“I can’t believe this to be the true Russia,” I said. “Petrograd is not the true Russia. I don’t believe that there is a true Russia.”
“Well, there you are,” he continued eagerly. “No true Russia! Quite so. Very observant. But we have to pretend there is, and that’s what you foreigners are always forgetting. The Russian is an individualist—give him freedom and he’ll lose all sense of his companions. He will pursue his own idea. Myself and my party are here to prevent him from pursuing his own idea, for the good of himself and his country. He may be discontented, he may grumble, but he doesn’t realise his luck. Give him his freedom, and in six months you’ll see Russia back in the Middle Ages.”
“And another six months?” I asked.
“The Stone Age.”
“Ah,” he said, smiling, “you ask me too much, Mr. Durward. We are speaking of our own generation.”
The curtain was up again and I was back in my other world. I cannot tell you anything of the rest of the play—I remember nothing. Only I know that I was actually living over again those awful days in the forest—the heat, the flies, the smells, the glassy sheen of the trees, the perpetual rumble of the guns, the desolate whine of the shells—and then Marie’s death, Trenchard’s sorrow, Trenchard’s death, that last view of Semyonov... and I felt that I was being made to remember it all for a purpose, as though my old friend, rich now with his wiser knowledge, was whispering to me, “All life is bound up. You cannot leave anything behind you; the past, the present, the future are one. You had pushed us away from you, but we are with you always for ever. I am your friend for ever, and Marie is your friend, and now, once more, you have to take your part in a battle, and we have come to you to share it with you. Do not be confused by history or public events or class struggle or any big names; it is the individual and the soul of the individual alone that matters. I and Marie and Vera and Nina and Markovitch—our love for you, your love for us, our courage, our self-sacrifice, our weakness, our defeat, our progress—these are the things for which life exists; it exists as a training-ground for the immortal soul....”
With a sweep of colour the stage broke into a mist of movement. Masked and hooded figures in purple and gold and blue and red danced madly off into a forest of stinking, sodden leaves and trees as thin as tissue-paper burnt by the sun. “Oh—aye! oh—aye! oh—aye!” came from the wounded, and the dancers answered, “Tra-la-la-la! Tra-la-la-la,’” The golden screens were drawn forward, the lights were up again, and the whole theatre was stirring like a coloured paper ant heap.
Outside in the foyer I found Lawrence at my elbow.
“Go and see her,” he whispered to me, “as soon as possible! Tell her—tell her—no, tell her nothing. But see that she’s all right and let me know. See her to-morrow—early!”