat, looked at me i_ very friendly way, then smiled.
" _Awfully_ glad you're better," he repeated, then went off, rolling hi_road figure into the evening mist.