The Secret City eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 371 pages of information about The Secret City.

He sat down in the faded arm-chair and instantly fell asleep.  Was the room hypnotic?  Why not?  There are stranger things than that in Petrograd....  I myself am aware of what walls and streets and rivers, engaged on their own secret life in that most secret of towns, can do to the mere mortals who interfere with their stealthy concerns.  Henry dreamt; he was never afterwards able to tell me of what he had dreamt, but it had been a long heavy cobwebby affair, in which the walls of the hotel seemed to open and to close, black little figures moving like ants up and down across the winding ways.  He saw innumerable carafes and basins and beds, the wall-paper whistling, the rats scuttling, and lines of cigarette-ends, black and yellow, moving in trails like worms across the boards.  All men like worms, like ants, like rats and the gleaming water trickling interminably down the high black wall.  Of course he was tired after his long journey, hungry too, and depressed....  He awoke to find the Ancient Mariner watching him.  He screamed.  The Mariner reassured him with a toothless smile, gripped him by the arm and showed him the bathroom.

Pajaluista!” said the Mariner.

Although Henry had learnt Russian, so unexpected was the pronunciation of this familiar word that it was as though the old man had said “Open Sesame!"....

V

He felt happy and consoled after a bath, a shave, and breakfast.  Always I should think he reacted very quickly to his own physical sensations, and he was, as yet, too young to know that you cannot lay ghosts by the simple brushing of your hair and sponging your face.  After his breakfast he lay down on the bed and again fell asleep, but this time not to dream; he slept like a Briton, dreamless, healthy and clean.  He awoke as sure of himself as ever....  The first incantation had not, you see, been enough....

He plunged into the city.  It was raining with that thick dark rain that seems to have mud in it before it has fallen.  The town was veiled in thin mist, figures appearing and disappearing, tram-bells ringing, and those strange wild cries in the Russian tongue that seem at one’s first hearing so romantic and startling, rising sharply and yet lazily into the air.  He plunged along and found himself in the Nevski Prospect—­he could not mistake its breadth and assurance, dull though it seemed in the mud and rain.

But he was above all things a romantic and sentimental youth, and he was determined to see this country as he had expected to see it; so he plodded on, his coat-collar up, British obstinacy in his eyes and a little excited flutter in his heart whenever a bright colour, an Eastern face, a street pedlar, a bunched-up, high-backed coachman, anything or any one unusual presented itself.

He saw on his right a great church; it stood back from the street, having in front of it a desolate little arrangement of bushes and public seats and winding paths.  The church itself was approached by flights of steps that disappeared under the shadow of a high dome supported by vast stone pillars.  Letters in gold flamed across the building above the pillars.

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The Secret City from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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