BETWEEN July 5, when the Revolutionary government in Hankow fell and I said good-bye to Rayna Prohme, and September 18, when I went up the steps of the Metropole Hotel in Moscow, a profound change had taken place in the texture and organization of my mind with respect to all the subjects brought together in these articles.
To put such complicated processes into words is difficult to the point of impossibility: the words are gross with implications, refusing, as often as not, to bear their own exact meanings; it is too late in the history of a heterogeneous language to strip any word quite clean. But, as nearly as I can define it, the change had consisted in a steady, orderly concentration of thought and feeling within this cycle of experience
— to which I have given the name ‘revolution’ — and, concurrently but less precisely, within the subsidiary or preparatory cycles outside it, upon a single phenomenon containing the principles of energy diffused (but neither organized nor put to work) throughout the system. The central phenomenon
— the sun of this solar system — was Rayna Prohme. During the weeks after the fall of Hankow, when her fate as a human creature (as Human Being Number Eight Trillion or so) was seriously disturbing my molecular activity as another member of the same series, her essential principle was taking its natural place at the centre of my world of ideas; the first process was minute, demands the microscope, and has no important place in a narrative that is not concerned with strictly private matters; but the second process, for which the telescope is the appropriate instrument, involved every fragment of material within my experience of life or view of the world.
When I turned from the hall porter’s desk at the Metropole and saw her coming toward me the process was already completed, but it needed that moment of blinding significance to become irrevocable.
I have never known a moment like it. For six weeks I had imagined her dead, torn into pieces by a mob, broken and sunk in the mud of the Yangtzekiang or buried obscurely, after days of torture, in some dreary and forgotten Chinese field. These morbid fancies had alternated with others in which I imagined meeting her again, but it had never been wholly credible to me that I might find her, alive and well, by the mere effort of going to Moscow. And yet here she was, coming swiftly across the hall, laughing, hands stretched out, her eyes alight beneath the conflagration of her hair. A stab of joy, a flood of relief, and a tempest of excitement. all took less time than it takes to write the two syllables of her name — Rayna.
This being so, I must face the problem of stating, as clearly as possible, the nature of our relationship then and afterward. It was not a sexual relationship— at least not as the phrase is currently understood. Neither in words nor in gestures did it take the forms of intimacy known to the readers of a thousand erotic novels. I shall not attempt to explain the mystery of an all-pervading, all-controlling emotion that had no physical basis, but it existed. If these words fall under the eyes of a reader who cannot believe such a thing possible, he had better stop reading at once, for it will be assumed from here onward that the fact is plain.
And from that moment of reunion onward it was impossible to seek the relationships that seemed necessary to life (a relation of one to many, a place in the chain of cause and effect) without reference to this solar phenomenon, this sun perceived, lost, and found again, a focus of reality for which the only solid expression was a slip of a girl with red hair. The issues that converged for me upon her fiery head were the most serious any human being has to face, and they converged there, most of all, because she had faced them first. When I said, in the account of our meeting in Hankow, that we were inescapably magnetized toward the same pole of reality, I was describing a state of things that had now ceased to exist; for now, as we met in the hall of the Metropole, she had already moved so far toward that pole as to become part of its immediate radiation. The problems of minor movement no longer counted for her; they had been solved; she had reached her centre. If we define this central reality as the meaning (or conviction of meaning) in the existence of an individual, his sense of exact position with respect to the multitudinous life of his species in its physical environment, it may be seen that, for persons like ourselves, it had to be the whole thing, the sum of good. I say ‘for persons like ourselves,’ because there existed other kinds of persons unmagnetized to any central reality — willing to expend their allotment of time without attempting to relate it to the time of which it was a segment — and still other kinds contented in this necessity by the easy promises of supernatural religion and the immortality of the soul. A settled polarity was harder to establish for persons like ourselves because we sought it in the natural world of men and things; but once reached (as she had reached it) it gave the only satisfaction that could inform a life and last it out.
These were the processes that had supervened upon the separation in Hankow for the two of us. She had reached her central reality (which was also mine) and become part of it. As she came across the hall of the Metropole I knew that my world revolved about her. If this sounds like the language of sexual or romantic attachment it is the fault of the words, so hard to dig out pure from their tangle of associations; but in simple fact it was not so. The feeble, perfumed sentiments, the romantic illusions, the limited personal desires and disappointments of boudoir ’love’ had no part in the moment (it was a moment sharp as a dagger); nor did they afterward influence the course of our related systems of thought and feeling in the spiral plunge to catastrophe. This tragedy may have contained love, but if so it was love resolved into the largest terms of which such personal emotions are capable, related to the whole life of mankind and the eternal effort of the human spirit to find its own place in the universe.
