That Thursday was March 15. I was conscious of my existence again on Sunday,
April 1st. I opened my eyes and saw that there was a thaw. That was the firs_hing of which I was aware—that water was apparently dripping on every side o_e. It is a strange sensation to lie on your bed very weak, and ver_ndifferent, and to feel the world turning to moisture all about you…. M_amshackle habitation had never been a very strong defence against the outsid_orld. It seemed now to have definitely decided to abandon the struggle. Th_ater streamed down the panes of my window opposite my bed. One patch of m_eiling (just above my only bookcase, confound it!) was coloured a mould_rey, and from this huge drops like elephant's tears, splashed monotonously.
(Already _The Spirit of Man_ was disfigured by a long grey streak, and th_reen back of Galleon's _Roads_ was splotched with stains.) Some one ha_laced a bucket near the door to catch a perpetual stream flowing from th_orner of the room. Down into the bucket it pattered with a hasty, giggling,
hysterical jiggle. I rather liked the companionship of it. I didn't mind it a_ll. I really minded nothing whatever…. I sighed my appreciation of my retur_o life. My sigh brought some one from the corner of my room and that some on_as, of course, the inevitable Eat. He came up to my bed in his stealthy,
furtive fashion, and looked at me reproachfully. I asked him, my voic_ounding to myself strange and very far away, what he was doing there. H_nswered that if it had not been for him I should be dead. He had come earl_ne morning and found me lying in my bed and no one in the place at all. N_ne—because the old woman had vanished. Yes, the neighbours had told him.
Apparently on that very Thursday she had decided that the Revolution had give_er her freedom, and that she was never going to work for anybody ever again.
She had told a woman-neighbour that she heard that the land now was going t_e given back to everybody, and she was returning therefore to her villag_omewhere in the Moscow Province. She had not been back there for twent_ears. And first, to celebrate her liberty, she would get magnificently drun_n furniture polish.
"I did not see her of course," said the Rat. "No. When I came, early in th_orning, no one was here. I thought that you were dead, Barin, and I bega_ollecting your property, so that no one else should take it. Then you made _ovement, and I saw that you were alive—so I got some cabbage soup and gave i_ou. That certainly saved you…. I'm going to stay with you now."
I did not care in the least whether he went or stayed. He chattered on. B_taying with me he would inevitably neglect his public duties. Perhaps _idn't know that he had public duties? Yes, he was now an Anarchist, and _hould be astonished very shortly, by the things the Anarchists would do. Al_he same, they had their own discipline. They had their own processions, too,
like any one else. Only four days ago he had marched all over Petrogra_arrying a black flag. He must confess that he was rather sick of it. But the_ust have processions…. Even the prostitutes had marched down the Nevski th_ther day demanding shorter hours.
But of course I cannot remember all that he said. During the next few days _lowly pulled myself out of the misty dead world in which I had been lying.
Pain came back to me, leaping upon me and then receding, finally, on the thir_ay suddenly leaving me altogether. The Rat fed me on cabbage soup and glasse_f tea and caviare and biscuits. During those three days he never left me, an_ndeed tended me like a woman. He would sit by my bed and with his rough han_troke my hair, while he poured into my ears ghastly stories of the man_rimes that he had committed. I noticed that he was cleaner and mor_ivilised. His beard was clipped and he smelt of cabbage and straw—a rathe_ealthy smell. One morning he suddenly took the pail, filled it with water an_ashed himself in front of my windows. He scrubbed himself until I should hav_hought that he had no skin left.
"You're a fine big man, Rat," I said.
He was delighted with that, and came quite near my bed, stretching his nake_ody, his arms and legs and chest, like a pleased animal.
"Yes, I'm a fine man, Barin," he said; "many women have loved me, and man_ill again…" Then he went back, and producing clean drawers and vest fro_omewhere (I suspect that they were mine but I was too weak to care), put the_n.
On the second and third days I felt much better. The thaw was less violent,
the wood crackled in my stove. On the morning of Wednesday April 14 I got up,
dressed, and sat in front of my window. The ice was still there, but over i_ay a faint, a very faint, filmy sheen of water. It was a day of gleams, th_un flashing in and out of the clouds. Just beneath my window a tree wa_ushing into bud. Pools of water lay thick on the dirty melting snow. I go_he Rat to bring a little table and put some books on it. I had near me _Th_pirit of Man_ , Keats's _Letters_ , _The Roads_ , Beddoes, and _Pride an_rejudice_. A consciousness of the outer world crept, like warmth, through m_ones.
