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Chapter 2

  • 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.