"Perhaps life is just that," reflected Razumov, pacing to and fro under
the trees of the little island, all alone with the bronze statue of
Rousseau. "A dream and a fear." The dusk deepened. The pages written
over and torn out of his notebook were the first-fruit of his "mission."
No dream that. They contained the assurance that he was on the eve of
real discoveries. "I think there is no longer anything in the way of my
being completely accepted."
He had resumed his impressions in those pages, some of the
conversations. He even went so far as to write: "By the by, I have
discovered the personality of that terrible N.N. A horrible, paunchy
brute. If I hear anything of his future movements I shall send a
The futility of all this overcame him like a curse. Even then he could
not believe in the reality of his mission. He looked round despairingly,
as if for some way to redeem his existence from that unconquerable
feeling. He crushed angrily in his hand the pages of the notebook. "This
must be posted," he thought.
He gained the bridge and returned to the north shore, where he
remembered having seen in one of the narrower streets a little obscure
shop stocked with cheap wood carvings, its walls lined with extremely
dirty cardboard-bound volumes of a small circulating library. They
sold stationery there, too. A morose, shabby old man dozed behind
the counter. A thin woman in black, with a sickly face, produced the
envelope he had asked for without even looking at him. Razumov thought
that these people were safe to deal with because they no longer cared
for anything in the world. He addressed the envelope on the counter with
the German name of a certain person living in Vienna. But Razumov knew
that this, his first communication for Councillor Mikulin, would
find its way to the Embassy there, be copied in cypher by somebody
trustworthy, and sent on to its destination, all safe, along with the
diplomatic correspondence. That was the arrangement contrived to cover
up the track of the information from all unfaithful eyes, from all
indiscretions, from all mishaps and treacheries. It was to make him
He wandered out of the wretched shop and made for the post office. It
was then that I saw him for the second time that day. He was crossing
the Rue Mont Blanc with every appearance of an aimless stroller. He
did not recognize me, but I made him out at some distance. He was
very good-looking, I thought, this remarkable friend of Miss Haldin's
brother. I watched him go up to the letter-box and then retrace his
steps. Again he passed me very close, but I am certain he did not see
me that time, either. He carried his head well up, but he had the
expression of a somnambulist struggling with the very dream which drives
him forth to wander in dangerous places. My thoughts reverted to Natalia
Haldin, to her mother. He was all that was left to them of their son and
The westerner in me was discomposed. There was something shocking in
the expression of that face. Had I been myself a conspirator, a Russian
political refugee, I could have perhaps been able to draw some practical
conclusion from this chance glimpse. As it was, it only discomposed me
strongly, even to the extent of awakening an indefinite apprehension in
regard to Natalia Haldin. All this is rather inexplicable, but such
was the origin of the purpose I formed there and then to call on these
ladies in the evening, after my solitary dinner. It was true that I had
met Miss Haldin only a few hours before, but Mrs. Haldin herself I had
not seen for some considerable time. The truth is, I had shirked calling
Poor Mrs. Haldin! I confess she frightened me a little. She was one
of those natures, rare enough, luckily, in which one cannot help being
interested, because they provoke both terror and pity. One dreads their
contact for oneself, and still more for those one cares for, so clear
it is that they are born to suffer and to make others suffer, too. It is
strange to think that, I won't say liberty, but the mere liberalism of
outlook which for us is a matter of words, of ambitions, of votes (and
if of feeling at all, then of the sort of feeling which leaves our
deepest affections untouched), may be for other beings very much like
ourselves and living under the same sky, a heavy trial of fortitude, a
matter of tears and anguish and blood. Mrs. Haldin had felt the pangs
of her own generation. There was that enthusiast brother of hers--the
officer they shot under Nicholas. A faintly ironic resignation is
no armour for a vulnerable heart. Mrs. Haldin, struck at through her
children, was bound to suffer afresh from the past, and to feel the
anguish of the future. She was of those who do not know how to heal
themselves, of those who are too much aware of their heart, who, neither
cowardly nor selfish, look passionately at its wounds--and count the
Such thoughts as these seasoned my modest, lonely bachelor's meal. If
anybody wishes to remark that this was a roundabout way of thinking of
Natalia Haldin, I can only retort that she was well worth some concern.
