He drew very close to me, his fingers gripping my sleeve—“I’ll tell you, Ivan Andreievitch—but you mustn’t tell anybody else. I’m afraid. Yes, I am. Afraid of myself, afraid of this town, afraid of Alexei, although that must seem strange to you. Things are very bad with me, Ivan Andreievitch. Very bad, indeed. Oh! I have been disappointed! yes, I have. Not that I expected anything else. But now it has come at last, the blow that I have always feared has fallen—a very heavy blow. My own fault, perhaps, I don’t know. But I’m afraid of myself. I don’t know what I may do. I have such strange dreams—Why has Alexei come to stay with us?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
Then, thank God, we reached the church. It was only as we went up the steps that I realised that he had never once mentioned Vera.
And yet with all our worries thick upon us it was quite impossible to resist the sweetness and charm and mystery of that service.
I think that perhaps it is true, as many have said, that people did not crowd to the churches on that Easter as they had earlier ones, but our church was a small one, and it seemed to us to be crammed. We stumbled up the dark steps, and found ourselves at the far end of the very narrow nave. At the other end there was a pool of soft golden light in which dark figures were bathed mysteriously. At the very moment of our entering, the procession was passing down the nave on its way round the outside of the church to look for the Body of Our Lord. Down the nave they came, the people standing on either side to let them pass, and then, many of them, falling in behind. Every one carried a lighted candle. First there were the singers, then men carrying the coloured banners, then the priest in stiff gorgeous raiment, then officials and dignitaries, finally the crowd. The singing, the forest of lighted candles, the sudden opening of the black door and the blowing in of the cold night wind, the passing of the voices out into the air, the soft, dying away of the singing and then the hushed expectation of the waiting for the return—all this had in it something so elemental, so simple, and so true to the very heart of the mystery of life that all trouble and sorrow fell away and one was at peace.
How strange was that expectation! We knew so well what the word must be; we could tell exactly the moment of the knock of the door, the deep sound of the priest’s voice, the embracings and dropping of wax over every one’s clothes that would follow it—and yet every year it was the same! There was truth in it, there was some deep response to the human dependence, some whispered promise of a future good. We waited there, our hearts beating, crowded against the dark walls. It was a very democratic assembly, bourgeoisie, workmen, soldiers, officers, women in evening dress and peasant women with shawls over their heads. No one spoke or whispered.