Part 2 out of 8
Why delude myself any longer?--I love her!
What is to be done? Must I go away back to Rome? That means a
disappointment and sorrow for her; for who knows how deeply rooted
her feelings may be? To marry her is the same as to sacrifice her for
myself, and make her life unhappy in another way. A truly enchanted
circle! Only people of the Ploszowski species ever get into such
dilemmas. And there is devilish little comfort in the thought that
there are more such as I, or that their name is legion.
Whether the species be gradually dying out, as badly fitted for the
struggle of life, remains to be seen; for in addition to an incapacity
for life, there is ill luck as well. I might have met such an Aniela
ten years ago, when my sails were not, as now, worn to shreds and
If that honest soul, my aunt, knew how, with the best of intentions,
she brought me to this pass, she would be truly grieved. There was
tragedy enough in my life,--the consciousness of utter failure, the
dark mist in which my thoughts were straying; now there is a new,--to
be, or not to be; but no, it is far worse than that!
Yesterday I went again to Warsaw by appointment, to meet a certain Pan
Julius Keo, on whose estates I lodged part of the capital I inherited
from my mother. Pan Julius Keo wants to pay off the mortgage, and
asked me to meet him at a fixed time; and I waited for him the whole
day. The devil take their ways of managing any business in this
country! He will make five other appointments, and not keep one. He is
very rich, wants to get rid of the mortgage, and is able to pay it off
any time; and yet--such is our way of transacting business.
From my own observations I long since came to the conclusion that in
money matters we are the most flighty and unbusinesslike people in the
world. I, who like to go to the root of matters, often pondered over
According to my ideas, this is the result of the purely agricultural
occupation of the people. Commerce was in the hands of the Jews, and
these could not teach us accuracy; the cultivator of the soil is
unreliable because the soil is unreliable, he is unpunctual because
nature has no punctuality. Working in the soil, they gradually take
some of its characteristics, which enters into their moral being, and
in the course of time becomes an inherited defect.
The knowledge of cause and effect does not restore me to an equable
temper. I had to tear myself away from Aniela for a whole day, and
what is more, shall have to go through the some process a few
days hence; but it cannot be helped. In my aunt's house I found
visiting-cards from Kromitzki,--one for me and two for the elder
ladies. I was afraid he might take it into his head to pay us a
visit at Ploszow; to avoid that, I went out to leave my card on him.
Unfortunately for me, he was at home, and I had to stay half an hour.
He began his conversation by telling me that he had promised to call
at Ploszow; to which I replied that we had gone there merely for a few
days, and would be back in town almost immediately. He asked after
Aniela's mother, and very guardedly after Aniela herself. He evidently
wanted to impress me with the fact that he inquired as a mere
acquaintance. I am so impressionable that even this gave me a twinge;
how I loathe that man! I fancy the Tartars under Batu Khan must have
played many pranks in what is to-day Austrian Silesia, when looting
the country after the battle of Liegnitz. That those black eyes, like
roasted coffee-berries, did not come from Silesian ancestors, I have
not the slightest doubt.
He was exceedingly polite to me, because I am rich. It is true, he
wants nothing from me,--I do not give him anything, and my being rich
is of no advantage to him; but as a financier he worships money. We
spoke about the difficulties in which Aniela's mother was and is still
involved. According to Kromitzki, a great deal of her fortune might
still be saved if she would part with the estate. Kromitzki looks upon
the reluctance to part with ancestral lands as a mere fad. He said he
might be able to understand it if she had the means to prevent it, but
as the case stood it was mere sentimentality.
He is very talkative, and discussed at some length our national
idiocy. Money was lying on the pavement, to be had for the picking up.
His father, like other noblemen, had left scarcely any fortune; when
all debts were cleared off there remained a paltry hundred thousand
florins, and the world knew how he, Kromitzki, stood at present.
"If that business in Turkestan comes off, I shall be able to wind up
my affairs. The Jews and Greeks have made millions in the contract
business; why should not we be able to do as well? I do not put
myself as an example; but I say, why should we not? There is room for
everybody,--why not go in for it?"
According to my opinion, Kromitzki has a certain aptness for business,
but is foolish in a general sense. That we are shiftless, everybody
knows that; and that here and there somebody makes a fortune by
contracts, I can well believe; but the greater part of the people must
work at home, and not look for millions from contracts in Turkestan.
May God save Aniela from an alliance with that man. He may have some
good qualities, but he belongs to a different moral type. If there be
a worse fate in store for her, ought I to hesitate any longer?
The elder ladies seem uneasy that the affair is not going on as
speedily as they had fancied; my aunt, who is of an impatient temper,
must chafe inwardly not a little. But the expression of happiness on
Aniela's face soothes them, and allays their fears. I can read in her
eyes endless trust and thorough belief in me. She fills my thoughts so
that I cannot think of anything but her. I desire her more and more,
and do not want to play upon her feelings any longer,--I want her.
This day has been to me of so much importance that I am obliged to
muster all my calmness and self-possession to put down everything in
its proper order. Nevertheless, I cannot contain myself. The die is
cast, or as good as cast. I could not have gone on quietly, had I not
put that down.
And now I can begin. Sniatynski and his wife arrived here towards
noon, for an early dinner. He had to go back, as a new play of his
is coming out at the theatre. However happy we may be in our rural
seclusion, we are always delighted to see them. Aniela is great
friends with Pani Sniatynska, and I suppose there will be an exchange
of confidences. Pani Sniatynska guessed at the state of things, and
tried to put her hand to the wheel, to make the cart go a little
faster. She had only just arrived, when she said to my aunt:--
"How lovely and peaceful everything is here! No wonder the young
people there do not pine after the dissipations of town."
We both, Aniela and I, understood perfectly well that Pani Sniatynska,
calling us the young people, was not referring only to our age.
Besides, she repeated the same thing several times during dinner: "the
young people," "the young couple," as if making a pointed difference
between us two and the elder ladies. But there was such real sympathy
for us in the friendly eyes; such a pricking up of her little ears to
hear what we were saying to each other; and the little woman looked so
charming withal that I forgive her readily her good-natured meddling.
I have arrived at such a state of infatuation that this coupling of
our names rather gladdens than irritates me. Aniela too seemed to hear
it with pleasure. In her efforts to please the Sniatynskis and the
attentions she bestowed on them during dinner, she truly looked like a
young bride, who receives dear visitors for the first time in her new
home. At the sight of this my aunt's heart seemed to swell, and she
said many kind and polite things to both Sniatynskis. I noticed a
wonderful thing, which I should not believe had I not seen it with my
own eyes. Pani Sniatynska blushes up to her ears when anybody praises
her husband! To blush with pleasure when her husband is praised after
eight years of married life! Surely, I committed an egregious mistake
writing as I did about Polish women.
The dinner passed off very pleasantly. A married couple, like these
two, are born matchmakers. The very sight of them sets people
thinking: "If married life is like that, let us go and commit
matrimony." I at least saw it for the first time in a quite different
light,--not as the prose of life, a commonplace, more or less
skilfully disguised indifference, but as a thing to be desired.
Aniela evidently read our future in the same light; I saw it in her
eyes shining with happiness.
After dinner I remained in the dining-room with Sniatynski, who liked
a quiet talk over a glass of cognac after his coffee. The elder ladies
went to the drawing-room, and Aniela took Pani Sniatynska upstairs to
show her some photographs of Volhynia. I questioned Sniatynski about
his new play, the fate of which seemed to make him a little anxious.
Our conversation drifted on to those times when we both tried our
sprouting wings. He told me how afterwards, step by step, he had
worked his way upward; how he had been full of doubts, and still
doubted his power, in spite of having acquired a certain reputation.
"Tell me," I asked, "what do you do with your fame?"
"How do you mean what I do with my fame?"
