I could say nothing to him, for the Baron had joined us.
“Good-night! Good-night! A most delightful evening!... Most amusing!... No, thank you, I shall walk!”
“Come and see us,” said the Baroness, smiling.
“Very soon,” I answered. I little knew that I should never see either of them again.
I awoke that night with a sudden panic that I must instantly see Vera. I, even in the way that one does when, one is only half awake, struggled out of bed and felt for my clothes. Then I remembered and climbed back again, but sleep would not return to me. The self-criticism and self-distrust that were always attacking me and paralysing my action sprang upon me now and gripped me. What was I to do? How was I to act? I saw Vera and Nina and Lawrence and, behind them, smiling at me, Semyonov. They were asking for my help, but they were, in some strange, intangible way, most desperately remote. When I read now in our papers shrill criticisms on our officials, our Cabinet, our generals, our propagandists, our merchants, for their failure to deal adequately with Russia, I say: Deal adequately? First you must catch your bird... and no Western snare has ever caught the Russian bird of paradise, and I dare prophesy that no Western snare ever will. Had I not broken my heart in the pursuit, and was I not as far as ever from attainment? The secret of the mystery of life is the isolation that separates every man from his fellow—the secret of dissatisfaction too; and the only purpose in life is to realise that isolation, and to love one’s fellow-man because of it, and to show one’s own courage, like a flag to which the other travellers may wave their answer; but we Westerners have at least the waiting comfort of our discipline, of our materialism, of our indifference to ideas. The Russian, I believe, lives in a world of loneliness peopled only by ideas. His impulses towards self-confession, towards brotherhood, towards vice, towards cynicism, towards his belief in God and his scorn of Him, come out of this world; and beyond it he sees his fellow-men as trees walking, and the Mountain of God as a distant peak, placed there only to emphasise his irony.
I had wanted to be friends with Nina and Vera—I had even longed for it—and now at the crisis when I must rise and act they were so far away from me that I could only see them, like coloured ghosts, vanishing into mist.
I would go at once and see Vera and there do what I could. Lawrence must return to England—then all would be well. Markovitch must be persuaded.... Nina must be told.... I slept and tumbled into a nightmare of a pursuit, down endless streets, of flying figures.
Next day I went to Vera. I found her, to my joy, alone. I realised at once that our talk would be difficult. She was grave and severe, sitting back in her chair, her head up, not looking at me at all, but beyond through the window to the tops of the trees feathery with snow against the sky of egg-shell blue. I am always beaten by a hostile atmosphere. To-day I was at my worst, and soon we were talking like a couple of the merest strangers.