“Oh, is he?” snarled Markovitch. “Well, he’d better look out.” Then his voice, his face, even the shape of his body, changed once again. “I’m not a bad man, Ivan Andreievitch. No, I’m not.... You think so of course, and I don’t mind if you do. But I love Vera, and if she loved me I could do great things. I could astonish them all. I hear them say, ’Ah, that Nicholas Markovitch, he’s no good... with his inventions. What did a fine woman like that marry such a man for?’ I know what they say. But I’m strong if I like. I gave up drink when I wished. I can give up anything. And when I succeed they’ll see—and then we’ll have enough money not to need these people staying with us and despising us....”
“No one despises you, Nicolai Leontievitch,” I interrupted.
“And what does it matter if they do?” he fiercely retorted. “I despise them—all of them. It’s easy for them when everything goes well with them, but with me everything goes wrong. Everything!... But I’m strong enough to make everything go right—and I will.”
This was, for the time, the end of his confidences. He had, I was sure, something further to tell me, some plan, some purpose, but he decided suddenly that he would keep it to himself, although I am convinced that he had only told me his earlier story in order that I might understand this new idea of his. But I did not urge him to tell me. My interest in life had not yet sufficiently revived; it was, after all, none of my business.
For the rest, it seemed that he had been wildly enthusiastic about the war at its commencement. He had had great ideas about Russia, but now he had given up all hope. Russia was doomed; and Germany, whom he hated and admired, would eat her up. And what did it matter? Perhaps Germany would “run Russia,” and then there would be order and less thieving, and this horrible war would stop. How foolish it had been to suppose that any one in Russia would ever do anything. They were all fools and knaves and idle in Russia—like himself.
And so he left me.
On Christmas Eve, late in the evening, I went into a church. It was my favourite church in Petrograd, rising at the English Prospect end of the Quay, with its white rounded towers pure and quiet and modest.
I had been depressed all day. I had not been well, and the weather was harsh, a bitterly cold driving wind beating down the streets and stroking the ice of the canal into a dull grey colour. Christmas seemed to lift into sharper, bitterer irony the ghastly horrors of this end endless war. Last Christmas I had been too ill to care, and the Christmas before I had been at the Front when the war had been young and full of hope, and I had seen enough nobility and self-sacrifice to be reassured about the true stuff of the human soul. Now all that seemed to be utterly gone. On the one side my mind was filled