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Chapter 17

  • 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.
  • I turned towards home.