She had all her life before her. Let it be admitted, then, that I was
thinking of Natalia Haldin's life in terms of her mother's character, a
manner of thinking about a girl permissible for an old man, not too old
yet to have become a stranger to pity. There was almost all her youth
before her; a youth robbed arbitrarily of its natural lightness and joy,
overshadowed by an un-European despotism; a terribly sombre youth
given over to the hazards of a furious strife between equally ferocious
I lingered over my thoughts more than I should have done. One felt so
helpless, and even worse--so unrelated, in a way. At the last moment I
hesitated as to going there at all. What was the good?
The evening was already advanced when, turning into the Boulevard des
Philosophes, I saw the light in the window at the corner. The blind was
down, but I could imagine behind it Mrs. Haldin seated in the chair, in
her usual attitude, looking out for some one, which had lately acquired
the poignant quality of mad expectation.
I thought that I was sufficiently authorized by the light to knock at
the door. The ladies had not retired as yet. I only hoped they would
not have any visitors of their own nationality. A broken-down, retired
Russian official was to be found there sometimes in the evening. He was
infinitely forlorn and wearisome by his mere dismal presence. I think
these ladies tolerated his frequent visits because of an ancient
friendship with Mr. Haldin, the father, or something of that sort. I
made up my mind that if I found him prosing away there in his feeble
voice I should remain but a very few minutes.
The door surprised me by swinging open before I could ring the bell. I
was confronted by Miss Haldin, in hat and jacket, obviously on the point
of going out. At that hour! For the doctor, perhaps?
Her exclamation of welcome reassured me. It sounded as if I had been the
very man she wanted to see. My curiosity was awakened. She drew me in,
and the faithful Anna, the elderly German maid, closed the door, but did
not go away afterwards. She remained near it as if in readiness to let
me out presently. It appeared that Miss Haldin had been on the point of
going out to find me.
She spoke in a hurried manner very unusual with her. She would have
gone straight and rung at Mrs. Ziegler's door, late as it was, for Mrs.
Mrs. Ziegler, the widow of a distinguished professor who was an intimate
friend of mine, lets me have three rooms out of her very large and fine
apartment, which she didn't give up after her husband's death; but I
have my own entrance opening on the same landing. It was an arrangement
of at least ten years' standing. I said that I was very glad that I had
the idea to....
Miss Haldin made no motion to take off her outdoor things. I observed
her heightened colour, something pronouncedly resolute in her tone. Did
I know where Mr. Razumov lived?
Where Mr. Razumov lived? Mr. Razumov? At this hour--so urgently? I threw
my arms up in sign of utter ignorance. I had not the slightest idea
where he lived. If I could have foreseen her question only three hours
ago, I might have ventured to ask him on the pavement before the new
post office building, and possibly he would have told me, but very
possibly, too, he would have dismissed me rudely to mind my own
business. And possibly, I thought, remembering that extraordinary
hallucined, anguished, and absent expression, he might have fallen down
in a fit from the shock of being spoken to. I said nothing of all this
to Miss Haldin, not even mentioning that I had a glimpse of the young
man so recently. The impression had been so extremely unpleasant that I
would have been glad to forget it myself.
"I don't see where I could make inquiries," I murmured helplessly. I
would have been glad to be of use in any way, and would have set off to
fetch any man, young or old, for I had the greatest confidence in
her common sense. "What made you think of coming to me for that
information?" I asked.
"It wasn't exactly for that," she said, in a low voice. She had the air
of some one confronted by an unpleasant task.
"Am I to understand that you must communicate with Mr. Razumov this
Natalia Haldin moved her head affirmatively; then, after a glance at the
door of the drawing-room, said in French--
"_C'est maman_," and remained perplexed for a moment. Always serious,
not a girl to be put out by any imaginary difficulties, my curiosity was
suspended on her lips, which remained closed for a moment. What was Mr.
Razumov's connexion with this mention of her mother? Mrs. Haldin had not
been informed of her son's friend's arrival in Geneva.