"For instance, do you wear it as a crown on your head, or as a golden
fleece round your neck? do you put it over your writing-desk, or hang
it up in your drawing-room? I only ask as a man who has no idea what
to do with it if he once obtains it?"
"Let us suppose I have won it; the man must be deuced ill-bred
mentally either to wear the so-called fame as an ornament or to put it
up for show. I confess that at first it gratifies one's vanity; but
only a spiritual parvenu would find it sufficient to fill the whole
life, or take the place of real happiness. It is quite another thing
to be conscious you are doing good work; that the public appreciates
it, and that your work calls forth an echo in other minds,--a public
man has the right to feel pleased with that. But as to feeling
gratified when somebody, looking more or less foolish, comes up and
says: 'We are indebted to you for so much pleasure;' or, when a dinner
does not agree with me, our daily press remarks: 'We communicate
to our readers the sad news that our famous XX suffers from a
stomachache,'--pshaw! what do you take me for, that such a thing could
give me satisfaction?"
"Listen," I said, "I am not inordinately vain; but I confess that,
when people speak of my extraordinary talents, and regret that I make
not a better use of them, it flatters me; and though I feel more
than ever my uselessness, it gives me pleasure; humankind is fond of
"That is because you pity yourself, and in that you are quite right.
But you are turning away from the question. I do not say that it would
give one pleasure to be called an ass."
"But the public esteem that goes hand in hand with fame?"
Sniatynski, who is very lively and always walks about the room,
sitting down on any table or chair, now sat on the window-sill, and
"Public esteem? You are wrong there, old fellow; there is no such
thing. Ours is a strange society, dominated by a pure republican
jealousy. I write plays, work for the stage; very good. I have gained
a certain reputation; better still. Now, these plays excite the
jealousy,--of another playwright, you think? Not at all; it is the
engineer, the bank clerk, the teacher, the physician, the railway
official,--in short, people who never wrote a play in their
lives,--that envy you. All these in their intercourse will show that
they do not think much of you, will speak slightingly of you behind
your back, and belittle you on purpose, so as to add an inch or two to
their own height. 'Sniatynski? who is he? Yes, I remember; he dresses
at the same tailor as I.' Such is fame, my dear fellow."
"But if must be worth something, since people risk their lives for
Sniatynski grew thoughtful, and replied with a certain gravity:--
"In private life it is worth something; you can make a footstool of it
for the woman you love."
"You will gain a new fame by this definition."
Sniatynski rushed at me with lively impetuosity.
"Yes, yes; put all your laurels into a cushion, go to the dear one,
and say to her: 'This for which people risk their lives; this which
they consider supreme happiness, appreciate more than wealth,--I have
got it, striven for it; and now put your dear feet on it at once.' If
you do this, you will be loved all your life. You wanted to know what
fame is good for, and there you are."
Further discussions were cut short by the entrance of Pani Sniatynska
and Aniela. They were dressed for going out to the hot-houses. What an
imp of mischief lurks in that little woman. She came up to her husband
to ask his permission to go out, which he granted, insisting only that
she should wrap herself up warm; she turned to me and said with a
"You will let Aniela go, will you not?"
That Aniela should blush furiously was only natural, but that I,
an old stager, a razor sharpened against the strops of so many
experiences, should have betrayed so much confusion, I cannot forgive
myself. But, putting on a semblance of self-possession, I went up to
Aniela, and raising her hand to my lips, said:--
"It is Aniela who gives orders at Ploszow, and I am her humble
I should have liked to take Sniatynski with me and join the excursion,
but refrained. I felt a want to speak about Aniela, my future
marriage, and I knew that sooner or later Sniatynski himself would
broach the question. I gave him an opening after the ladies had left
us by saying:--
"And do you still believe as firmly as ever in your life-dogmas?"
"More than ever, or rather, the same as ever. There is no expression
more worn to tatters than the word 'love;' one scarcely likes to use
it; but between ourselves, I tell you; love in the general meaning,
love in the individual sense does not permit of criticism. It is one
of the canons of life. My philosophy consists in not philosophizing
about it at all,--and the deuce take me if for the matter of that, I
consider myself more foolish than other people. With love, life is
worth something; without, it is not worth a bag of chaff."
"Let us see what you have to say about individual love,--or better
still, put in its place woman."
"Very well, let it be woman."
"My good friend, do you not perceive on what brittle foundation you
are building human happiness?"
"On about as brittle a foundation as life,--no more nor less!"
I did not want to drift into a discussion of life and death, and
pulled Sniatynski up.
"For mercy's sake, do not generalize about individual happiness. You
chanced to find the right woman, another might not."
He would not even listen to that. According to his view, ninety out of
a hundred were successful. Women were better, purer, and nobler than
"We are rascals all, in comparison with them!" he shouted, waving his
arms and snaking his leonine mane. "Nothing but rascals! It is I who
say it,--I, who study mankind closely, if only for the reason that I
am a playwright."
He was sitting astride on his chair, attacking me, as it were, with
the chairback, and went on with his usual impetuosity:--
"There are, as Dumas says, apes from the land of Nod, who know neither
curb nor bridle; but what are eyes given for but to see that you do
not take to wife an ape from Nod? Generally speaking a woman does not
betray her husband nor deceive him, unless he himself corrupts her
heart, tramples on her feelings, or repulses and estranges her by his
meanness, his selfishness, narrowness, and his miserable, worthless
nature. You must love her! Let her feel that she is not only your
female, but the crown of your head, as precious as your child and
friend; wear her close to your heart, let her feel the warmth of it,
and you may rest in peace; year after year she will cling closer to
you, until you two are like Siamese twins. If you do not give her all
that, you pervert her, estrange her by your worthlessness,--and she
will leave you. She will leave you as soon as she sees nobler hands
stretched out for her; she is forced to do it, as this warmth, this
appreciation, are as necessary to her life as the air she breathes."
He charged me with the chairback as with a battering ram. I retreated
before him until we had come close to the window; there he jumped up.
"How blind you are! In presence of such social drought, such utter
absence of general happiness as stamps our time, not to grasp this
felicity that is within reach! Shiver on the forum, and not light a
fire at home! Idiotism can go no farther! I tell you plainly, go and
He pointed through the window at Aniela, who with his wife was coming
back from the hot-houses, and added: "There is your happiness. There
it patters in fur boots on the frozen snow. Take her by weight of
gold, by weight in carats rather! You simply have no home, not only in
a physical sense, but in a moral, intellectual meaning; you have no
basis, no point of rest, and she will give you all that. But do not
philosophize her away as you have philosophized away your abilities
and your thirty-five years of life!"
He could not have told me anything better, nobler, or what chimed in
more with my own desires. I pressed his hands and replied:--
"No, I will not philosophize her away, because I love her."
Upon this the ladies entered, and Pani Sniatynska observed:--
"We heard some disputes when we were leaving, but I see peace is
restored. May I ask what you have been discussing?"
"Woman, madame," I said.
"And what was the result?"
"As you see, a treaty of peace sealed by a grasp of the hand, and
something further may come of it in the course of time."
The sledge was already waiting at the door. The short day was drawing
to its close, and they had to go back; but as the weather was calm,
and the snow on the drive as smooth as a parquetted floor, we
resolved, Aniela and I, to accompany them as far as the high-road.
And so we did. After having said good-by to our charming visitors, we
went slowly homeward. It was already dusk; in the dim light I could
still see Aniela's face. She seemed moved, perhaps had opened her
heart to Pani Sniatynska, and even now hoped for the long deferred
word. It was almost burning on my tongue; but, oh, wonder! I who never
yet had lost all my self-possession, I who was used to play upon
heartstrings, who at a fencing match of that kind, if not cleverly, at
least with perfect composure guarded myself against the most masterly
strokes, I was as deeply moved as a lad in his teens. What a
difference from former sentiments. I was afraid I could not find words
to express myself,--and remained silent.