"Rat," I said, "who's been to see me?"
"No one," said he.
I felt suddenly a ridiculous affront.
"No one?" I asked, incredulous.
"No one," he answered. "They've all forgotten you, Barin," he adde_aliciously, knowing that that would hurt me.
It was strange how deeply I cared. Here was I who, only a short while before,
had declared myself done with the world for ever, and now I was almost cryin_ecause no one had been to see me! Indeed, I believe in my weakness an_istress I actually did cry. No one at all? Not Vera nor Nina nor Jeremy no_ohun? Not young Bohun even…? And then slowly my brain realised that there wa_ow a new world. None of the old conditions held any longer.
We had been the victims of an earthquake. Now it was—every man for himself!
Quickly then there came upon me an eager desire to know what had happened i_he Markovitch family. What of Jerry and Vera? What of Nicholas? What o_emyonov…?
"Rat," I said, "this afternoon I am going out!"
"Very well, Barin," he said, "I, too, have an engagement."
In the afternoon I crept out like an old sick man. I felt strangely shy an_ervous. When I reached the corner of Ekateringofsky Canal and the Englis_rospect I decided not to go in and see the Markovitches. For one thing _hrank from the thought of their compassion. I had not shaved for many days. _as that dull sickly yellow colour that offends the taste of all health_igorous people. I did not want their pity. No…. I would wait until I wa_tronger.
My interest in life was reviving with every step that I took. I don't kno_hat I had expected the outside world to be. This was April 14. It was nearl_ month since the outburst of the Revolution, and surely there should be sign_n the streets of the results of such a cataclysm. There were, on the surface,
no signs. There was the same little cinema on the canal with its gaud_oloured posters, there was the old woman sitting at the foot of the littl_ridge with her basket of apples and bootlaces, there was the same wooden hu_ith the sweets and the fruit, the same figures of peasant women, soldiers,
boys hurrying across the bridge, the same slow, sleepy Isvostchick stumblin_long carelessly. One sign there was. Exactly opposite the little cinema, o_he other side of the canal, was a high grey block of flats. This now wa_tarred and sprayed with the white marks of bullets. It was like a man marke_or life with smallpox. That building alone was witness to me that I had no_reamt the events of that week.
The thaw made walking very difficult. The water poured down the sides of th_ouses and gurgled in floods through the pipes. The snow was slippery unde_he film of gleaming wet, and there were huge pools at every step. Across th_iddle of the English Prospect, near the Baths, there was quite a deep lake….
I wandered slowly along, enjoying the chill warmth of the soft spring sun. Th_inter was nearly over! Thank God for that! What had happened during my mont_f illness? Perhaps a great Revolutionary army had been formed, and a mighty,
free, and united Russia was going out to save the world! Oh, I did hope tha_t was so! Surely that wonderful white week was a good omen. No Revolution i_istory had started so well as this one….
I found my way at last very slowly to the end of the Quay, and the sight o_he round towers of my favourite church was like the reassuring smile of a_ld friend. The sun was dropping low over the Neva. The whole vast expanse o_he river was coloured very faintly pink. Here, too, there was the film of th_ater above the ice; the water caught the colour, but the ice below it wa_rey and still. Clouds of crimson and orange and faint gold streamed away i_reat waves of light from the sun. The long line of buildings and towers o_he farther side was jet-black; the masts of the ships clustering against th_uay were touched at their tips with bright gold. It was all utterly still,
not a sound nor a movement anywhere; only one figure, that of a woman, wa_oming slowly towards me. I felt, as one always does at the beginning of _ussian spring, a strange sense of expectation. Spring in Russia is so sudde_nd so swift that it gives an overwhelming impression of a powerful organisin_ower behind it. Suddenly the shutters are pulled back and the sun floods th_orld! Upon this afternoon one could feel the urgent business of preparatio_ushing forward, arrogantly, ruthlessly. I don't think that I had ever befor_ealised the power of the Neva at such close quarters. I was almost ashamed a_he contrast of its struggle with my own feebleness.
I saw then that the figure coming towards me was Nina.