"May I hope to see your mother this evening?" I inquired.
Miss Haldin extended her hand as if to bar the way.
"She is in a terrible state of agitation. Oh, you would not he able
to detect.... It's inward, but I who know mother, I am appalled. I
haven't the courage to face it any longer. It's all my fault; I suppose
I cannot play a part; I've never before hidden anything from mother.
There has never been an occasion for anything of that sort between us.
But you know yourself the reason why I refrained from telling her at
once of Mr. Razumov's arrival here. You understand, don't you? Owing to
her unhappy state. And--there--I am no actress. My own feelings being
strongly engaged, I somehow.... I don't know. She noticed something
in my manner. She thought I was concealing something from her. She
noticed my longer absences, and, in fact, as I have been meeting Mr.
Razumov daily, I used to stay away longer than usual when I went out.
Goodness knows what suspicions arose in her mind. You know that she has
not been herself ever since.... So this evening she--who has been so
awfully silent: for weeks-began to talk all at once. She said that she
did not want to reproach me; that I had my character as she had her own;
that she did not want to pry into my affairs or even into my thoughts;
for her part, she had never had anything to conceal from her
children...cruel things to listen to. And all this in her quiet voice,
with that poor, wasted face as calm as a stone. It was unbearable."
Miss Haldin talked in an undertone and more rapidly than I had ever
heard her speak before. That in itself was disturbing. The ante-room
being strongly lighted, I could see under the veil the heightened colour
of her face. She stood erect, her left hand was resting lightly on a
small table. The other hung by her side without stirring. Now and then
she caught her breath slightly.
"It was too startling. Just fancy! She thought that I was making
preparations to leave her without saying anything. I knelt by the side
of her chair and entreated her to think of what she was saying! She put
her hand on my head, but she persists in her delusion all the same. She
had always thought that she was worthy of her children's confidence, but
apparently it was not so. Her son could not trust her love nor yet her
understanding--and now I was planning to abandon her in the same cruel
and unjust manner, and so on, and so on. Nothing I could say.... It
is morbid obstinacy.... She said that she felt there was something,
some change in me.... If my convictions were calling me away, why
this secrecy, as though she had been a coward or a weakling not safe to
trust? 'As if my heart could play traitor to my children,' she said....
It was hardly to be borne. And she was smoothing my head all the
time.... It was perfectly useless to protest. She is ill. Her very
I did not venture to break the silence which fell between us. I looked
into her eyes, glistening through the veil.
"I! Changed!" she exclaimed in the same low tone. "My convictions
calling me away! It was cruel to hear this, because my trouble is that I
am weak and cannot see what I ought to do. You know that. And to end it
all I did a selfish thing. To remove her suspicions of myself I told her
of Mr. Razumov. It was selfish of me. You know we were completely
right in agreeing to keep the knowledge away from her. Perfectly right.
Directly I told her of our poor Victor's friend being here I saw how
right we have been. She ought to have been prepared; but in my distress
I just blurted it out. Mother got terribly excited at once. How long
has he been here? What did he know, and why did he not come to see us at
once, this friend of her Victor? What did that mean? Was she not to be
trusted even with such memories as there were left of her son?... Just
think how I felt seeing her, white like a sheet, perfectly motionless,
with her thin hands gripping the arms of the chair. I told her it was
all my fault."
I could imagine the motionless dumb figure of the mother in her chair,
there, behind the door, near which the daughter was talking to me.
The silence in there seemed to call aloud for vengeance against an
historical fact and the modern instances of its working. That view
flashed through my mind, but I could not doubt that Miss Haldin had had
an atrocious time of it. I quite understood when she said that she could
not face the night upon the impression of that scene. Mrs. Haldin
had given way to most awful imaginings, to most fantastic and cruel
suspicions. All this had to be lulled at all costs and without loss of
time. It was no shock to me to learn that Miss Haldin had said to her,
"I will go and bring him here at once." There was nothing absurd in that
cry, no exaggeration of sentiment. I was not even doubtful in my "Very
well, but how?"
It was perfectly right that she should think of me, but what could I do
in my ignorance of Mr. Razumov's quarters.