Thus in silence we approached the veranda. The snow was slippery;
I offered her my arm, and when she leaned on it I felt how all my
desires were centred in her. The feeling grew so intense that it
thrilled my nerves like electric sparks. We entered the hall. There
was nobody there; not even the lamps were lit, the only light came in
fitful gleams from the open stoves. In this half-light and in silence
I began to relieve Aniela of her furs, when suddenly the warmth
emanating from her body seemed to enter into my veins; I put my arm
around her, and drawing her close to me I pressed my lips on her brow.
It was done almost unconsciously, and Aniela must have been greatly
startled, for she made not the slightest resistance. Presently a
footstep became audible; it was the servant with the lamps. She went
upstairs, and I, deeply moved, entered the dining-room.
To every man who is ever so little enterprising, similar events occur
in the course of life. I am no exception, but, as a rule, I always
kept the mastery over myself. Now it was different. Thoughts and
sensations whirled across my brain like leaves before a gale.
Fortunately the dining-room was empty; my aunt and Aniela's mother
were in the drawing-room, where I joined them after a while. My
thoughts were so far away that I scarcely heard what they were saying
to me. I felt restless. I seemed to see Aniela sitting in her room,
pressing her hands to her temples, trying to realize what it all
meant. Soon Aniela herself came down. I felt relieved, as I had feared
she might not come down again for the evening. She had two burning
spots on either side of her face, and eyes bright as if from recent
slumber. She had tried to cool her face with powder; I saw the traces
on her left temple. The sight of her moved me; I felt that I loved her
Presently she stooped over some needlework. I saw that her breath came
and went irregularly, and once or twice I intercepted a quick glance
full of unsettled questions and trouble.
In order to set her mind at rest I thrust myself into the conversation
of the elder ladies, who were speaking about Sniatynski, and said:--
"Sniatynski considers me a kind of Hamlet, and says I philosophize too
much; but I am going to show him that he is mistaken, and that not
later than to-morrow."
I laid some stress on the "to-morrow," and Aniela caught the meaning,
for she gave me a long look; but my aunt, all unconscious, asked:--
"Are you going to see him to-morrow?"
"We ought to go and see his play, and if Aniela agrees we will all go
The dear girl looked at me shyly but trustingly, and said, with
"I will go with great pleasure."
There was a moment when I could scarcely contain myself, and felt
I ought to speak there and then; but I had said "to-morrow," and
I feel like a man who shuts his eyes and ears before taking the final
plunge. But I really think it is a costly pearl I shall find at the
bottom of the deep.
CASA OSORIA, 6 March.
Yesterday I arrived at Rome. My father is not quite so bad as I
had feared. His left arm and the left side of his body are almost
paralyzed, but the doctor tells me his heart is not threatened, and
that he may live for years.
I left Aniela in doubt, expectation, and suspense. But I could not do
otherwise. The day following the Sniatynskis' visit, the very day I
was going to ask Aniela to be my wife, I received a letter from my
father telling me about his illness.
"Make haste, dear boy," he wrote, "for I should like to see you before
I die, and I feel my bark very close to the shore."
After the receipt of such a letter I took the first train, and never
stopped until I reached Rome. When leaving Ploszow I had very little
hope to find my father alive. In vain my aunt tried to comfort me,
saying if things were so bad he would surely have sent a telegram
instead of a letter.
I know my father's little oddities, among which is a rooted dislike to
telegrams. But my aunt's composure was only put on, at the bottom she
felt as frightened as myself.
In the hurry, the sudden shock, and under the horror of my father's
likely death, I could not speak of love and marriage. It seemed
against nature, almost a brutal thing, to whisper words of love, not
knowing whether at the same time my father might not be breathing his
last. They all understood that, and especially Aniela.
"I will write to you from Rome," I said before starting; to which she
replied: "May God comfort you first."
She trusts me altogether. Rightly or wrongly, I have the reputation
of fickleness in regard to women, and Aniela must have heard remarks
about it; maybe it is for that very reason the dear girl shows such
unbounded confidence in me. I understand, and can almost hear the
pure soul saying: "They wrong you,--you are not fickle; and those who
accuse you of fickleness do not know what love means, and did not love
you as truly and deeply as I love you."
Perhaps I am a little fickle by nature, and this disposition,
developed under the influence of the barren, empty, worthless
sentiments I met with in the world,--this might have dried up my heart
and corrupted it altogether; in which case Aniela would have to pay
for the sins of others. But I believe the case is not hopeless, and
the blessed physician has not come too late. Who knows whether it be
ever too late, and that the pure, honest love of a woman does not
possess the power to raise the dead? Perhaps, too, the masculine heart
has a greater power of recuperation. There is a legend about the rose
of Jericho, which, though dry to the core, revives and brings forth
leaves when touched by a drop of dew. I have noticed that the male
nature has more elasticity than the female. A man steeped in such
utter corruption that half of its venom would cover the woman with
moral leprosy is able to throw off the contagion, and recover easily
not only his moral freshness, but even a certain virginity of heart.
It is the same with the affections. I have known women whose hearts
were so used up that they lost every capacity of loving, even of
respecting anything or anybody. I have never known men like that.
Decidedly, love cleanses our hearts. Definitions like these sound
strange from a sceptic's pen; but in the first place I have no more
belief in my doubts than I have in any other kind of assertions,
axioms, and observations which serve general humanity as a basis of
life. I am ready to admit at any moment that my doubts are as far
removed from the essence of things as are these axioms. Secondly, I
am writing now under the influence of my love for Aniela, who, maybe,
does not know herself how wisely she is acting, and how by that very
trust in me she has secured a powerful hold on my affections. Lastly,
whenever I speak of love, or any other principle of life, I speak and
write of it as it appears to me in the present. What my opinion about
it will be to-morrow, I do not know. Ah, if I but knew that whatever
view I take or principle I confess would withstand the blasting
scepticism of to-morrow or the days following, I would make it my
canon of life, and float along with sails unfurled, like Sniatynski,
in the light, instead of groping my way in darkness and solitude.
But I do not intend to go back now to my inner tragedy. As to love in
general, from the standpoint of a sceptic in regard to the world and
its manifestations, I might say with Solomon, "Vanitas vanitatum;"
but I should be utterly blind did I not perceive that of all active
principles this is the most powerful,--so powerful indeed that
whenever I think of it or my eyes roam over the everlasting ocean
of all-life, I am simply struck with amazement at its almightiness.
Though these are known things, as much known as the rising of the sun
and the tides of the ocean, nevertheless they are always wonderful.
After Empedocles, who divined that Eros evolved the worlds from Chaos,
metaphysics have not advanced one step. Only death is a power equally
absolute; yet in the eternal struggle between the two, love is the
stronger; love conquers death by night and day, conquers it every
spring, follows death step by step, throwing fresh grain into the gulf
it creates. People occupied with every-day affairs forget or do not
wish to remember that they are love's servants. It is strange when we
come to think of it that the warrior, the chancellor of state, the
cultivator of the soil, the merchant, the banker, in all their
efforts, which apparently have nothing to do with love, are merely
furthering its ends; that is, they serve the law of nature which bids
the man to stretch out his arms for the woman. A mad paradox it would
seem to a Bismarck if he were told that the final and only aim of all
his endeavors is to further the love of Hermann and Dorothea. It seems
even to me a paradox; and yet Bismarck's aim is the consolidation of
the German empire, and this can be achieved only through Hermann and
Dorothea. What else, then, has a Bismarck to do but to create by
the help of politics and bayonets such conditions that Hermann and
Dorothea may love each other in peace, unite in happiness, and bring
up new generations?
