A further discussion upon general affairs, especially the policy of the French command in Siberia, took us through tea. I have absolute confidence in the character of the admiral, but the pigmies by whom he is surrounded are so many drags on the wheels of State. There is not one that I would trust to manage a whelk-stall. They have no idea of the duty of a statesman. Little pettifogging personal equations and jobs occupy the whole of their time, except when they are engaged upon the congenial task of trying to thwart the Supreme Governor. The patriotism of the front officers and soldiers, and the medieval chivalry of the Cossack are the only things left upon which to rebuild Russia. This naturally limits the architectural features of the new edifice, but the pioneer is always limited to the material at hand.
It is quite interesting to watch the oscillation of the Omsk mind from one orientation to another. At the time I left for the East the stream of favour flowed strongly in the English direction. General Knox started on a tour of Siberia in connection with the formation of the new Koltchak army; Sir Charles Eliot went to Hong-Kong; General Bowes was left to deputise for General Knox, and Colonel Robertson for Sir Charles Eliot. In three short weeks every sign of British influence had disappeared. The English were nowhere; the favour was shared equally by France and Japan.
The Japanese had either learned how to behave themselves towards the Russians or they had received instructions from home. During the first three months I was in Siberia their arrogance was simply sublime, but after the armistice with Germany—upon whose power to defeat the Allies they banked their all—they were a changed people, so far as outward appearance and conduct were concerned. They talked about their alliance with England, their friendship with Russia, their love of France. When the Japanese try, they can make themselves very agreeable; indeed, so charming that it is impossible to resist their advances. That was their attitude then to all except the Chinese, whom they hold in the greatest contempt, and to the Americans, whom they fear. With a clear field their new policy made great headway.
The French methods are quite different. Theirs is a drawing-room attack, and at this sort of thing the ordinary Britisher cuts but a sorry figure. Hence the field was also pretty clear for them, and they made full use of their opportunities. With a judicious word over a cup of tea an editor who refuses a bribe finds his or her talents a glut on the market. A joke around a samovar reduces the rank of a particularly Russophile general. The glorious time they are having reaches its climax when you hear the polite condolences to the victims uttered in exquisite French.