"And to think he may be living near by, within a stone's-throw,
perhaps!" she exclaimed.
I doubted it; but I would have gone off cheerfully to fetch him from the
other end of Geneva. I suppose she was certain of my readiness, since
her first thought was to come to me. But the service she meant to ask of
me really was to accompany her to the Chateau Borel.
I had an unpleasant mental vision of the dark road, of the sombre
grounds, and the desolately suspicious aspect of that home of necromancy
and intrigue and feminist adoration. I objected that Madame de S-- most
likely would know nothing of what we wanted to find out. Neither did I
think it likely that the young man would be found there. I remembered
my glimpse of his face, and somehow gained the conviction that a man who
looked worse than if he had seen the dead would want to shut himself up
somewhere where he could be alone. I felt a strange certitude that Mr.
Razumov was going home when I saw him.
"It is really of Peter Ivanovitch that I was thinking," said Miss Haldin
Ah! He, of course, would know. I looked at my watch. It was twenty
minutes past nine only.... Still.
"I would try his hotel, then," I advised. "He has rooms at the
Cosmopolitan, somewhere on the top floor."
I did not offer to go by myself, simply from mistrust of the reception I
should meet with. But I suggested the faithful Anna, with a note asking
for the information.
Anna was still waiting by the door at the other end of the room, and we
two discussed the matter in whispers. Miss Haldin thought she must go
herself. Anna was timid and slow. Time would be lost in bringing back
the answer, and from that point of view it was getting late, for it was
by no means certain that Mr. Razumov lived near by.
"If I go myself," Miss Haldin argued, "I can go straight to him from the
hotel. And in any case I should have to go out, because I must explain
to Mr. Razumov personally--prepare him in a way. You have no idea of
mother's state of mind."
Her colour came and went. She even thought that both for her mother's
sake and for her own it was better that they should not be together for
a little time. Anna, whom her mother liked, would be at hand.
"She could take her sewing into the room," Miss Haldin continued,
leading the way to the door. Then, addressing in German the maid who
opened it before us, "You may tell my mother that this gentleman called
and is gone with me to find Mr. Razumov. She must not be uneasy if I am
away for some length of time."
We passed out quickly into the street, and she took deep breaths of the
cool night air. "I did not even ask you," she murmured.
"I should think not," I said, with a laugh. The manner of my reception
by the great feminist could not be considered now. That he would be
annoyed to see me, and probably treat me to some solemn insolence, I had
no doubt, but I supposed that he would not absolutely dare to throw me
out. And that was all I cared for. "Won't you take my arm?" I asked.
She did so in silence, and neither of us said anything worth recording
till I let her go first into the great hall of the hotel. It was
brilliantly lighted, and with a good many people lounging about.
"I could very well go up there without you," I suggested.
"I don't like to be left waiting in this place," she said in a low
"I will come too."
I led her straight to the lift then. At the top floor the attendant
directed us to the right: "End of the corridor."
The walls were white, the carpet red, electric lights blazed in
profusion, and the emptiness, the silence, the closed doors all alike
and numbered, made me think of the perfect order of some severely
luxurious model penitentiary on the solitary confinement principle. Up
there under the roof of that enormous pile for housing travellers
no sound of any kind reached us, the thick crimson felt muffled our
footsteps completely. We hastened on, not looking at each other till we
found ourselves before the very last door of that long passage. Then our
eyes met, and we stood thus for a moment lending ear to a faint murmur
of voices inside.
"I suppose this is it," I whispered unnecessarily. I saw Miss Haldin's
lips move without a sound, and after my sharp knock the murmur of voices
inside ceased. A profound stillness lasted for a few seconds, and then
the door was brusquely opened by a short, black-eyed woman in a red
blouse, with a great lot of nearly white hair, done up negligently in
an untidy and unpicturesque manner. Her thin, jetty eyebrows were drawn
together. I learned afterwards with interest that she was the famous--or
the notorious--Sophia Antonovna, but I was struck then by the quaint
Mephistophelian character of her inquiring glance, because it was so
curiously evil-less, so--I may say--un-devilish. It got softened still
more as she looked up at Miss Haldin, who stated, in her rich, even
voice, her wish to see Peter Ivanovitch for a moment.