When at the university I read an Arabian ghazel in which the poet
compares the power of love to that of infernal torments. I forget the
name of the poet, but the idea remained in my memory. Truly, love is
the one power that lasts for all times, holds the world together, and
creates new worlds.
To-day I tore up three or four letters to Aniela. After dinner, I went
into my father's room to talk with him about my aunt's plans. I found
him looking through a lens at some epilichnions with the earth still
adhering to them, he had received from the Peloponnesus. How splendid
he looked in that light coming through stained windows in the large
room full of Etruscan vases, statues more or less mutilated, and all
kinds of Greek and Roman treasures. Among these surroundings his face
reminded me of a divine Plato or of some other Greek sage. When I
entered he interrupted his work, listened attentively to what I had to
say, and then asked, "Do you hesitate?"
"No, I do not hesitate, but I am reflecting. I want to know why I want
"Then I will tell you this; I was once like you, inclined to analyze
not only my own feelings but all manifestations of life. When I came
to know your mother I lost that faculty at once. I knew one thing
only, that I wanted her, and did not care to know anything else.
Therefore if you have a like powerful desire, marry. I express myself
wrongly, for if you wish it very much you will do it without anybody's
help or advice, and be as happy as I was until your mother died."
We remained silent for some time. If I were to apply my father's words
closely to my own case, I should feel small comfort. I love Aniela,
there is no doubt; but I have not arrived yet at a state that
precludes all reflection. But I do not consider this as a bad sign;
it simply means that I belong to a generation that has gone a step
farther on the way to knowledge.
There are always two persons within me,--the actor, and the spectator.
Often the spectator is dissatisfied with the actor, but at present
they both agree.
My father was the first to interrupt the silence.
"Tell me what she is like."
Since a description is an unsatisfactory way of painting a portrait, I
showed my father a large and really excellent photograph of Aniela, at
which he looked with the keenest interest. I was no less interested in
the study of his face, in which I saw not only the roused artist,
but also the refined connoisseur of female beauty, the old Leon
_l'Invincible_. Resting the photograph on the poor hand half
paralyzed, he put on his eyeglass with the right, and then holding the
likeness at a longer or shorter distance he began to say: "But for
certain details, the face is like one of those Ary-Schaeffer liked to
paint. How lovely she would look with tears in her eyes. Some people
dislike angelic faces in women, but I think that to teach an angel
how to become a woman is the very height of victory. She is very
beautiful, very uncommon looking. 'Enfin, tout ce qu'il y a de plus
beau au monde--c'est la femme.'"
Here he fumbled with his eyeglass, and then added: "Judging by the
face, or rather by the photograph (sometimes one makes mistakes, but I
have had some practice), hers is a thoroughly loyal nature. Women of
this type are in love with the whiteness of their plumage. God bless
you, my boy! I like her very much, this Aniela of yours. I used to be
afraid you might end by marrying a foreigner--let it be Aniela."
I came up close to him and he put his arm round my neck.
"I should like to see my future daughter before I die."
I assured him that he would certainly see her shortly. Then I unfolded
my plans of bringing Aniela and her mother over to Rome. After a
betrothal by letter I might expect as much, and the ladies would not
refuse, if only out of consideration for my father. In this case the
marriage ceremony would take place at Rome, and that very soon.
My father was delighted with the plan; old and sick people like to see
around them life and motion. I knew that Aniela would be pleased with
this turn of affairs, and let my thoughts dwell upon it with more and
more pleasure. Within a few weeks everything would be settled. Such
quick decision would be against my nature, but the very idea that I
could exert myself if I wished raised my spirits. I already saw myself
escorting Aniela about Rome. Only those who live there understand
what a delight it is to show to anybody the endless treasures of that
city,--a much greater delight when the somebody is the beloved woman.
Our conversation was interrupted by a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Davis,
who come every day to see my father. He is an English Jew, and she
an Italian nobleman's daughter who married him for the sake of his
wealth. Mr. Davis himself is a valetudinarian, who took out of his
life twice as much as his poor organization could bear. He is ill,
threatened with softening of the brain, indifferent to everything that
goes on around him,--one of those specimens of mankind one meets at
hydropathic establishments. Mrs. Davis looks like a Juno; her eyebrows
meet on her forehead, and she has the figure of a Greek statue. I do
not like her; she reminds me of the leaning tower at Pisa,--leans but
does not fall. A year ago I paid her some attentions; she flirted with
me outrageously, that was all. My father has a singular weakness for
her; I thought at times he was in love with her. At any rate, he
admires her from a thinker and artist's point of view; for beautiful
she is,--there can be no two opinions as to that,--and of more than
average intelligence. Their conversations, which my father calls
"causeries Romaines," are endless, and they never seem to get tired of
them; maybe these discussions about life's problems with a beautiful
woman appear Italian to him, poetical, and worthy of the times of the
Renaissance. I very seldom take part in these conversations because
I do not believe in Mrs. Davis' sincerity. It seems to me that her
intellect is merely a matter of brain, and not of soul, and that in
reality she does not care for anything except her beauty and the
comforts of life. I have often met women who seem full of lofty
aspiration; upon closer acquaintance it seems that religion,
philosophy, art, and literature, are only so many items of their
toilet. They dress themselves in either as it suits their style of
beauty. I suppose it is the same with Mrs. Davis; she drapes herself
in problems of life, sometimes in Greek and Roman antiquities, in the
Divina Commedia, or the Renaissance, the churches, museums, and so
forth. I can understand a powerful intellectual organism making itself
the centre of the universe; but in a woman, and one who is bent upon
futile things, it is mere laughable egoism and vanity.
I ask myself what makes Mrs. Davis so fond of my father; and I fancy
I know the reason. My father, with his fine head of a patrician
philosopher, and his manners reminding one of the eighteenth
century, is for her a kind of _objet d'art_, and still more, a grand
intelligent mirror, in which she can admire her own beauty and
cleverness; besides, she feels grateful that he never criticises her,
and likes her very much. Upon this basis has sprung up a friendship,
or rather a kind of affection for my father which gradually has become
a necessity of her life. Moreover, Mrs. Davis has the reputation of a
coquette, and coming here to see my father every day, she says to
the world: "It is not true; this old man is seventy, and nobody can
suspect me of flirting with him, and yet I show him more attentions
than to any one else." Finally, though she herself comes from an old
family, Mr. Davis, in spite of his wealth, is a mere nobody, and their
friendship with my father strengthens their position in society. There
was a time when I asked myself whether these daily visits were not
partly for my sake--and who knows? At any rate, it is not my qualities
which attract her, nor any real feeling on her part. But she feels
that I do not believe in her, and this irritates her. I should not
wonder if she hated me, and yet would like to see me at her feet. I
might have been, for she is a splendid specimen of the human species;
I would have been, if only for the sake of the meeting eyebrows and
the Juno shoulders,--but at a price she does not feel inclined to pay.
Soon after the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Davis my father began a
philosophical discussion, which, going from one question to another,
concluded with an analysis of human feelings. Mrs. Davis made
several very shrewd remarks. From the studio we went to the terrace
overlooking our gardens. It is only the tenth of March, and here
spring is at its best. This year everything is much advanced,--fierce
heat in the daytime, the magnolias covered with snow-white blossoms,
and the nights as warm as in July. What a different world from that of
Ploszow. I breathe here with all my lungs.
Mrs. Davis on the terrace with the moon shining upon her was
beautiful as a Greek dream. I saw she was under the influence of that
indescribable Roman night. Her voice was softer, even, and more mellow
than usual. Perhaps even now she only thinks of herself, is impressed
because it is herself who feels it, dresses herself in moonbeams,
restfulness, and magnolia scent as in a new shawl or bonnet. But all
the same the dress suits her splendidly. Were it not that my heart is
full of Aniela, I should fall under the spell of the picture. Besides
this, she said things which not many could have conceived.