She came across the hall, I turned and met her, and we both laughed.
‘I knew you’d turn up,’she said. ‘I expected you any day.’
For the next week everything in Moscow took its place for me as a subsidiary part of the continuous conversation with Rayna Prohme. It was a conversation in which no debate was possible. Fresh from China, imbued with the feelings and ideas of Hankow as they had been strengthened by the opposition of Peking, I had no desire to attack the decisions she had made. They seemed to me the best decisions. She was going to continue her work for the Chinese revolutionary movement as long as it was required, but when — as she foresaw clearly — the parts of that movement would disintegrate, sending its vital element underground and leaving its bourgeois remnant stranded on the surface, she wanted to take a direct part in the work of the forbidden and secret organization.
She had decided that life was not possible for her on any other terms: that she could not bear the spectacle of the world under its present arrangements, and that her place was within the organisms struggling to upset and rearrange it. This necessity was not wholly the result of social or economic theory, although she had a solid basis of training in the social sciences and was convinced of her solutions (the Leninist solutions); a deeper necessity had driven her onward. She felt a genuine relationship to all forms of human life. That was the essence of it. To her the Chinese coolie was another part of the whole life, rich, various, cruel, and immense, that she shared to the extent of her limits in space and time. She could not see a Chinese coolie beaten and half-starved, reduced to the level of the beasts, without feeling herself also beaten and half-starved, degraded and oppressed; and the part of her that rebelled against this horror (her mind and spirit) was inflexibly resolved, by now, never to lie down under the monstrous system of the world. She was — to use Gerald Heard’s word — ‘coconscious’ with all other parts of the human race. Man’s inhumanity to man seemed to her a great deal more than that; it was an inhumanity of one part of the same body to another. The Shanghai entrepreneurs who employed thousands of Chinese men, women, and children at starvation wages for twelve and fourteen hours a day were, to her, like the hands of a body cutting off its legs. Capitalism, imperialism, individualism, were more abhorrent than cannibalism, but had the same inner character. They differed from cannibalism in being more universal and more difficult to correct.
I had not her purity or courage, and could not feel these things with her clean, deep sureness. But I did feel them. As I have said, she had now reached her centre and was sure; I was only magnetized toward it. I was at once more complex and less integrated than she. Often my first feelings had to be chastened; hers were clear at once. Her individual impulses had been, by now, so subjugated and harmonized by her intelligence that the conflict was over: she was unified, integrated, and burned with a pure white flame. She was prepared for any sacrifice, up to and including death itself; petty questions (among which she included her personal destiny) could not disturb her any more. It was a marvelously pure flame, and even though I clearly could not hope to share its incandescence, it seemed to me that I must hover as near it as possible. Nothing else I had ever seen gave the same light and heat.
I decided to spend the winter in Moscow. The immediate problem was (of course) one of money: I had earned large sums and spent them in the past year, and the only way of getting through a winter in Moscow was to find editors or publishers who would pay for it. The matter was not easily arranged in Moscow itself, where cablegrams were expensive and letters slow. It was possible (if at all) only by going to London.
How can I characterize the clash of influences that filled every minute of the next three weeks in England ? I was like a fish that had learned to walk on dry land for six months, and now was plunged back into the ocean again; I was like a valley farmer inured to life on the top of a mountain, only to be thrown back into his lush native field when he could no longer till it. I found all my English friends unchanged; the pleasures of the mind and body, the agreeable diversions and preoccupations of modern Western life in the cultured upper class, had not undergone the slightest modification in all this time. These people were so sure of themselves, so accustomed to viewing the spectacle of the world without a direct interest in it, that they could discuss even the terrible alternatives of revolution with cool intellectual curiosity, neither feeling nor attempting to feel the need to choose between them. England — in spite of the General Strike of the year before — seemed as far from a genuine revolutionary situation as ever. Revolution was a melodramatic word without significance in these green fields and spacious houses, where any subject could be discussed and all subjects were of equal interest.
