Here the letter ended; only scrawled very roughly across the paper the letters N.M....
As soon as I had finished reading the letter I went to the telephone and rang up the Markovitches’ flat. Bohun spoke to me. I asked him whether Nicholas was there, he said, “Yes, fast asleep in the arm-chair,” Was Semyonov there? “No, he was dining out that night.” I asked him to remind Vera that I was expecting to take her to the meeting next day, and rang off. There was nothing more to be done just then. Two minutes later there was a knock on my door and Vera came in.
“Why!” I cried. “I’ve just been ringing up to tell you that, of course, I was coming on Monday.”
“That is partly what I wanted to know,” she said, smiling. “And also I thought that you’d fancied we’d all deserted you.”
“No,” I answered. “I don’t expect you round here every time I’m ill. That would be absurd. You’ll be glad to know at any rate that I’ve decided to give up these ridiculous rooms. I deserve all the illness I get so long as I’m here.”
“Yes, that’s good,” she answered. “How you could have stayed so long—” She dropped into a chair, closed her eyes and lay back. “Oh, Ivan Andreievitch, but I’m tired!”
She looked, lying there, white-faced, her eyelids like grey shadows, utterly exhausted. I waited in silence. After a time she opened her eyes and said, suddenly:
“We all come and talk to you, don’t we? I, Nina, Nicholas, Sherry (she meant Lawrence), even Uncle Alexei. I wonder why we do, because we never take your advice, you know.... Perhaps it’s because you seem right outside everything.”
I coloured a little at that.
“Did I hurt you?... I’m sorry. No, I don’t know that I am. I don’t mind now whether I hurt any one. You know that he’s going back to England?”
I nodded my head.
“He told you himself?”
“Yes,” I said.
She lay back in her chair and was silent for a long time.
“You think I’m a noble woman, don’t you. Oh yes, you do! I can see you just thirsting for my nobility. It’s what Uncle Alexei always says about you, that you’ve learnt from Dostoieffsky how to be noble, and it’s become a habit with you.”
“If you’re going to believe—” I began angrily.
“Oh, I hate him! I listen to nothing that he says. All the same, Durdles, this passion for nobility on your part is very irritating. I can see you now making up the most magnificent picture of my nobility. I’m sure if you were ever to write a book about us all, you’d write of me something like this: ’Vera Michailovna had won her victory. She had achieved her destiny.... Having surrendered her lover she was as fine as a Greek statue!’ Something like that.... Oh, I can see you at it!”
“You don’t understand—” I began.
“Oh, but I do!” she answered. “I’ve watched your attitude to me from the first. You wanted to make poor Nina noble, and then Nicholas, and then, because they wouldn’t either of them do, you had to fall back upon me: memories of that marvellous woman at the Front, Marie some one or other, have stirred up your romantic soul until it’s all whipped cream and jam—mulberry jam, you know, so as to have the proper dark colour.”