I awoke that night with a sudden panic that I must instantly see Vera. I, eve_n the way that one does when, one is only half awake, struggled out of be_nd felt for my clothes. Then I remembered and climbed back again, but slee_ould not return to me. The self-criticism and self-distrust that were alway_ttacking me and paralysing my action sprang upon me now and gripped me. Wha_as I to do? How was I to act? I saw Vera and Nina and Lawrence and, behin_hem, smiling at me, Semyonov. They were asking for my help, but they were, i_ome strange, intangible way, most desperately remote. When I read now in ou_apers shrill criticisms on our officials, our Cabinet, our generals, ou_ropagandists, our merchants, for their failure to deal adequately wit_ussia, I say: Deal adequately? First you must catch your bird… and no Wester_nare has ever caught the Russian bird of paradise, and I dare prophesy tha_o Western snare ever will. Had I not broken my heart in the pursuit, and wa_ not as far as ever from attainment? The secret of the mystery of life is th_solation that separates every man from his fellow—the secret o_issatisfaction too; and the only purpose in life is to realise tha_solation, and to love one's fellow-man because of it, and to show one's ow_ourage, like a flag to which the other travellers may wave their answer; bu_e Westerners have at least the waiting comfort of our discipline, of ou_aterialism, of our indifference to ideas. The Russian, I believe, lives in _orld of loneliness peopled only by ideas. His impulses towards self-
confession, towards brotherhood, towards vice, towards cynicism, towards hi_elief in God and his scorn of Him, come out of this world; and beyond it h_ees his fellow-men as trees walking, and the Mountain of God as a distan_eak, placed there only to emphasise his irony.
I had wanted to be friends with Nina and Vera—I had even longed for it—and no_t the crisis when I must rise and act they were so far away from me that _ould only see them, like coloured ghosts, vanishing into mist.
I would go at once and see Vera and there do what I could. Lawrence mus_eturn to England—then all would be well. Markovitch must be persuaded…. Nin_ust be told…. I slept and tumbled into a nightmare of a pursuit, down endles_treets, of flying figures.
Next day I went to Vera. I found her, to my joy, alone. I realised at onc_hat our talk would be difficult. She was grave and severe, sitting back i_er chair, her head up, not looking at me at all, but beyond through th_indow to the tops of the trees feathery with snow against the sky of egg-
shell blue. I am always beaten by a hostile atmosphere. To-day I was at m_orst, and soon we were talking like a couple of the merest strangers.
She asked me whether I had heard that there were very serious disturbances o_he other side of the river.
"I was on the Nevski early this afternoon," I said, "and I saw about twent_ossacks go galloping down towards the Neva. I asked somebody and was tol_hat some women had broken into the bakers' shops on Vassily Ostrov…."
"It will end as they always end," said Vera. "Some arrests and a few peopl_eaten, and a policeman will get a medal."
There was a long pause. "I went to 'Masquerade' the other night," I said.
"I hear it's very good…."
"Pretentious and rather vulgar—but amusing all the same."
"Every one's talking about it and trying to get seats…."
"Yes. Meyerhold must be pleased."
"They discuss it much more than they do the war, or even politics. Every one'_ired of the war."
I said nothing. She continued:
"So I suppose we shall just go on for years and years…. And then the Empres_erself will be tired one day and it will suddenly stop." She showed a flas_f interest, turning to me and looking at me for the first time since I ha_ome in.
"Ivan Andreievitch, what do you stay in Russia for? Why don't you go back t_ngland?"
I was taken by surprise. I stammered, "Why do I stay? Why, because—because _ike it."
"You can't like it. There's _nothing_ to like in Russia."
"There's _everything_!" I answered. "And I have friends here," I added. Bu_he didn't answer that, and continued to sit staring out at the trees. W_alked a little more about nothing at all, and then there was another lon_ause. At last I could endure it no longer, I jumped to my feet.
"Vera Michailovna," I cried, "what have I done?"
"Done?" she asked me with a look of self-conscious surprise. "What do yo_ean?"
"You know what I mean well enough," I answered. I tried to speak firmly, bu_y voice trembled a little. "You told me I was your friend. When I was ill th_ther day you came to me and said that you needed help and that you wanted m_o help you. I said that I would—"
"Well?" she said, in a hard, unrelenting voice.
"Well—" I hesitated and stammered, cursing myself for my miserable cowardice.
"You are in trouble now, Vera—great trouble—I came here because I am ready t_o anything for you—anything—and you treat me like a stranger, almost like a_nemy."
I saw her lip tremble—only for an instant. She said nothing.
"If you've got anything against me since you saw me last," I went on, "tell m_nd I'll go away. But I had to see you and also Lawrence—"
At the mention of his name her whole body quivered, but again only for a_nstant.
"Lawrence asked me to come and see you."
She looked up at me then gravely and coldly, and without the sign of an_motion either in her face or voice.
"Thank you, Ivan Andreievitch, but I want no help—I am in no trouble.
It was very kind of Mr. Lawrence, but really—"
Then I could endure it no longer. I broke out:
"Vera, what's the matter. You know all this isn't true…. I don't know wha_dea you have now in your head, but you must let me speak to you. I've got t_ell you this—that Lawrence must go back to England, and as soon a_ossible—and I will see that he does—"
That did its work. In an instant she was upon me like a wild beast, springin_rom her chair, standing close to me, her head flung back, her eyes furious.
"You wouldn't dare!" she cried. "It's none of your business, Iva_ndreievitch. You say you're my friend. You're not. You're my enemy—my enemy.
I don't care for him, not in the very least—he is nothing to me—nothing to m_t all. But he mustn't go back to England. It will ruin his career. You wil_uin him for life, Ivan Andreievitch. What business is it of yours? Yo_magine—because of what you fancied you saw at Nina's party. There was nothin_t Nina's party—nothing. I love my husband, Ivan Andreievitch, and you are m_nemy if you say anything else. And you pretend to be his friend, but you ar_is enemy if you try to have him sent back to England…. He must not go. Fo_he matter of that, I will never see him again—never—if that is what you want.
See, I promise you never—never—" She suddenly broke down—she, Ver_ichailovna, the proudest woman I had ever known, turning from me, her head i_er hands, sobbing, her shoulders bent.
I was most deeply moved. I could say nothing at first, then, when the sound o_er sobbing became unbearable to me, I murmured,
"Vera, please. I have no power. I can't make him go. I will only do what yo_ish. Vera, please, please—"
Then, with her back still turned to me, I heard her say,
"Please, go. I didn't mean—I didn't… but go now… and come back—later."
I waited a minute, and then, miserable, terrified of the future, I went.