The crippling thing — the really disastrous thing — was that my friends in England were more intelligent and better educated than myself. I might feel that I was right, that the moment in which we all lived presented a breathless intensity of meaning, that a decision was necessary if we were not to perish, but I could never prove it. They all knew too much for me, were too cool and logical and altogether superior to such alternatives. On one occasion I was so exasperated by a long argument in which I had been rather badly worsted that I took to baser weapons and pounded a friend of mine (it was Raymond Mortimer) with my fists, shouting, ‘You damned intellectuals have no blood — no blood — no blood!’ The outburst, however inevitable, was naturally taken by all present as proving the very thing I was most concerned to disprove: the illogical and emotional nature of the revolutionary thesis.
I seemed more than a little eccentric to my English acquaintances just then, for their intellectual frigidity only drove me by reaction into excesses of statement and feeling. For a good part of the time I must have behaved (by any bourgeois standard) insufferably badly. I remember once when I wont so far that a glazed look came into every English eye in the neighborhood. I was staying with the Nicolsons at Long Barn, and another of their guests was Mrs. Nicolson’s cousin, Eddy SackvilleWest, the heir of Knole. The devotion of all members of the Sackvillc family to that monumental house, which sits in the midst of its lovely park like a visible history of the race that made it, was as well known to me as to anybody present, but I forgot the fact when Harold Nicolson (prompted by his familiar imp), asked me this question:
‘What would a revolutionary government, or a Soviet government, or a proletarian dictatorship, do with a house like Knole? Specifically let’s take Knole, and leave the others out. What would a revolution do to it?‘
The question seemed very interesting, and I answered it at length. The special value of Knole was architectural and historical, I said, and would be so recognized by any revolutionary government. It had no value as a health resort or home for workmen, for it was neither healthy nor properly arranged for such purposes; it would not, therefore, be converted to other uses, but would almost certainly become what it was, in fact, to-day — a museum of the history and taste of the English aristocracy from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Such a museum would find its best guardians and interpreters in the people who knew it best — in fact, in Eddy Sackville-West and Vita Nicolson, who could usefully become its curators.
Only when this speech had come to an end did I observe the faces of the two ‘curators.’ Mrs. Nicolson recovered first, and joined in the sudden laugh that turned the subject off, but I thought for a moment that her cousin was going to have a crise. I knew him only slightly then, and ought to have refrained from disposing of his house (not to speak of his own future) so cavalierly; but I had got into the habit, in the past six or seven months, of stating any idea as clearly as I knew how, with no nonsense about good taste or the behavior of ‘gentlemen.’ It seemed to me that the whole trouble with the upper classes, so far as I knew anything about them, was that they were afflicted by too much good taste and too many superstitions about being ‘ladies and gentlemen’ to form a correct idea of the materials of life. My temper of mind was — after six months of China and a week in Moscow — so different from theirs that their conventions and training, which obviously helped to make their company agreeable, nevertheless aroused the instinct of rebellion.
The reason, of course, can be guessed by anybody who has endured to the present point in this story: it was a defense. I was angry and alarmed, on arriving in London, to discover that the old world of comfort, pleasure, taste, diversion, and amusement still powerfully appealed to me; that the misery of nine tenths of the human race could seem dim and distant when considered from the midst of a wellsupplied bourgeois dining room; that the things a Bolshevik — a working Bolshevik, like Rayna or Borodin — had to give up were things I valued.
This material seductiveness of the bourgeois world was strengthened by an attack on the revolutionary idea itself: I was always having J. M. Keynes quoted at me, and being told that the waste of life and wealth (that is, productive machinery) incidental to revolutions was uneconomic. My English friends, who were not themselves doing a thing to bring about the social rearrangement, always assured me that the rearrangement would take place; only, they said, it would take place in an orderly, democratic fashion under the parliamentary tradition. They pointed to their own advanced social legislation — unemployment insurance, death duties and income taxes scaled up to attack accumulations of capital, their pension system and the rest — as a proof of the capacity of a capitalist state to submit to orderly, progressive reformation.
That these arrangements were, after all, at the mercy of political accident, and that the so-called ‘social legislation ’ of bourgeois governments could not possibly protect the workers against the results of such crises as war, overproduction, and speculation (the characteristic crises of capitalism, according to the Marxist view), were objections ruled out by the Englishmen I knew with a succinct phrase: ‘You want too much.’ They believed in their own ability, or their race’s ability, to achieve the desired ends by the methods of democracy, which, they believed, were ‘slow but sure.’ Little as I felt this to be the essential truth, I was forever being worsted in argument — forever being obliged to concede in my own mind, however strongly I protested, that there was a lot in what they said.