"I am Miss Haldin," she added.
At this, with her brow completely smoothed out now, but without a word
in answer, the woman in the red blouse walked away to a sofa and sat
down, leaving the door wide open.
And from the sofa, her hands lying on her lap, she watched us enter,
with her black, glittering eyes.
Miss Haldin advanced into the middle of the room; I, faithful to my part
of mere attendant, remained by the door after closing it behind me. The
room, quite a large one, but with a low ceiling, was scantily furnished,
and an electric bulb with a porcelain shade pulled low down over a big
table (with a very large map spread on it) left its distant parts in a
dim, artificial twilight. Peter Ivanovitch was not to be seen, neither
was Mr. Razumov present. But, on the sofa, near Sophia Antonovna, a
bony-faced man with a goatee beard leaned forward with his hands on
his knees, staring hard with a kindly expression. In a remote corner a
broad, pale face and a bulky shape could be made out, uncouth, and as if
insecure on the low seat on which it rested. The only person known to me
was little Julius Laspara, who seemed to have been poring over the map,
his feet twined tightly round the chair-legs. He got down briskly and
bowed to Miss Haldin, looking absurdly like a hooknosed boy with a
beautiful false pepper-and-salt beard. He advanced, offering his seat,
which Miss Haldin declined. She had only come in for a moment to say a
few words to Peter Ivanovitch.
His high-pitched voice became painfully audible in the room.
"Strangely enough, I was thinking of you this very afternoon, Natalia
Victorovna. I met Mr. Razumov. I asked him to write me an article on
anything he liked. You could translate it into English--with such a
He nodded complimentarily in my direction. At the name of Razumov an
indescribable sound, a sort of feeble squeak, as of some angry small
animal, was heard in the corner occupied by the man who seemed much too
large for the chair on which he sat. I did not hear what Miss Haldin
said. Laspara spoke again.
"It's time to do something, Natalia Victorovna. But I suppose you have
your own ideas. Why not write something yourself? Suppose you came to
see us soon? We could talk it over. Any advice..."
Again I did not catch Miss Haldin's words. It was Laspara's voice once
"Peter Ivanovitch? He's retired for a moment into the other room. We
are all waiting for him." The great man, entering at that moment, looked
bigger, taller, quite imposing in a long dressing-gown of some dark
stuff. It descended in straight lines down to his feet. He suggested
a monk or a prophet, a robust figure of same desert-dweller--something
Asiatic; and the dark glasses in conjunction with this costume made him
more mysterious than ever in the subdued light.
Little Laspara went back to his chair to look at the map, the only
brilliantly lit object in the room. Even from my distant position by the
door I could make out, by the shape of the blue part representing the
water, that it was a map of the Baltic provinces. Peter Ivanovitch
exclaimed slightly, advancing towards Miss Haldin, checked himself
on perceiving me, very vaguely no doubt; and peered with his dark,
bespectacled stare. He must have recognized me by my grey hair, because,
with a marked shrug of his broad shoulders, he turned to Miss Haldin in
benevolent indulgence. He seized her hand in his thick cushioned palm,
and put his other big paw over it like a lid.
While those two standing in the middle of the floor were exchanging a
few inaudible phrases no one else moved in the room: Laspara, with his
back to us, kneeling on the chair, his elbows propped on the big-scale
map, the shadowy enormity in the corner, the frankly staring man with
the goatee on the sofa, the woman in the red blouse by his side--not one
of them stirred. I suppose that really they had no time, for Miss Haldin
withdrew her hand immediately from Peter Ivanovitch and before I was
ready for her was moving to the door. A disregarded Westerner, I threw
it open hurriedly and followed her out, my last glance leaving them all
motionless in their varied poses: Peter Ivanovitch alone standing up,
with his dark glasses like an enormous blind teacher, and behind him the
vivid patch of light on the coloured map, pored over by the diminutive
Later on, much later on, at the time of the newspaper rumours (they were
vague and soon died out) of an abortive military conspiracy in Russia,
I remembered the glimpse I had of that motionless group with its
central figure. No details ever came out, but it was known that the
revolutionary parties abroad had given their assistance, had sent
emissaries in advance, that even money was found to dispatch a steamer
with a cargo of arms and conspirators to invade the Baltic provinces.