All the same, whenever I am present at these _causeries Romaines_
I have always a feeling that my father, I, such as Mrs. Davis, and
generally speaking, all the people of the so-called upper classes do
not live a true, real life. Below us something is always going
on, something always happens; there is the struggle for life, for
bread,--a life full of diligent work, animal necessities, appetites,
passions, every-day efforts,--a palpable life, which roars, leaps, and
tumbles like ocean waves; and we are sitting eternally on terraces,
discussing art, literature, love, woman, strangers to that other
life far removed from it, obliterating, out of the seven, the six
work-days. Without being conscious of it, our inclinations,
nerves, and soul are fit only for holidays. Immersed into blissful
dilettantism as in a warm bath, we are half awake, half dreaming.
Consuming leisurely our wealth, and our inherited supply of nerves and
muscles, we gradually lose our foothold upon the soil. We are as the
down, carried away by the wind. Scarcely do we touch ground, when the
real life pushes us back, and we draw aside; for we have no power of
When I think of it I see nothing but contradictions in us. We consider
ourselves the outcome and highest rung of civilization, and yet have
lost faith in ourselves; only the most foolish believe in our _raison
d'etre._ We look out instinctively for places of enjoyment, gayety,
and happiness, and yet we do not believe in happiness. Though our
pessimism be wan and ephemeral as the clouds from our Havanas, it
obscures our view of wider horizons. Amidst these clouds and mists
we create for ourselves a separate world, a world torn off from the
immensity of all life, shut up within itself, a little empty and
somnolent. If this merely concerned the aristocracy, whether by
descent or wealth, the portent would be less weighty. But to this
isolated world belong more or less all those who boast of a higher
culture,--men of science, literature, and art. This world does not
dwell within the very marrow of life, but parting from it creates a
separate circle; in consequence withers within itself and does not
help in softening down the animalism of those millions which writhe
and surge below.
I do not speak as a reformer, because I lack the strength. Besides,
what matters it to me? Who can avoid the inevitable? But at times I
have the dim presentiment of a terrible danger which threatens the
cultured world. The great wave which will wash us from off the surface
of the earth will carry off more than that one which washed away
hairpowder and shirtfrills. It is true that to those who perished then
it seemed that with them the whole civilization was perishing.
In the mean while it is pleasant to sit on moonlit terraces and talk
in subdued tones about art, love, and woman, and look at the divine
profile of such a woman as Mrs. Davis.
Mountains, towers, rocks, the further they recede from our view,
appear as a mere outline through a veil of blue haze. There is a kind
of psychical blue haze that enfolds those who are removed from us.
Death itself is a removal, but the chasm is so wide that the beloved
ones who have crossed it disappear within the haze and become as
beloved shadows. The Greek genius understood this when he peopled the
Elysian fields with shadows.
But I will not enlarge upon these mournful comparisons, especially
when I want to write about Aniela. I am quite certain my feelings
towards her have not changed, but I seem to see her a long distance
off, shrouded in a blue haze and less real than at Ploszow. I do not
feel her through my senses. When I compare my present feelings with
those I had at Ploszow, she is more of a beloved spirit than a desired
woman. From a certain point of view it is better, as a desired woman
might be even such a woman as Mrs. Davis; but on the other hand this
is not one of the reasons that have prevented me from writing to
Aniela. Doubtless that profile of Mrs. Davis which I still see before
me is a mere passing impression. When I compare these two women my
feeling for the other becomes very tender; and yet I leave her in
cruel suspense and uncertainty.
To-day my father wrote to my aunt, setting her mind at rest as to his
health, and I added a postscript from myself, sending kind regards
to Aniela and her mother. I could not say much in a few lines, but I
might have promised them a longer letter. Such a promise would have
comforted Aniela and the elder ladies. I did not do it because I could
not. To-day my spirits are at a very low ebb. My wish for another
life, and my trust in the future have retreated into the farthest
distance; I can see them no more, see only the barren, sandy
wilderness. I cannot get rid of the idea that I can only marry Aniela
if I can conscientiously believe that our union would lead to mutual
happiness. I cannot represent it otherwise to Aniela without uttering
a lie; for I have none of that belief, and instead of it an utter
hopelessness almost a dislike of life. She is ill at ease with longing
and uncertainty, but I am worse, all the more so because I love her.
Mrs. Davis, to whom, during our _causerie_ on the moonlit terrace, I
unfolded my view as to the all-powerfulness of love, more or less as I
have written it down, called me Anacreon, and advised me to crown my
head with vine leaves, and then said more soberly, "If such be your
opinions, why play the part of pessimist? Belief in such a deity ought
to make any man happy."
Why? I did not tell her, but I know why. Love conquers death, but
saves from it only the species. What matters it to me that the species
be preserved, when I, the individual, am sentenced to a merciless,
unavoidable death? Is it not rather a refined cruelty that the very
affections, which can be felt only by the individual, should serve the
future of the species only? To feel the throbbing of an eternal power,
and yet to die,--that is the height of misery. In reality there
exists only the individual; the species is an abstract idea, and in
comparison to the individual, an utter Nirvana. I understand the love
for a son, a grandson, a great grandson,--for the individual, in fact,
that is sentenced to perish,--but to profess love for one's species
one needs be insincere, or a fanatical sectarian. I can understand now
how centuries after Empedocles there came Schopenhauer and Hartmann.
My brain feels as sore as the back of the laborer who carries burdens
beyond his strength. But the laborer stooping to his work earns his
daily bread and is at peace.
I still seem to hear Sniatynski's words: "Do not philosophize
her away, as you have philosophized away your abilities and your
thirty-five years of life." I know it leads to nothing, I know it is
wrong, but I do not know how not to think.
My father died this morning. He was ill only a few hours.
PELI, VILLA LAURA, 22 March.
Death is such a gulf, and though we know that all have to go thither,
yet when it swallows up one of our dear ones, we who remain on the
brink are torn with fear, sorrow, and despair. On that brink all
reasoning leaves us, and we only cry out for help which cannot come
from anywhere. The only solace and comfort lies in faith, but he who
is deprived of that light gets well-nigh maddened by the impenetrable
darkness. Ten times a day it seems to me impossible, too horrible,
that death should be the end of everything,--and then again, a dozen
times I feel that such is the case.
When I arrived from Ploszow I found my father so much better that it
never even entered my mind that the end could be so near. What strange
twists there are in the human mind. God knows how sincerely I rejoiced
when I found my father so much better than I had thought, and yet
because throughout that anxious journey I had fancied him sick unto
death, and already saw myself kneeling at his coffin, I was sorry
for my wasted anxieties. Now the memory of this fills me with keen
How thoroughly unhappy is the individual whose heart and soul have
lost their simplicity. Thus not less bitter, not less of a reproach is
the remembrance that at my father's deathbed there were two persons in
me: one of them the son full of anguish, who gnawed his hands to keep
back his sobs; the other the philosopher, who studied the psychology
of death. I am unutterably unhappy because my nature is an unhappy
My father died with full consciousness. Saturday evening he felt a
little worse. I sent for the doctor, that he might be at hand in case
we should want him. The doctor prescribed some physic, and my father,
according to his habit, disputed the point, demonstrating that the
physic would bring on a stroke. The doctor calmed my fears, and said
though there was always fear of another stroke, he saw no immediate
danger, and that my father most likely would live for many years to
come. He repeated the same to the patient, who, hearing of the many
years to come, incredulously shook his head and said: "We will see."
As he has always been in the habit of contradicting his doctors, and
proving to them that they know nothing, I did not take his words
seriously. Towards ten at night, when taking his tea, he suddenly rose
and called out:--
"Leon, come here, quick!"
