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The Dark Forest

The wagons waited there, the horses stamping now and then, and the wounded men on the only wagon that was filled, moaned and cried. Shrapnel whizzed overhead – sometimes crying, like an echo, in the far distance, sometimes screaming with the rage of a hurt animal close at hand. Groups of soldiers ran swiftly past me, quite silent, their heads bent. Somewhere on the high road I could hear motor-cars spluttering and humming. At irregular intervals Red Cross men would arrive with wounded, would ask in a whisper that was inhuman and isolating whether there were room on my carts. Then the body would be lifted up; there would be muttered directions, the wounded man would cry, then the other wounded would also cry – after that, there would be the dismal silence again, silence broken only by the shrapnel and the heavy plopping smothers of the rain…At the threat of every shrapnel I bent my head and shrugged my shoulders, at every cry of the wounded men – one man was delirious and sang a little song – a shudder trembled all down my body. I thought of the bridge between myself and the Otriad – how easily it might be blown up! and then, if the Division were beaten back what massacre there would be! I wanted to go home, to sleep, to be safe and warm – above all, to be safe! I saw before me some of the wounded whom I had bandaged to-day – men without faces or with hanging jaws that must be held up with the hand whilst the bandage was tied. One man blind, one man mad (he thought he was drowning in hot water), one man holding his stomach together with his hands. I saw all these figures crowding round me in the lane – I also saw the dead men in the forest, the skull, the flies, the strong blue-grey trousers…I shook so that my teeth chattered – a very pitiful figure.


The Secret City

After dinner there was a strange scene. We all moved into the long, over-decorated drawing-room. We sat about, admired the pictures (a beautiful one by Somoff I especially remember—an autumn scene with eighteenth-century figures and colours so soft and deep that the effect was inexpressibly delicate and mysterious), talked and then fell into one of those Russian silences that haunt every Russian party. I call those silences “Russian,” because I know nothing like them in any other part of the world. It is as though the souls of the whole company suddenly vanished through the windows, leaving only the bodies and clothes. Every one sits, eyes half closed, mouths shut, hands motionless, host and hostess, desperately abandoning every attempt at rescue, gaze about them in despair.

The mood may easily last well into the morning, when the guests, still silent, will depart, assuring everybody that they have enjoyed themselves immensely, and really believing that they have;


De verborgen stad

Na het eten gebeurde er iets vreemds. We gingen de lange kitscherige salon binnen. We zaten allemaal ergens, bewonderden de schilderijen – ik herinner me vooral een prachtig werk van Somov: een herfstlandschap met achttiende-eeuwse figuren in zulke, warme diepe tinten dat het effect heel geraffineerd en mysterieus was – en keuvelden wat, en toen viel er een van die Russische stiltes die wel vaker vallen op een Russisch feestje. Ik noem ze ‘Russisch’ omdat ik ze in geen enkel ander deel van de wereld op die manier ben tegengekomen. Het is net alsof de zielen van alle aanwezigen plotseling door het raam zijn weggevlogen en er alleen nog aangeklede lichamen zitten. Iedereen zit er met halfdichte ogen, dichte mond roerloos bij, en de wanhopige gastheer en gastvrouw die weten dat er geen redden meer aan is. Zo’n stemming kan gemakkelijk tot de vroege ochtend duren wanneer de nog steeds zwijgende gasten vertrekken. Bij het weggaan verzekeren ze iedereen dat ze zich reuze hebben vermaakt en dat geloven ze zelf ook nog.

Vertaling: Meta GEMERT