And while my eyes scanned the imperfect disclosures (in which the world
was not much interested) I thought that the old, settled Europe had been
given in my person attending that Russian girl something like a glimpse
behind the scenes. A short, strange glimpse on the top floor of a great
hotel of all places in the world: the great man himself; the motionless
great bulk in the corner of the slayer of spies and gendarmes;
Yakovlitch, the veteran of ancient terrorist campaigns; the woman, with
her hair as white as mine and the lively black eyes, all in a mysterious
half-light, with the strongly lighted map of Russia on the table. The
woman I had the opportunity to see again. As we were waiting for the
lift she came hurrying along the corridor, with her eyes fastened
on Miss Haldin's face, and drew her aside as if for a confidential
communication. It was not long. A few words only.
Going down in the lift, Natalia Haldin did not break the silence. It was
only when out of the hotel and as we moved along the quay in the fresh
darkness spangled by the quay lights, reflected in the black water of
the little port on our left hand, and with lofty piles of hotels on our
right, that she spoke.
"That was Sophia Antonovna--you know the woman?..."
"Yes, I know--the famous..."
"The same. It appears that after we went out Peter Ivanovitch told them
why I had come. That was the reason she ran out after us. She named
herself to me, and then she said, 'You are the sister of a brave man who
shall be remembered. You may see better times.' I told her I hoped to
see the time when all this would be forgotten, even if the name of my
brother were to be forgotten too. Something moved me to say that, but
"Yes," I said. "You think of the era of concord and justice."
"Yes. There is too much hate and revenge in that work. It must be done.
It is a sacrifice--and so let it be all the greater. Destruction is the
work of anger. Let the tyrants and the slayers be forgotten together,
and only the reconstructors be remembered.''
"And did Sophia Antonovna agree with you?" I asked sceptically.
"She did not say anything except, 'It is good for you to believe in
love.' I should think she understood me. Then she asked me if I hoped to
see Mr. Razumov presently. I said I trusted I could manage to bring him
to see my mother this evening, as my mother had learned of his being
here and was morbidly impatient to learn if he could tell us something
of Victor. He was the only friend of my brother we knew of, and a great
intimate. She said, 'Oh! Your brother--yes. Please tell Mr. Razumov that
I have made public the story which came to me from St. Petersburg. It
concerns your brother's arrest,' she added. 'He was betrayed by a man of
the people who has since hanged himself. Mr. Razumov will explain it all
to you. I gave him the full information this afternoon. And please tell
Mr. Razumov that Sophia Antonovna sends him her greetings. I am going
away early in the morning--far away.'"
And Miss Haldin added, after a moment of silence--"I was so moved
by what I heard so unexpectedly that I simply could not speak to you
before.... A man of the people! Oh, our poor people!"
She walked slowly, as if tired out suddenly. Her head drooped; from the
windows of a building with terraces and balconies came the banal sound
of hotel music; before the low mean portals of the Casino two red
posters blazed under the electric lamps, with a cheap provincial
effect.--and the emptiness of the quays, the desert aspect of the
streets, had an air of hypocritical respectability and of inexpressible
I had taken for granted she had obtained the address, and let myself be
guided by her. On the Mont Blanc bridge, where a few dark figures seemed
lost in the wide and long perspective defined by the lights, she said--
"It isn't very far from our house. I somehow thought it couldn't be.
The address is Rue de Carouge. I think it must be one of those big new
houses for artisans."
She took my arm confidingly, familiarly, and accelerated her pace. There
was something primitive in our proceedings. We did not think of
the resources of civilization. A late tramcar overtook us; a row of
_fiacres_ stood by the railing of the gardens. It never entered our
heads to make use of these conveyances. She was too hurried, perhaps,
and as to myself--well, she had taken my arm confidingly. As we were
ascending the easy incline of the Corraterie, all the shops shuttered
and no light in any of the windows (as if all the mercenary population
had fled at the end of the day), she said tentatively--
"I could run in for a moment to have a look at mother. It would not be
much out of the way."