A quarter of an hour later he was in his bed, and within an hour he
I am convinced that people preserve their idiosyncracies and
originality to the last minute of their life. Thus my father, in the
solemn dignity of thoughts at the approaching end, still showed a
gratified vanity that he, and not the doctor, had been right, and that
his unbelief in medicine was well founded. I listened to what he said,
and besides, read his thoughts in his face. He was deeply impressed
with the importance of the moment; there was also curiosity as to the
future life,--not a shadow of doubt as to its existence, but rather a
certain uneasiness about how he would be received, joined to an almost
unconscious, unsophisticated belief that he would not be treated as a
mere nobody in particular. I shall never die like this, because I have
no basis to uphold me in the hour of death. My father parted with his
life in absolute faith and the deep contrition of a true Christian. At
the moment when he received the last sacraments he was so venerable,
so purely saintly, that his image will remain with me always.
How futile, how miserable, appears to me my scepticism in presence of
that immense power of faith that, stronger even than love, triumphs
over death at the very moment when it extinguishes life. After having
received the last sacraments, a great tenderness took possession of
him. He grasped my hand strongly, almost convulsively, and did not let
it go again, as if through me he wanted to hold fast to life. And yet
it was neither fear nor despair that moved him, he was not in the
least afraid. Presently I saw the eyes riveted upon my face grow dim
and fixed, his forehead became moist, as if covered by a gentle dew;
he opened his mouth several times as if to catch his breath,--sighed
deeply once more,--and died.
I was not present at the embalming of the body,--I had not the
strength; but after that I did not leave the dear remains for a
minute, out of fear they might treat him as a thing of no consequence.
How truly awful are those last rites of death,--the whole funereal
paraphernalia, the candles, the misericordia, with the covered faces
of the singers. It still clings to my ears, the "Anima ejus," and
"Requiem aeternam." There breathes from it all the gloomy, awful
spirit of Death. We carried the remains to Santa Maria Maggiore, and
there I looked for the last time at the dear, grand face. The Campo
Santo looks already like a green isle. Spring is very early this
year. The trees are in bloom and the white marble monuments bathed in
sunshine. What an awful contrast, the young, nascent life, the budding
trees, the birds in full song,--and a funeral. Crowds of people filled
the cemetery, for my father was known for his benevolence in Rome as
much as my aunt is at Warsaw. All these people so full of life, as
if reflecting the joys of spring, jarred upon my feelings. Crowds,
especially in Italy, consider everything as a spectacle got up
for their special benefit, and even now their faces betrayed more
curiosity to see a grand funeral than any sympathy. Human selfishness
knows no limit, and I am convinced that even people morally and
intellectually educated, when following a funeral, feel a kind of
unconscious satisfaction that this has happened to somebody else, and
it is not they who are to be interred.
My aunt arrived, as I had summoned her by telegram. She, from the
standpoint of faith, looks upon death as a change essentially for the
better; therefore received the blow with far more calmness than I.
This did not prevent her from, shedding bitter tears at her brother's
Afterwards she spoke to me long and tenderly,--a conversation full
of exceeding goodness, I took much amiss at the time, for which I am
sorry now. She did not mention Aniela's name,--spoke only of my future
loneliness, and insisted upon my coming to Ploszow; where, surrounded
by tender hearts, especially the one old heart which loved me beyond
everything on earth, I would feel less sad. I saw in all this only
her desire to continue her matchmaking; and in presence of my recent
bereavement this seemed to me improper, and irritated me very much. I
felt not inclined to think of the life before me, nor of love-speeches
or weddings, with the shadow of death across my path. I refused
peremptorily, even curtly; told my aunt I was going away,--most likely
to Corfu, then would come back to Rome in order to arrange my father's
affairs, and after that would come to Ploszow.
She did not insist upon having her own way. Feeling deeply for me, she
was even more gentle than usual, and left Rome three days after the
funeral. I did not go to Corfu; instead of that, Mr. and Mrs. Davis
carried me off to their villa at Peli, where I have been now for
several days. Whether Mrs. Davis is sincere or not I do not know, and
will not even enter upon that now; I know only that no sister could
have shown more sympathy and solicitude. With a nature poisoned by
scepticism, I am always prone to suspect and misjudge those around me;
but if it should be proved that I misjudged this woman, I should feel
truly guilty,--because her goodness to me is quite extraordinary.
My windows look out upon the vast blueness of the Mediterranean,
encompassed by bands of a darker blue on the far horizon. Close to the
villa, the crisped waves glitter like fiery scales; in the distance,
the sea is glassy and still, as if lulled to sleep in its blue veil.
White lateen sails flash in the sun, and once a day a steamer from
Marseilles for Genoa passes hence, dragging in her wake woolly coils
of smoke that hang over the sea like a dark cloud, until it
gradually dissolves and disappears. The restfulness of the place is
indescribable. Thoughts dissolve like yonder black cloud between the
blue sky and azure sea, and life is a blissful vegetation.
I felt very tired yesterday, but to-day I inhale with eager lungs the
fresh sea-breezes, that leave a salty taste on my lips. Say what they
like, the Riviera is one of the gems of God's creation. I fancy to
myself how the wind whistles at Ploszow; the sudden changes from mild
spring weather to wintry blasts; the darkness, sleet, and hail, with
intermittent gleams of sunshine. Here the sky is transparent and
serene; the soft breeze which even now caresses my face comes through
the open window together with the scent of heliotropes, roses, and
mignonette. It is the enchanted land, where the orange blossoms, and
also an enchanted palace; because everything that millions can buy,
combined with the exquisite taste of Mrs. Davis, is to be found in
this villa. I am surrounded by masterworks of art,--statues, pictures,
matchless specimens of ceramics, chased works by Benvenuto. Eyes
feast on nature, feast on art, and do not know where to dwell
longest,--unless it be on the splendid pagan, the mistress of all
these splendors, and whose only religion is beauty.
But is it quite just to call her a pagan? because, I say again,
whether sincere or not, she shares my sorrows and tries to soothe
them. We talk for hours about my father, and I have often seen tears
in her eyes. Since she found out that music acts soothingly upon my
mind, she plays for hours, and often until late at night. Sometimes
I sit in my room in the dark, look absently at the sea riddled by a
silver network, and listen to the sounds of her music mingling with
the splashing of the waves. I listen until I feel half distracted,
half sleepy,--until in sleep I forget the real life, with all its
I do not even feel inclined to write every day. We are reading
together the Divina Commedia,--or rather, its last part. There was
a time when I felt more attracted by the awful plasticity of the
Inferno. Now I like to plunge into the luminous mist, peopled with
still more luminous spirits, of the Dantesque heaven. At times it
seems as if amid all that radiance I see the dear, familiar features,
and my sorrow becomes almost sweet to me. I never before understood
the exceeding beauty of heaven. Never has human mind taken such a
lofty flight, encompassed such greatness, or borrowed such a slice
from infinity as in this sublime, immortal poem. The day before
yesterday and the two days following, we read it together in the boat.
We usually go out a long distance, and when the sea is quite still I
furl the sail; and we read, rocked by the waves,--or rather, she reads
and I listen. Surrounded by the glories of the sunset, far from the
shore, with the most beautiful woman reading to me Dante, I was under
a delusion, that I had been transferred to another world.
At times the sorrow that seemed to be lulled to sleep wakes up with
renewed force. I feel then as if I wanted to fly hence.
VILLA LAURA, 31 March.