The sum of all my impressions on that visit to England would have meant nothing at all to Rayna or to Borodin. They were certain; their political philosophy never deserted them; they knew the economic bases of English upper-class life too well ever to be charmed by its graces. But I was (intellectually at least) far from certain. The process by which my desire for integration had become involved with, and centred upon, Rayna Prohme was not a purely intellectual process, or it could never have been affected by any amount of bourgeois charm. I remained convinced that the issue of revolution was the only genuine issue (the only ‘live option,’ as William James would have said) in the world I lived in, but my own position with respect to the revolutionary struggle was more dubious and uncertain than ever.
The effect of England upon me, at a moment so critical, was like that of a brake applied to a wheel. It slowed me up, made me waver and ask questions. The questions England suggested were personal ones. They went something like this: Why should you, a bourgeois born and bred, leading an externally agreeable life under the bourgeois system of society, try to do anything to change it? What does it matter to you if Chinese coolies starve to death, if boys go into the coal mines of Lancashire at the age of twelve, if girls in Germany die by the hundred from tuberculosis and occupational diseases in the chemical factories? What do you care if the steel workers in Pennsylvania are maintained in conditions of life equivalent to slavery? Can’t you forget about all that? You’ll probably never starve; you can earn enough money with your silly little stories to lead a pleasant life; why not do so? You think revolution is inevitable, — or say you do, — and why not, then, leave it to other people — workmen, soldiers, Bolsheviks? It’s their business, not yours; what have you to do with it? Are you prepared to give up all the pleasures of modern Western culture, everything from good food to Bach and Stravinsky, to work for the welfare of other people’s grandchildren in a world you will never see?
The answer was, decidedly, no. That was what England had done for me in the short space of twenty-one days.
I went to Berlin at the end of October and stayed long enough to complete my arrangements for the winter in Moscow. I was as ‘revolutionary’ in conversation as ever, but I knew that I did not possess the spirit of selfabnegation required to follow Rayna Prohme in the course that now lay before her. Her letters during October had shown an increasing determination in her purposes. She was on the point of entering the Communist Party — not lightly or fashionably, as young men do in Paris and London, but with the intention of sacrificing her entire personal existence to its service. The whole thing made me unimaginably gloomy, and I could not foresee even so far as a month ahead, but I did know one thing: that I must make the most valiant attempt to save her, as a person, from absorption into the machine of the Party or the Komintern. I no longer cared if this seemed the effort of a vulgar, selfish, lazy, and cowardly bourgeois, for England had persuaded me that I was not a Bolshevik and never could be one. The leopard cannot change his spots.
Harold Nicolson put me on the train in Berlin and Rayna met me at the station in Moscow. That was the kind of journey it was: not only a spacejourney — not even primarily a spacejourney, although the stations succeeded each other through Germany, Poland, and Russia with measured accuracy; it was an idea-journey, a trajectory between two worlds.
The train drew in to the October Station in Moscow before noon on November 7, and Rayna’s fiery hair was the first thing I saw on the platform. I had been away from Moscow
— far away from Moscow — for a good five weeks.
Throughout that day and for the days that followed I was beset by indefinite and torturing premonitions. They were not correct, — what premonitions are?—but they were near enough to what did happen to assume
— even at this distance in time — an awful significance. I engaged in a desperate struggle, from that first day onward, to keep Rayna from joining the Communist Party.
Of all the contradictions of the period, this was perhaps the worst. The pure flame that gave such light and heat what was it? The centre toward which I was magnetized, the focus of the world as I saw it, was Rayna Prohme as revolutionary; it was not revolution alone and it was not Rayna Prohme alone, but Rayna Prohme integrated and set alight by her pure conviction. This was, in fact, my reason for being in Moscow. And yet from the moment I arrived I fought tooth and nail to get her away from her own essential centre — to recall her, by fair means or foul, to the half-world in which I wanted to keep on living.
When I use such strong words — ‘desperate’ and ‘tooth and nail’ —I mean everything they mean, and more. For six days and nights the struggle continued with hardly a respite. Her room was on the other side of my sitting room, in the adjoining apartment, and when either of us thought of a new argument we kicked on the wall; in two minutes — the time required to take down the innumerable barricades of iron, wood, and steel put up by my timorous landlady — we had met and started all over again. We talked until four or five o’clock in the morning sometimes, and the argument was forever renewed, never brought to an end. We neither of us got much sleep, but I was as strong as an ox and did not realize what a terrible strain the whole thing was on her nervous system.
