I was lost in my dream and I did not know of what I was dreaming. The priest’s voice went on, and the lights flickered, and it was as though some one, a long way off, were trying to give me a message that it was important that I should hear, important for myself and for others. There came over me, whence I know not, a sudden conviction of the fearful power of Evil, a sudden realisation, as though I had been shown something, a scene or a picture or writing which had brought this home to me.... The lights seemed to darken, the priest’s figure faded, and I felt as though the message that some one had been trying to deliver to me had been withdrawn. I waited a moment, looking about me in a bewildered fashion, as though I had in reality just woken from sleep. Then I left the church.
Outside the cold air was intense. I walked to the end of the Quay and leaned on the stone parapet. The Neva seemed vast like a huge, white, impending shadow; it swept in a colossal wave of frozen ice out to the far horizon, where tiny, twinkling lights met it and closed it in. The bridges that crossed it held forth their lights, and there were the gleams, like travelling stars, of the passing trams, but all these were utterly insignificant against the vast body of the contemptuous ice. On the farther shore the buildings rose in a thin, tapering line, looking as though they had been made of black tissue paper, against the solid weight of the cold, stony sky. The Peter and Paul Fortress, the towers of the Mohammedan Mosque were thin, immaterial, ghostly, and the whole line of the town was simply a black pencilled shadow against the ice, smoke that might be scattered with one heave of the force of the river. The Neva was silent, but beneath that silence beat what force and power, what contempt and scorn, what silent purposes?
I saw then, near me, and gazing, like myself, on to the river the tall, broad figure of a peasant, standing, without movement, black against the sky.
He seemed to dominate the scene, to be stronger and more contemptuous than the ice itself, but also to be in sympathy with it.
I made some movement, and he turned and looked at me. He was a fine man, with a black beard and noble carriage. He passed down the Quay and I turned towards home.
About four o’clock on Christmas afternoon I took some flowers to Vera Michailovna. I found that the long sitting-room had been cleared of all furniture save the big table and the chairs round it. About a dozen middle-aged ladies were sitting about the table and solemnly playing “Lotto.” So serious were they that they scarcely looked up when I came in. Vera Michailovna said my name and they smiled and some of them bowed, but their eyes never left the numbered cards. “Dvar... Peedecat... Cheteeriy... Zurock Tree... Semdecet Voisim"... came from a stout and good-natured lady reading the numbers as she took them from the box. Most of the ladies were healthy, perspiring, and of a most amiable appearance. They might, many of them, have been the wives of English country clergymen, so domestic and unalarmed were they. I recognised two Markovitch aunts and a Semyonov cousin.