To-day I thought a great deal about Aniela. I have a strange feeling,
as if lands and seas divided us. It seems to me as if Ploszow were a
Hyperborean island somewhere at the confines of the world. We have
delusions of that kind when personal impression takes the place of
tangible reality. It is not Aniela who is far from me, it is I who go
farther and farther away from the Leon whose heart and thoughts were
once so full of her. This does not mean that my feelings for her have
vanished. By close analysis I find they have only changed in their
active character. Some weeks ago, I loved her and wanted something; I
love her still, but want nothing. My father's death has scattered the
concentration of the feelings. It would be the same, for instance, had
I begun some literary work, and some unfortunate accident interrupted
the even flow of my thoughts. But that is not all. Not long ago, all
the faculties of my mind were strung to their highest pitch; now,
under the influence of a heavy sorrow, a soft atmosphere, and the
gently rocking sea, they have relaxed. I live, as I said before, the
life of a plant; I rest as one rests after a long fatigue, and as if
immersed in a warm bath. Never did I feel less inclined to any kind of
exertion; the very thought of it gives me pain. If I had to choose a
watchword, it would be, "Do not wake me." What will happen when I wake
up, I do not know. I am sad now, but not unhappy; therefore I do not
want to wake up, and do not consider it my duty. It is even difficult
to me to recall the image of the Ploszowski who fancied himself bound
to Aniela. Bound,--why? by what reason? What has happened between us?
A slight, almost imperceptible kiss on the forehead,--a caress which,
among near relations, can be put down to brotherly affection. These
are ridiculous scruples. I have broken ties far different from these
without the slightest twinge of conscience. Were she not a relation,
it would be a different matter. It is true, she understood it in a
different way, and so did I at the time,--but let it pass. One prick
of conscience more or less, what does it matter? We do worse things
continually, to which the disappointment I caused Aniela is mere
childishness. Conscience that can occupy itself with such peccadilloes
must have nothing else to do. There is about the same proportion of
such kinds of crime to real ones as our conversations on the terrace
to real life.
Upon the whole, I do foresee what will happen; but I want to be left
in peace at present and not think of anything. "Do not wake me."
To-day it was determined that we ought to leave Peli as soon as the
hot weather sets in,--perhaps in the middle of April,--and go to
Switzerland. Even that terrifies me. I fancy Mrs. Davis will have to
place her husband under restraint; he shows symptoms of insanity. He
says not a word for whole days, but sits staring either at the floor
or at his finger-nails; he is afraid they will come off. These are
with him the consequences of a wild life and narcotics.
I leave off writing as it is our time for sailing.
Yesterday there was a thunderstorm. A strong southern wind drove the
clouds along as a herd of wild horses. It pulled and tore, chased
and scattered them, then got them under and threw them with a mighty
effort upon the sea, which darkened instantly as man in wrath, and
began in its turn to send its foam aloft,--a veritable battle of two
furies, which, battering each other, produce thunder and lightning
flashes. But all this lasted only a short time. We did not go out to
sea, as the waves were too rough. Instead of it we looked at the storm
from the glazed balcony, and sometimes looked at each other. It is no
use deluding myself any longer; there is something going on between
us,--a subtle change in our relations to each other. Neither of us has
said a word or overstepped the boundary line of friendship; neither
has confessed to anything, and yet speaking to each other we feel that
our words serve only to disguise our thoughts. It is the same when we
are in the boat, reading together, or when I listen to her music.
All our acts seem mere shadows,--an outward form that hides the real
essence of things, with its face still veiled, but following us
wherever we go. Neither of us has given it a name; but we both feel
its presence. Manifestations like these take place probably every time
man and woman begin to influence each other. I could not tell
exactly when it began; but I confess it did not come upon me quite
I accepted their hospitality because Mrs. Davis was my father's
friend; and it was she who, after his death, showed me more sympathy
than any one else in Rome. I have so much consciousness of self, am so
able to divide myself, that soon after my arrival here, in spite of
my heavy sorrow I had the presentiment that our mutual relation would
undergo a change. I hated myself that so soon after my father's death
I should harbor thoughts like these; but they were there. I find now
that my presentiments were right. If I said that the changed relation
has still its face veiled, I meant to say that I do not know exactly
when the veil will be torn asunder, and I am under the spell of
expectation. I should be unsophisticated indeed, if I supposed she
were less conscious of all this than I. She is probably more so.
Most likely she is guiding all these changes; and everything that is
happening happens according to her wishes and cool reflection. Diana
the Huntress is spreading her net for the game! But what does it
matter to me? what is there for me to lose? As nearly every man, I am
that kind of game which allows itself to be hunted for the purpose of
turning at a given moment against the hunter. In such circumstances
we all have energy enough. In a hand-to-hand fight, like this, the
victory rests always with us. I know perfectly well that Mrs. Davis
does not love me, any more than I love her. We simply react upon each
other through our pagan nature, our sensuous and artistic instincts.
With her it is also a question of vanity,--the worse for her, as it
may lead her whither love leads. I shall not go too far. In my feeling
for her there is neither affection nor tenderness,--nothing but
rapture at the sight of nature's masterwork, and the attraction
natural in a man when that masterwork is a woman. My father said that
the height of victory would be to change an angel into a woman; I
maintain that it is no less a triumph to feel around one's neck the
arms, palpitating with life, of a Florentine Venus.
As far as beauty goes she is the highest expression of whatever the
most exalted imagination is able to conceive. She is a Phryne. It
would turn most men's heads to see her in a tight-fitting riding-habit
that shows the outline of her figure as beautiful as that of a statue.
In the boat, reading Dante, she looked like a Sybil, and one could
understand a Nero's sacrilegious passion. Hers is an almost baleful
beauty. Only the joining eyebrows make her appear a woman of our
times, and this makes her all the more irritating. She has a certain
habit of pushing back her hair by putting both hands at the back of
her head; then her shoulders are raised; the whole shape acquires a
certain curve, and the breast stands firmly out,--and one feels a
desire to carry her off in one's arms from everybody's eyes.
In each of us there is a hidden Satyr. As to myself, as I said
already, I am highly impressionable; therefore, when I think of it,
that there is something going on between me and this live statue of
a Juno, that some mysterious power pushes us towards each other,--my
head is in a whirl, and I ask myself what would I wish for more
perfect than this.
As much as ever woman can show kindness and sympathy to a friend
in trouble, she has shown to me. And yet, strange to say, all this
kindness has upon me the effect of moonlight,--radiance without
warmth; she possesses perfection of form, but there is no soul; with
her all is premeditation, but not nature. There speaks again the
sceptic; but I shall never be so intoxicated as to lose my capacity
of observation. If this divinity were kind, she would be kind to
everybody. Thus, for instance, the way she treats her husband is
enough to destroy any illusion as to her heart. The unfortunate Davis
is such a bloodless creature that he feels chilly in the hottest
sunshine, and oh! so chilly at her side. I never noticed in her the
slightest sign of compassion for his misery. He simply does not exist,
for her. This millionnaire, in the midst of all his wealth, is so poor
that it would rouse any one's pity. He is apparently indifferent
to everything; and yet the human being, with ever so little
consciousness, feels kindness. The best proof of it is that Davis
feels grateful to me because I speak to him now and then about his
Perhaps it is the instinctive attraction of the weaker towards the
stronger organism. When I look at that face as white as chalk, no
bigger than my fist, those feet like walking-sticks, and that shrunken
figure, wrapped up in a plaid during the hottest of weathers, I am
truly sorry for him. But I will not make myself out better than I am.
I may pity the man; but compassion will not stand in my way. It has
often struck me that, when woman is in question, man becomes pitiless;
it is still a remnant of the animal instinct that fights to the
uttermost for the female. In such a fight between human beings,
whatever shape it takes, the weaker goes to the wall. Even honor is no
curb; it is only religion that condemns it absolutely.
I have not written for nearly ten days. The veil was rent a week ago.
