“So it was with Semyonov. This girl might have proved the one real exception; she might have lasted, she might have grown even more beautiful and more wonderful, and so proved his idealism true after all. He doesn’t know, and I don’t know. But there it is. He’s haunted by the possibility of it all his days. He’s a man now ruled by an obsession. He thinks of one thing and one thing only, day and night. His sensuality has fallen away from him because women are dull—sterile to him beside that perfect picture of the woman lost. Lost! he may recover her! He doesn’t know. The thought of death obsesses him. What is there in it? Is she behind there or no? Is she behind there, maddening thought, with her Englishman?
“He must know. He must know. He calls to her—she won’t come to him. What is he to do? Suicide? No, to a proud man like Semyonov that’s a miserable confession of weakness. How they’d laugh at him, these other despicable human beings, if he did that! He’d prove himself as weak as they. No, that’s not for him. What then?
“This is a fantastic world, Bohun, and nothing is impossible for it. Suppose he were to select some one, some weak and irritable and sentimental and disappointed man, some one whose every foible and weakness he knew, suppose he were to place himself near him and so irritate and confuse and madden him that at last one day, in a fury of rage and despair, that man were to do for him what he is too proud to do for himself! Think of the excitement, the interest, the food for his cynicism, the food for his conceit such a game would be to Semyonov. Is this going to do it? Or this? Or this? Now I’ve got him far enough? Another five minutes!... Think of the hairbreadth escapes, the check and counter check, the sense, above all, that to a man like Semyonov is almost everything, that he is master of human emotions, that he can direct wretched, weak human beings whither he will.
“And the other—the weak, disappointed, excitable man—can’t you see that Semyonov has him close to his hand, that he has only to stretch a finger—”
“Markovitch!” cried Bohun.
“Now you know,” I said, “why you’ve got to stay on in that flat.”