She asked me whether I had heard that there were very serious disturbances on the other side of the river.
“I was on the Nevski early this afternoon,” I said, “and I saw about twenty Cossacks go galloping down towards the Neva. I asked somebody and was told that some women had broken into the bakers’ shops on Vassily Ostrov....”
“It will end as they always end,” said Vera. “Some arrests and a few people beaten, and a policeman will get a medal.”
There was a long pause. “I went to ‘Masquerade’ the other night,” I said.
“I hear it’s very good....”
“Pretentious and rather vulgar—but amusing all the same.”
“Every one’s talking about it and trying to get seats....”
“Yes. Meyerhold must be pleased.”
“They discuss it much more than they do the war, or even politics. Every one’s tired of the war.”
I said nothing. She continued:
“So I suppose we shall just go on for years and years.... And then the Empress herself will be tired one day and it will suddenly stop.” She showed a flash of interest, turning to me and looking at me for the first time since I had come in.
“Ivan Andreievitch, what do you stay in Russia for? Why don’t you go back to England?”
I was taken by surprise. I stammered, “Why do I stay? Why, because—because I like it.”
“You can’t like it. There’s nothing to like in Russia.”
“There’s everything!” I answered. “And I have friends here,” I added. But she didn’t answer that, and continued to sit staring out at the trees. We talked a little more about nothing at all, and then there was another long pause. At last I could endure it no longer, I jumped to my feet.
“Vera Michailovna,” I cried, “what have I done?”
“Done?” she asked me with a look of self-conscious surprise. “What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean well enough,” I answered. I tried to speak firmly, but my voice trembled a little. “You told me I was your friend. When I was ill the other day you came to me and said that you needed help and that you wanted me to help you. I said that I would—”
“Well?” she said, in a hard, unrelenting voice.
“Well—” I hesitated and stammered, cursing myself for my miserable cowardice. “You are in trouble now, Vera—great trouble—I came here because I am ready to do anything for you—anything—and you treat me like a stranger, almost like an enemy.”
I saw her lip tremble—only for an instant. She said nothing.
“If you’ve got anything against me since you saw me last,” I went on, “tell me and I’ll go away. But I had to see you and also Lawrence—”
At the mention of his name her whole body quivered, but again only for an instant.
“Lawrence asked me to come and see you.”
She looked up at me then gravely and coldly, and without the sign of any emotion either in her face or voice.