“Yes,” I said. “And the next point?”
“The next point is that Vera loves me. No need to go into that—but she does.”
“Yes, she does,” I said.
“Third point, she’s married, and although she don’t love her man she’s sorry for him. Fourth point, he loves her. Fifth point, there’s a damned swine hangin’ round called Alexei Petrovitch Semyonov.... Well, then, there you have it.”
He considered, scratching his head. I waited. Then he went on:
“Now it would be simpler if she didn’t want to be kind to Nicholas, if Nicholas didn’t love her, if—a thousand things were different. But they must be as they are, I suppose. I’ve just been with her. She’s nearly out of her mind with worry.”
He paused, puffing furiously at his pipe. Then he went on:
“She’s worrying about me, about Nina, and about Nicholas. And especially about Nicholas. There’s something wrong with him. He knows about my kissing her in the flat. Well, that’s all right. I meant him to know. Everything’s just got to be above-board. But Semyonov knows too, and that devil’s been raggin’ him about it, and Nicholas is just like a bloomin’ kid. That’s got to stop. I’ll wring that feller’s neck. But even that wouldn’t help matters much. Vera says Nicholas is not to be hurt whatever happens. ‘Never mind us,’ she says, ’we’re strong and can stand it.’ But he can’t. He’s weak. And she says he’s just goin’ off his dot. And it’s got to be stopped—it’s just got to be stopped. There’s only one way to stop it.”
He stayed: suddenly he put his heavy hand on my knee.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I’ve got to clear out. That’s what I mean. Right away out. Back to England.”
I didn’t speak.
“That’s it,” he went on, but now as though he were talking to himself. “That’s what you’ve got to do, old son.... She says so, and she’s right. Can’t alter our love, you know. Nothing changes that. We’ve got to hold on... Ought to have cleared out before....”
Suddenly he turned. He almost flung himself upon me. He gripped my arms so that I would have cried out if the agony in his eyes hadn’t held me.
“Here,” he muttered, “let me alone for a moment. I must hold on. I’m pretty well beat. I’m just about done.”
For what seemed hours we sat there. I believe it was, in reality, only a few minutes. He sat facing me, his eyes staring at me but not seeing me, his body close against me, and I could see the sweat glistening on his chest through the open pyjamas. He was rigid as though he had been struck into stone.
He suddenly relaxed.
“That’s right,” he said; “thanks, old man. I’m better now. It’s a bit late, I expect, but stay on a while.”
He got into bed. I sat beside him, gripped his hand, and ten minutes later he was asleep.