“But I envy my friend. That was a delightful death to die.... Good-night, Ivan Andreievitch.”
He waved his hand at me and was gone. I was quite alone in the long black street, engulfed by the high, overhanging flats.
Late on the afternoon of Nina’s birthday, when I was on the point of setting out for the English Prospect, the Rat appeared. I had not seen him for several weeks; but there he was, stepping suddenly out of the shadows of my room, dirty and disreputable and cheerful. He had been, I perceived, drinking furniture polish.
“Good-evening,” I said sternly. “I told you not to come here when you were drunk.”
“I’m not drunk,” he said, offended, “only a little. It’s not much that you can get these days. I want some money, Barin.”
“I’ve none for you,” I answered.
“It’s only a little—God knows that I wouldn’t ask you for much, but I’m going to be very busy these next days, and it’s work that won’t bring pay quickly. There’ll be pay later, and then I will return it to you.”
“There’s nothing for you to-night,” I said.
He laughed. “You’re a fine man, Barin. A foreigner is fine—that’s where the poor Russian is unhappy. I love you, Barin, and I will look after you, and if, as you say, there isn’t any money here, one must pray to God and he will show one the way.”
“What’s this work you’re going to do?” I asked him.
“There’s going to be trouble the other side of the river in a day or two,” he answered, “and I’m going to help.”
“Help what?” I asked.
“Help the trouble,” he answered, smiling.
“Behave like a blackguard, in fact.”
“Ah, blackguard, Barin!” he protested, using a Russian word that is worse than blackguard. “Why these names?... I’m not a good man, God have mercy on my soul, but then I pretend nothing. I am what you see.... If there’s going to be trouble in the town I may as well be there. Why not I as well as another? And it is to your advantage, Barin, that I should be.”
“Why to my advantage?” I asked him.
“Because I am your friend, and we’ll protect you,” he answered.
“I wouldn’t trust you a yard,” I told him.
“Well, perhaps you’re right,” he said. “We are as God made us—I am no better than the rest.”
“No, indeed you’re not,” I answered him. “Why do you think there’ll be trouble?”
“I know.... Perhaps a lot of trouble, perhaps only a little. But it will be a fine time for those of us who have nothing to lose.... So you have no money for me?”
“A mere rouble or so?”
“Well, I must be off.... I am your friend. Don’t forget,” and he was gone.
It had been arranged that Nina and Vera, Lawrence and Bohun and I should meet outside the Giniselli at five minutes to eight. I left my little silver box at the flat, paid some other calls, and just as eight o’clock was striking arrived outside the Giniselli. This is Petrograd’s apology for a music-hall—in other words, it is nothing but the good old-fashioned circus.