“But why? Why?” I asked. “Give me your reasons, Nina.”
She answered proudly, “I don’t see why I should give you any reasons, Ivan Andreievitch. I am free. I can do as I wish.”
“There’s something behind this that I don’t know,” I said. “I ought to know.... It isn’t fair not to tell me. What did Alexei Petrovitch say to you?”
But she only shook her head.
“He had nothing to do with this. It is my affair, Ivan Andreievitch. I couldn’t live with Vera and Nicholas any longer.”
Grogoff then interfered.
“I think this is about enough....” he said. “I have given you your opportunity. Nina has been quite clear in what she has said. She does not wish to return. There is your answer.” He cleared his voice and went on in rather a higher tone: “I think you forget, Ivan Andreievitch, another aspect of this affair. It is not only a question of our private family disputes. Nina has come here to assist me in my national work. As a member of the Soviet I may, without exaggeration, claim to have an opportunity in my hands that has been offered in the past to few human beings. You are an Englishman, and so hidebound with prejudices and conventions. You may not be aware that there has opened this week the greatest war the world has ever seen—the war of the proletariats against the bourgeoisies and capitalists of the world.” I tried to interrupt him, but he went on, his voice ever rising and rising: “What is your wretched German war? What but a struggle between the capitalists of the different countries to secure greater robberies and extortions, to set their feet more firmly than ever on the broad necks of the wretched People! Yes, you English, with your natural hypocrisy, pretend that you are fighting for the freedom of the world. What about Ireland? What about India? What about South Africa?... No, you are all alike. Germany, England, Italy, France, and our own wretched Government that has, at last, been destroyed by the brave will of the People. We declare a People’s War!... We cry aloud to the People to throw down their arms! And the People will hear us!”
He paused for breath. His arms were raised, his eyes on fire, his cheeks crimson.
“Yes,” I said, “that is all very well. But suppose the German people are the only ones who refuse to listen to you. Suppose that all the other nations, save Germany, have thrown down their arms—a nice chance then for German militarism!”
“But the German people will listen!” he screamed, almost frothing at the mouth. “They are ready at any moment to follow our example. William and your George and the rest of them—they are doomed, I tell you!”
“Nevertheless,” I went on, “if you desert us now by making peace and Germany wins this war you will have played only a traitor’s part, and all the world will judge you.”
“Traitor! Traitor!” The word seemed to madden him. “Traitor to whom, pray? Traitor to our Czar and your English king? Yes, and thank God for it! Did the Russian people make the war? They were led like lambs to the slaughter. Like lambs, I tell you. But now they will have their revenge. On all the Bourgeoisie of the world. The Bourgeoisie of the world!...”