I turned towards home.
I arrived at the Baron’s punctually at eight o’clock. His flat was in a small side street off the English Quay. I paused for a moment, before turning into its dark recesses, to gather in the vast expanse of the frozen river and the long white quay. It was as though I had found my way behind a towering wall that now closed me in with a smile of contemptuous derision. There was no sound in the shining air and the only figure was a guard who moved monotonously up and down outside the Winter Palace.
I rang the bell and the “Schwitzer,” bowing very ceremoniously, told me the flat was on the second floor. I went up a broad stone staircase and found a heavy oak door with brass nails confronting me. When this slowly swung open I discovered a very old man with white hair bowing before me. He was a splendid figure in a uniform of dark blue, his tall thin figure straight and slim, his white moustaches so neat and fierce that they seemed to keep guard over the rest of his face as though they warned him that they would stand no nonsense. There was an air of hushed splendour behind him, and I could hear the heavy, solemn ticking of a clock keeping guard over all the austere sanctities of the place. When I had taken off my Shuba and goloshes I was ushered into a magnificent room with a high gold clock on the mantlepiece, gilt chairs, heavy dark carpets and large portraits frowning from the grey walls. The whole room was bitterly silent, save for the tick of the clock. There was no fire in the fireplace, but a large gleaming white stove flung out a close scented heat from the further corner of the room. There were two long glass bookcases, some little tables with gilt legs, and a fine Japanese screen of dull gold. The only other piece of furniture was a huge grand piano near the window.
I sat down and was instantly caught into the solemn silence. There was something threatening in the hush of it all. “We do what we’re told,” the clock seemed to say, “and so must you.” I thought of the ice and snow beyond the windows, and, in spite of myself, shivered.
Then the door opened and the Baron came in. He stood for a moment by the door, staring in front of him as though he could not penetrate the heavy and dusky air, and seen thus, under the height and space of the room, he seemed so small as to be almost ridiculous. But he was not ridiculous for long. As he approached one was struck at once by the immaculate efficiency that followed him like a protecting shadow. In himself he was a scrupulously neat old man with weary and dissipated eyes, but behind the weariness, the neatness, and dissipation was a spirit of indomitable determination and resolution. He wore a little white Imperial and a long white moustache. His hair was brushed back and his forehead shone like marble. He wore a black suit, white spats, and long, pointed, black patent-leather shoes. He had the smallest feet I have ever seen on any man.