I dissuaded her. If Mrs. Haldin really expected to see Razumov that
night it would have been unwise to show herself without him. The sooner
we got hold of the young man and brought him along to calm her mother's
agitation the better. She assented to my reasoning, and we crossed
diagonally the Place de Theatre, bluish grey with its floor of slabs of
stone, under the electric light, and the lonely equestrian statue
all black in the middle. In the Rue de Carouge we were in the poorer
quarters and approaching the outskirts of the town. Vacant building
plots alternated with high, new houses. At the corner of a side street
the crude light of a whitewashed shop fell into the night, fan-like,
through a wide doorway. One could see from a distance the inner wall
with its scantily furnished shelves, and the deal counter painted brown.
That was the house. Approaching it along the dark stretch of a fence
of tarred planks, we saw the narrow pallid face of the cut angle, five
single windows high, without a gleam in them, and crowned by the heavy
shadow of a jutting roof slope.
"We must inquire in the shop," Miss Haldin directed me.
A sallow, thinly whiskered man, wearing a dingy white collar and a
frayed tie, laid down a newspaper, and, leaning familiarly on both
elbows far over the bare counter, answered that the person I was
inquiring for was indeed his _locataire_ on the third floor, but that
for the moment he was out.
"For the moment," I repeated, after a glance at Miss Haldin. "Does this
mean that you expect him back at once?"
He was very gentle, with ingratiating eyes and soft lips. He smiled
faintly as though he knew all about everything. Mr. Razumov, after being
absent all day, had returned early in the evening. He was very surprised
about half an hour or a little more since to see him come down again.
Mr. Razumov left his key, and in the course of some words which passed
between them had remarked that he was going out because he needed air.
From behind the bare counter he went on smiling at us, his head held
between his hands. Air. Air. But whether that meant a long or a short
absence it was difficult to say. The night was very close, certainly.
After a pause, his ingratiating eyes turned to the door, he added--
"The storm shall drive him in."
"There's going to be a storm?" I asked.
As if to confirm his words we heard a very distant, deep rumbling noise.
Consulting Miss Haldin by a glance, I saw her so reluctant to give up
her quest that I asked the shopkeeper, in case Mr. Razumov came home
within half an hour, to beg him to remain downstairs in the shop. We
would look in again presently.
For all answer he moved his head imperceptibly. The approval of Miss
Haldin was expressed by her silence. We walked slowly down the street,
away from the town; the low garden walls of the modest villas doomed to
demolition were overhung by the boughs of trees and masses of foliage,
lighted from below by gas lamps. The violent and monotonous noise of the
icy waters of the Arve falling over a low dam swept towards us with a
chilly draught of air across a great open space, where a double line of
lamp-lights outlined a street as yet without houses. But on the other
shore, overhung by the awful blackness of the thunder-cloud, a solitary
dim light seemed to watch us with a weary stare. When we had strolled as
far as the bridge, I said--
"We had better get back...."
In the shop the sickly man was studying his smudgy newspaper, now spread
out largely on the counter. He just raised his head when I looked in and
shook it negatively, pursing up his lips. I rejoined Miss Haldin outside
at once, and we moved off at a brisk pace. She remarked that she would
send Anna with a note the first thing in the morning. I respected her
taciturnity, silence being perhaps the best way to show my concern.
The semi-rural street we followed on our return changed gradually to the
usual town thoroughfare, broad and deserted. We did not meet four people
altogether, and the way seemed interminable, because my companion's
natural anxiety had communicated itself sympathetically to me. At last
we turned into the Boulevard des Philosophes, more wide, more empty,
more dead--the very desolation of slumbering respectability. At the
sight of the two lighted windows, very conspicuous from afar, I had
the mental vision of Mrs. Haldin in her armchair keeping a dreadful,
tormenting vigil under the evil spell of an arbitrary rule: a victim of
tyranny and revolution, a sight at once cruel and absurd.