No matter how bitterly I may have regretted all this afterward, it is the fact. When her physical fragility impressed me more than usual, I used it, too, as an argument. She had been having severe headaches for months, and they had lately grown more frequent; aspirin and phenacetin did not help them; sometimes in the midst of the argument a dazed stare would come into her eyes and she would say: ‘Wait a minute. I must just be quiet fora minute; it’s the headache again.’ When it passed, I used to ask her how she proposed to endure the rigors of life as an active revolutionary when her physical resources were so limited. This particular argument had no immediate effect. She would laugh and say: ‘In or out of a revolution, I’ve got to die sometime, and what does it matter?’ Her disregard of her own personal destiny was so complete that nothing I could think of made an impression upon it. The arguments that did reach her were the general ones, those directed at the idea of revolution itself; and one of the most effective of these was the one I had suffered from in London — the opinions of J. M. Keynes as shown in his recent booklet about Russia. I telegraphed to London for that booklet, but it never arrived.
It would be foolish to maintain that there was nothing selfish and personal in all this. There was. I have said that in September I already felt that I could not live without the light and heat that came from this extraordinary flame. In September I had had no doubts; I would have followed her into the Lenin Institute, into the Communist Party, to Korea or Japan or anywhere. In October I had been forced to reconsider; I saw, too clearly, my own inadequacies for such a life. In November I was no longer willing to follow her, even in mind, but struggled instead to bring her back from the certainty in which she dwelt to the easier world where men did not die for their beliefs — where they did not, in fact, have any beliefs if they could help it. This endeavor was selfish and personal, based, in the first instance, on a feeling that Rayna Prohme as a completed revolutionary instrument (in a year’s time, let us say) would be a stranger to the lazy bourgeois I had recently rediscovered. She would be lost to me and to my world; in the sense of a bourgeois individuality she would be lost altogether, for her intentions were, even for a Communist, extreme.
She had decided to join the Party and enter the Lenin Institute to be trained as a revolutionary instrument. When she had completed her training she was to take service in one of the revolutionary organizations, probably in the Pacific Labor Bureau to begin with, perhaps afterward in direct work for the Komintern. Her special qualification coincided with her own desire, and she would be sure to be sent to the Far East.
No decision in life could be more final. The vows of a nun, the oaths of matrimony, the resolutions of a soldier giving battle, had not the irrevocable character of this decision. Rayna was not taking it lightly; she had had four years of intimate acquaintance with revolutionary work, and knew what she was doing. Nothing I could bring up about the nature of the work or its effects made the slightest difference to her, for I found that she had considered it all before.
I was reduced, again and again, to the simplest forms of impotent argument— attacks upon the emotional nature of the revolutionary, attacks upon Rayna’s personal structure.
‘Of course the truth is,’ I would say, ‘that you derive a personal thrill out of the idea of being a revolutionary worker. It’s sheer romanticism. Far more exciting than going home to Chicago and listening to symphony concerts! That’s the truth of it. Whether the idea of revolution is correct or not doesn’t matter; you’ve got to have your thrill.’
I never said a thing like this without realizing at once how miserably specious and vulgar it was; but when I had exhausted all the legitimate arguments I could think of, wild stabs were the only form of attack left. Rayna, as it happened, understood the process too thoroughly to be disturbed by it; she knew that a remark of the kind was only a confession of weakness, of exhaustion, and, however weary she might be herself, she never failed to laugh. That laugh was generally accompanied by a polite admonition to use a little rudimentary intelligence, put into this form: —
‘Don’t be a damned fool, Jimmy.’
After seven crowded years this advice sounds as plain and recent as if it had been delivered ten minutes ago. I do not pretend to have acted upon it consistently or even most of the time, but at certain important moments, without preparation in thought or association of ideas, it has suddenly broken through every surrounding circumstance and rung again in my ears, tone and accent and laugh and all, like an actual voice.
On Friday, November 11, we argued almost all night long. It was the last argument. At the end of it, when every element in the problem, personal and general, had been gone over a thousand times, and Rayna’s resolution was still unshaken, we said good-bye — not too solemnly, of course; there was always some lightness in Rayna’s spirit; she could always laugh, even though it was not altogether easy. It was the kind of good-bye I can scarcely explain unless it is instantly apparent. We were to meet again the next day, but in the essential sense it was good-bye just the same. She was to go to the Lenin Institute on the following Monday, and I was going to leave Moscow as soon as I could bear to do so.
