Markovitch peered into Bohun’s face. “What did you come here for, any of you?” he asked. “What’s Russia over-run with foreigners for? We’ll clear the lot of you out, all of you....” Then he broke off, with a pathetic little gesture, his hand up to his head. “But I don’t know what I’m saying—I don’t mean it, really. Only things are so difficult, and they slip away from one so.
“I love Russia and I love my wife, Mr. Bohun—and they’ve both left me. But you aren’t interested in that. Why should you be? Only remember when you’re inclined to laugh at me that I’m like a man in a cockle-shell boat—and it isn’t my fault. I was put in it.”
“But I’m never inclined to laugh,” said Bohun eagerly. “I may be young and only an Englishman—but I shouldn’t wonder if I don’t understand better than you think. You try and see.... And I’ll tell you another thing, Nicolai Leontievitch, I loved your wife myself—loved her madly—and she was so good to me and so far above me, that I saw that it was like loving one of the angels. That’s what we all feel, Nicolai Leontievitch, so that you needn’t have any fear—she’s too far above all of us. And I only want to be your friend and hers, and to help you in any way I can.”
(I can see Bohun saying this, very sincere, his cheeks flushed, eager.)
Markovitch held out both his hands.
“You’re right,” he cried. “She’s above us all. It’s true that she’s an angel, and we are all her servants. You have helped me by saying what you have, and I won’t forget it. You are right; I am wasting my time with ridiculous suspicions when I ought to be working. Concentration, that’s what I want, and perhaps you will give it me.”
He suddenly came forward and kissed Bohun on both cheeks. He smelt, Bohun thought, of vodka. Bohun didn’t like the embrace, of course, but he accepted it gracefully.
“Now we’ll go away,” said Markovitch.
“We ought to put things straight,” said Bohun.
“No; I shall leave things as they are,” said Markovitch, “so that he shall see exactly what I’ve done. I’ll write a note.”
He scribbled a note to me in pencil. I have it still. It ran:
Dear Ivan Andreievitch—I looked for a letter from my wife to you. In doing so I was I suppose contemptible. But no matter. At least you see me as I am. I clasp your hand, N. Markovitch.
They went away together.
I was greatly surprised to receive, a few days later, an invitation from Baron Wilderling; he asked me to go with him on one of the first evenings in March to a performance of Lermontov’s “Masquerade” at the Alexandra Theatre. I say Lermontov, but heaven knows that that great Russian poet was not supposed to be going to have much to say in the affair. This performance had been in preparation for at least ten years, and when such delights as Gordon Craig’s setting of “Hamlet,” or Benois’ dresses for “La Locandiera” were discussed, the Wise Ones said: