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The Secret City eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 371 pages of information about The Secret City.

He must of course finish with his romantic notion.  People pushed around him, struggling to get out.  He turned to go and was faced, he told me, with a remarkable figure.  His description, romantic and sentimental though he tried to make it, resolved itself into nothing more than the sketch of an ordinary peasant, tall, broad, black-bearded, neatly clad in blue shirt, black trousers, and high boots.  This fellow stood apparently away from the crowd, apart, and watched it all, as you so often may see the Russian peasant doing, with indifferent gaze.  In his mild blue eyes Bohun fancied that he saw all kinds of things—­power, wisdom, prophecy—­a figure apart and symbolic.  But how easy in Russia it is to see symbols and how often those symbols fail to justify themselves!  Well, I let Bohun have his fancies.  “I should know that man anywhere again,” he declared.  “It was as though he knew what was going to happen and was ready for it.”  Then I suppose he saw my smile, for he broke off and said no more.

And here for a moment I leave him and his adventures.

VI

I must speak, for a moment, of myself.  Throughout the autumn and winter of 1914 and the spring and summer of 1915 I was with the Russian Red Cross on the Polish and Galician fronts.  During the summer and early autumn of 1915 I shared with the Ninth Army the retreat through Galicia.  Never very strong physically, owing to a lameness of the left hip from which I have suffered from birth, the difficulties of the retreat and the loss of my two greatest friends gave opportunities to my arch-enemy Sciatica to do what he wished with me, and in October 1915 I was forced to leave the Front and return to Petrograd.  I was an invalid throughout the whole of that winter, and only gradually during the spring of 1916 was able to pull myself back to an old shadow of my former vigour and energy.  I saw that I would never be good for the Front again, but I minded that the less now in that the events of the summer of 1915 had left me without heart or desire, the merest spectator of life, passive and, I cynically believed, indifferent.  I was nothing to any one, nor was any one anything to me.  The desire of my heart had slipped like a laughing ghost away from my ken—­men of my slow warmth and cautious suspicion do not easily admit a new guest....

Moreover during this spring of 1916 Petrograd, against my knowledge, wove webs about my feet.  I had never shared the common belief that Moscow was the only town in Russia.  I had always known that Petrograd had its own grace and beauty, but it was not until, sore and sick at heart, lonely and bitter against fate, haunted always by the face and laughter of one whom I would never see again, I wandered about the canals and quays and deserted byways of the city that I began to understand its spirit.  I took, to the derision of my few friends, two tumbledown rooms on Pilot’s Island, at the far end of Ekateringofsky

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