I asked her to do one trivial thing for me (I do not know what I hoped to prove by it). This was to dress on the following night in the golden dress from China that Soong Ching-ling had given her, to wear Bill’s amber necklace, and to dine with me in the most flagrant luxury Moscow had to offer, at the Grand Hotel (Bolshaya Moskovskaya). This was before the Five-Year Plan, of course, and the Metropole had not yet become what (I believe) it was afterward, a luxurious establishment for foreigners. Moscow’s most bourgeois place just then was the old Grand Hotel, where most of the foreign visitors lived. Since my arrival in Moscow, throughout this week’s argument, Rayna had worn the same dress — a wadded green silk dress in Chinese style, the warmest she possessed. We had taken our meals either at the cheap café underneath the Metropole or in workmen’s coöperatives, where we could eat for very little, as neither of us had any money. I wanted one ‘bourgeois evening ’ for myself, for the sheer pleasure of it, and to see her once more in that gold dress; but it is possible that I also hoped (madness, of course) that silk and flowers, music and white wine from the south, might accomplish what I had failed to do, and bring her back a little way toward the world she had been born into and was now surrendering forever.
‘O. K.,’ said Rayna. ‘I’ll freeze to death in that gold dress, I can tell you, but if I can borrow an overcoat and run like hell when we get out in the street, I ’ll do it. You shall have your bourgeois evening, but it won’t make any difference.’
On the next day (Saturday, November 12) she went to see Dorothy Thompson at the Bolshaya Moskovskaya and fainted in Dorothy’s room. This seemed a little alarming, but by that night, it had been forgotten.
‘I feel absolutely grand to-night,’ she said. ‘Silly of me to faint like that, but I do feel better now than I have for days. I think I’m going to enjoy the bourgeois evening.’
She looked — as she said she felt — grand. She was only a thin slip of a girl, with no particular stature or figure or conventional beauty, but her appearance was at all times lighted up by her expressive eyes and the glory of her hair. The red-brown-gold of her short curls gave her the look of a lighted candle when she wore the gold dress from China. It was cut severe and straight, Manchu style, with a collar, and was made of very plain silk the color of dull gold.
We went to the Bolshaya Moskovskaya and had our bourgeois evening. We even danced — twice. Dorothy Thompson came and sat with us and I told her what was happening. She seemed a little startled and incredulous.
‘You understand what it is?’ I said. ‘It’s the end of Rayna Prohme. No more Rayna. Finished. Revolutionary Instrument Number 257,849.’
The truth of what I was saying was too much to bear quietly just then, and I turned toward Rayna and pounded her thin shoulders in the Chinese dress.
‘The end of Rayna Prohme,’ I said. ‘The end of Rayna Prohme.’
She moved away, threw back her fiery head, and laughed.
‘It’s the end even of Revolutionary Instrument Number So-and-So,’ she said, ‘if you don’t stop beating me. What do you think I’m made of, anyway?’
The dinner, the gold dress, the certainty of the decision, the gloom of Moscow, the Napareuli wine and vodka, all together had operated to destroy my common sense that night. Even when I was not saying it, I was thinking it, and I said it often enough: ‘The end of Rayna Prohme.’ That night seemed as final as death itself.
I slept late the next day (Sunday, November 13), and walked slowly across to the Metropole in the afternoon to see if Rayna was there. (The Chinese Revolutionaries still had a small office there in which she worked when there was work to do.) As I came up the steps of the hotel, just where I had met Rayna on that evening almost exactly two months before, I ran into the American correspondent, Anna Louise Strong, and a little Chinese Communist called Chang Ke. Rayna had saved Chang Ke’s life in Peking in 1926 by concealing him in the basement of her house, and he was devoted to her.
‘Mrs. Prohme is very ill,’ Chang Ke said in his flat, emotionless voice.
‘She’s at the Europe,’ Anna Louise said, ‘and apparently she’s fainted. Chang Ke came to get me. We ’ll have to bring her back here and put her in my room for a while.’
I went along with them to the Hotel de l’Europe, a small hotel about a square and a half away from the Metropole. Chang Ke led us up the stairs here to a small room, the anteroom to the part of the hotel occupied by the Chinese Labor Delegation. One or two Chinese were sitting there quietly, and Rayna was lying unconscious on a couch.
I picked her up and carried her downstairs and through the streets. She weighed nothing; it was like carrying a child. Once she recovered consciousness enough to speak, asked if she was heavy, and tried to stand up. The people in the streets stared a little and then hurried along on their way. We reached the Metropole quickly, and there Rayna recovered enough to sit up in the lift and apologize for having fainted. But before we got to Anna Louise’s room on the top floor she was gone again.
I was no good to Anna Louise in taking care of Rayna, and had nothing to do but walk about the town and wait for the doctor. Hours passed before the doctor came. Rayna had recovered consciousness, wholly or partly, and lay silent in the darkened room. Toward evening the ‘neighborhood doctor,’ a weary Russian with two assistants and an incredible amount of paraphernalia, arrived and set to work. These gentlemen took possession of the room and started to unpack all their tubes and packs and appliances, which cluttered up the whole floor. I was asked to leave, and did not return for an hour.
By this time Rayna was sleeping fitfully, and I learned that she had been given ether — which, as by chance I happened to know, made her deathly sick. For the rest of that night she was alternately sick and delirious. I thought she should be taken at once to the Kremlin Hospital, and Anna Louise agreed with me, but nothing could be done without the Borodins, and I could not find them.
On the next day Moscow was covered deep in snow. It was bitter cold. I reached the Metropole in a state of unnamable terror, only to find Rayna quite rational and able to laugh again. She had passed a dreadful night and was very weak, but she blamed it on the ether. We moved her to a room of her own, and after Dr. Linck’s visit she became cheerful again. (Dr. Linck was the German Embassy’s doctor, whom I had called in.) As she felt better the curtains were pulled back and the room grew light. Many people came to see her — Madame Sun Yatsen, Borodin, Chang Ke, Scott Nearing, Louis Fischer, and others. They spoke of plans, and what seemed to me the most hopeful thing of all — the thing that might save everything from wreck — was a possibility of Madame Sun’s going to the United States. If she did this she wanted Rayna to go with her, and for two or three days in the middle of that week, in spite of the steady gravity in Dr. Linck’s eyes when I talked to him, I convinced myself that all the problems could be solved at last.
The week of November 13 was actually less difficult to get through than the previous week had been. Dr. Linck had forbidden political discussion of any kind in Rayna’s room, and had made her promise that she would obey his orders. This ukase brought out the patient’s laughter.
Will you tell me,1 she said, poking at her pillows, ‘what on earth anybody’d ever talk about in Moscow if political discussion was forbidden? What do you suppose we can talk about? I can’t remember any other subjects!’
We found the other subjects readily enough, and throughout the week those conversations — never political — were, however difficult it may be to imagine it under the circumstances, a delight. We talked about everything under the sun except politics. She told me long stories about her childhood in Chicago and about her scapegrace younger brother whom she loved. I was never there in the mornings, and when I came in the afternoon she always had a budget of visits to tell me about.
I had never seen Rayna in better spirits than she was that Friday. We must have talked all afternoon and most of the night. Often I wanted to stop talking and let her rest, but she felt better than she had felt for a long time, and it amused her to lie there and recall a thousand stories of her early life, most of which were new and very funny to me. Her first husband (the New York playwright, Raphaelson, known as ‘ Raph ’) figured in these stories, as did her young brother and her sister Grace. They were all characters out of a past I did not know, the period before she had gone to China. In that whole day the word ‘revolution’ was only mentioned once. That was when she suddenly recalled Eugene Chen’s good-bye to her in Peking two years before. He had said at the door of their office, just as he was about to take wing for Canton: —
‘The Revolution is grateful,’ and then, magnificently, ‘The Kuomintang never forgets!’
We both laughed helplessly at this reminiscence.
She also talked a good deal about Bill Prohme, now thousands of miles away in Manila, to whom her affection and loyalty had been constant always. She even dictated a letter to him in which she said she was a little under the weather, but would be all right soon.
That night her illness took a turn for the worse, and although none of us yet knew what it was, its seriousness could no longer be concealed. She passed a bad night and was forbidden visitors in the morning. When I was left alone with her for the afternoon on Saturday she spoke to me in a very low voice. I had to lean over to hear what she said.
‘The doctor thinks I am losing my mind,’ she said, ‘and that is the worst thing of all. He won’t say so, but that is what he thinks. I can tell by the way he holds matches in front of my eyes and tests my responses. He does n’t think I can focus on anything.’
She had spoken vaguely of this fear before, and all I could do was say that I did not believe it was well founded. But on the next day (Sunday, November 20) she felt certain that this was the case, and it kept her silent and almost afraid to speak, even to me. I sat beside her hour after hour in the dark, silent room, and the blackness pressed down and in upon us. Two or three times she raised her voice to say, ‘Don’t tell anybody.’ I knew that this meant her fear that her mind was attacked, and I promised not to tell. Later in the afternoon we talked a little, and she suddenly agreed with a proposal I had made some days before — that when she was able to travel she should go to Germany for treatment. Toward night she said: ‘ 1 ’ll go to sleep for a while now, and when I wake up we can send a cablegram to Raph.’ I never heard her speak again.
Dr. Linck came in the evening and said that a professional nurse must be put on duty at once. The nurse came and sat. Sonya and Vep, two Russian friends who had helped care for her, remained for most of the night in the little anteroom, and Anna Louise returned, too. The place was kept in complete darkness and silence. I was dazed with horror and felt absolutely nothing throughout the night. I came and went; walked in the Red Square; went to the Bolshaya Moskovskaya and drank vodka; returned to the Metropole from time to time to speak to Sonya. During the night Rayna woke up once and asked Sonya for me, but I was across the square. When I reached the room she was unconscious again. She had wanted me, I suppose, to send the cablegram.
On his last visit the doctor said: ‘The process I have foreseen has begun. It must take its course.’ Although I heard these words quite clearly, and they were translated to me by Anna Louise afterward, they still did not carry their obvious meaning to my dazed intelligence. At three or four in the morning I went around the corner to the Savoy Hotel (where I had moved on the day after Rayna’s illness began) and went to bed.
At seven o’clock that morning (it was Monday, November 21) the telephone in my room rang. Anna Louise’s voice: —
‘ You’d better come,’ it said. ‘ Rayna is dead.’
Rayna Prohme died on Monday, November 21, 1927, and was cremated on the following Thursday, November 24 (Thanksgiving Day). I left Moscow the day after the funeral and have not been there since.
An autopsy held on November 22 by a group of Moscow professors revealed something that did not surprise me: Rayna had died of encephalitis, inflammation of the brain. It must have begun many months before, and all through this time she had been exactly, literally, burning to ashes, just as the shell she had discarded was to be burned to ashes at the crematorium. No human being could so irresistibly suggest the quality of flame without being consumed for it.
On the afternoon of the funeral we all marched for hours across Moscow to the new crematorium. There were delegations of Chinese, Russian, and American Communists, many of whom had never known Rayna. It was very cold, and as I walked along I became conscious of the shivering, bent figure of Madame Sun Yat-sen. Her income from China had been cut off; she was too proud to accept the help of strangers; she had no winter clothing at all, and was walking through the dreary, frozen streets in a thin dark cloak. The motor car lent her by the Soviet Foreign Office followed behind the procession; it was at least warm. I tried to persuade her to get into it, but she would not. She walked every step of the way across the city, her lovely face bent down on her folded arms. She had only recovered from her own illness a few days before, and her pallor was extreme. Even through the cold haze in which everything moved on that day I was aware that Soong Ching-ling was now the loneliest of exiles, shivering through the early dark behind the bier of her one wholly disinterested friend. The band played — out of tune — the revolutionary funeral march, alternating it with Chopin’s. The maddening music, its lusty brasses a good half note off pitch, made the long procession hard to endure even for those who had never known Rayna.
Eventually — it was dark by now, and the great bells of the near-by convent were ringing for evening service — we came to the modern crematorium outside the city. It was brightly lighted, square and spare. The bier, draped in the Red flag and covered with golden flowers,—asters, chrysanthemums, all the flowers of Rayna’s own colors, a heap of gold and red and brown, — was placed on the platform. There were speeches in Chinese, Russian, and English — revolutionary speeches. The English sounded just as meaningless as the Chinese or the Russian. Then a signal was given, a switch was turned, and the golden mass of Rayna, her hair and her bright flowers and the Red flag, sank slowly before us into the furnace.
That night Borodin came to see me. He looked colossal in my narrow room as he walked slowly up and down, speaking. I was on the bed and do not remember having said anything at all. He had come to say good-bye, he said, and to explain why he had not gone to the funeral. On principle he never went to funerals. The mind must be kept resolutely on its purposes.
His voice was deeply moved, and he controlled it with difficulty. He did not look at me, but walked from the window to the door and back again.
‘I know what this is,’he said. ‘I know exactly. But what is needed is the long view. I have come here to ask you to take the long view — China, Russia. ... A wonderful friend and a wonderful revolutionary instrument have disappeared together. But there is no use in anything unless we take the long view. Remember that. China, Russia . . . ’
After a few minutes he shook hands and went away. In the morning I took the train to Berlin.