I always suspected the sea would help us to an understanding. Women
like Laura never forget the fitting background. If they do charitable
deeds because it enhances their beauty, the more they want beauty when
they fall. Joined to this is their passion for anything out of the
common, which does not spring from the poetical faculties of their
mind, but from a desire to adorn themselves. I have not so lost my
head as not to be able to judge Laura, though really I do not know
whether she has not the right to be what she is, and to think the sun
and stars are made on purpose for her adornment. Absolute beauty,
in the nature of things, must be essentially egotistic, and subject
everything to its rule. Laura is the very incarnation of beauty, and
nobody has the right to ask anything else from her than to be always
and everywhere beautiful; at least, I do not ask for more.
Thanks to my skill in seamanship, we can be alone on our excursions.
A week ago, on a sultry day, Laura expressed a wish to go out in the
boat. Like a Hecate, she exults in heat. A gentle breeze drove us a
long distance from the shore, and then the wind fell. The lateen sail
hung motionless from the mast. The rays of the sun, reflected from the
glassy surface of the water, increased the heat, although it was late
in the afternoon. Laura threw herself on the Indian matting, and
resting her head against the cushions, remained motionless, all in
a red glow, from the sun filtering through the awning. A strange
laziness had taken possession of me, and at the same time the sight
of this woman with her Greek form that showed through the clinging
drapery sent a thrill of admiration through my veins. Her eyes were
veiled, the lips slightly parted; her whole presence expressed
powerlessness, and seemed to say, "I am weak."
We came back late to the villa, and the return will remain for a long
time in my memory. After a sunset in which sky and earth seemed to be
wedded in a splendor without limit and without division, there came a
night of such beauty as I had never seen on the Riviera. From the vast
deep rose the immense red orb of the moon, which filled the air with a
mellow light, and at the same time made a broad, luminous path on the
sea, on which we glided towards the shore. There was a gentle swell on
the water, like a heaving sigh. From the little harbor the voices
of the Ligurian fishermen, singing a chorus, came up to us. A light
breeze from the shore wafted towards us the scent of orange-blossoms.
Although not prone to let myself be carried away by my sensations, I
was under the spell of this unutterable sweetness that floated over
land and sea, and clung like dew to soul and body.
From time to time my eyes rested upon the Helen-like woman whose white
draperies glistened in the moonlight, and I fancied myself living in
ancient Greece, and that we were floating somewhere, maybe towards the
sacred olive groves where the Eleusinian mysteries were enacted. Our
rapture did not seem any more a rapture of the senses, but a cult, a
mystic alliance with that night, that spring, and all nature.
The time fixed for our departure has arrived, but we do not depart. My
Hecate does not fear the sun, Mr. Davis likes it, and as far as I am
concerned, whether here or in Switzerland is a matter of indifference.
A strange thought has taken hold of me; I almost shrink from it, but
nevertheless will confess: It seems to me that a Christian soul,
though the spring of faith be dried up therein, cannot live altogether
on the mere beauty of form. This means more sorrow in store for me;
if the thought proves true the whole basis of my life falls to the
ground. We are beings of a different culture. Our souls are full of
Gothic arches, pinnacles, twisted traceries we cannot shake off, and
of which Greek minds knew nothing. Our minds shoot upward; theirs,
full of repose and simplicity, rested nearer the earth. Those of us in
whom the spirit of Hellas beats more powerfully consider the beautiful
a necessity of life, and search after it eagerly, but instinctively
demand that Aspasia should have the eyes of Dante's Beatrice. A
similar longing is planted within me. When I think of it, that a
beautiful human animal like Laura belongs to me and will belong as
long as I wish it, a twofold joy gets hold of me,--the joy of the man
and the delight of the artist; and yet there is a want and something
missing. On the altar of my Greek temple there is a marble goddess;
but my Gothic shrine is empty. I admit that in her I have found
something bordering upon the perfect, and I defend myself from a
suspicion that this perfection throws a big shadow. I thought once
that Goethe's words, "You shall be like unto gods and beasts,"
embraced all life and were the highest expression of his wisdom; now,
when I follow the commandment, I feel that he omitted the angel.
Mr. Davis came into the room when I was sitting at Laura's feet, my
head leaning against her knees. His bloodless face and dim eyes
showed no feeling beyond indifferent sullenness. In his soft slippers
embroidered with Indian suns, he shuffled across the room, and
into the library. Laura looked magnificent, her eyes flashing with
unrestrained wrath. I rose and awaited what would happen. A thought
crossed my mind that Mr. Davis might come back, a revolver in his
hand. In such a case I should have pitched him through the window,
revolver, plaid, and Indian slippers. But he did not come back; I
waited a long time in vain. I do not know what he was doing there;
whether he was thinking over his misery, weeping, or perfectly
indifferent. We all three met again at lunch, and he was sitting there
as if nothing unusual had happened. Perhaps it was my fancy that
made me think that Laura looked menacingly at him, and also that his
apathetic expression was even more mournful than usual. I confess that
such a tame ending of the business is the most painful to me. I am not
one to provoke a quarrel, but ready to answer for my deeds; finally, I
would rather the man were not so defenceless, such a small, miserable
creature. I have a nasty feeling, as if I had knocked down a cripple,
and never yet felt so disgusted with myself.
We went out in the boat as usual. I did not want Laura to think I was
afraid of Davis; but there we had our first quarrel. I confessed to
her my scruples and she laughed at them. I said to her plainly,--
"The laughter does not become you; and remember, you may do most
things, but not what is not becoming."
There was a deep frown on the meeting eyebrows, and she replied
"After what has passed between us, you may insult me even with more
impunity than you could Davis."
After such a reproach there remained nothing else but to ask her
forgiveness; and presently, harmony being restored, Laura began
to talk about herself. I had another instance of her cleverness.
Generally the women I have known intimately showed a desire to tell me
their life. I do not blame them for it; it shows that they feel the
need to justify themselves in their own eyes and ours. We men do
not. Yet I never met a woman either so clever as not to overstep the
artistic proportions in her confession, or so sincere as not to tell
lies in order to justify herself. I call to witness all men who when
the occasion occurs may verify how wonderfully similar all these cases
of going astray are, and consequently how tedious. Laura, too, began
to talk about herself with a certain eager satisfaction, but only in
this respect did she follow the beaten track of other fallen angels.
In what she told me there was a certain posing for originality, but
she was certainly not posing as a victim. Knowing she had to deal with
a sceptic, she did not want to call forth a smile of incredulity. Her
sincerity was skirting upon the bold, almost the cynical, one
might say, were it not that to her it is a system of life in which
aestheticism has taken the place of ethics. She prefers simply a life
in the shape of an Apollo to that of humpbacked Pulcinello; that is
her philosophy. She had married Davis not so much for his wealth
as for the purpose of making her life as beautiful as lay in human
power,--beautiful not in the common meaning of the word, but in the
highest artistic sense. Besides she did not consider she had any
duties toward her husband, as she had never even pretended to love
him; she had for him as much pity as repugnance, and as he was
indifferent to everything, he was of no more account than if he were
dead. She added that she did not take account of anything that was
contrary to her ideas of a purely beautiful and artistic life. Regard
for society she had very little, and who thought otherwise of her
would be utterly wrong. She had felt friendship for my father, not
because of his social position, but because she had looked upon him
as a masterwork of nature. As to myself, she had loved me for a long
time. She understood perfectly that I would have prized her more had
the victory been less easy, but she did not care to bargain when her
happiness was at stake.
This kind of principles, announced by that perfect mouth in a soft
voice full of metallic vibrations, gave me a strange sensation. While
speaking to me she drew her draperies close to her as if to make room
for me at her side. At times her eyes followed the motions of the
sea-gulls circling above our heads, then again they rested keenly upon
my face as if she wanted to read the impression her words had made
upon me. I listened to her words with a certain satisfaction, as they
proved to me that I had judged her pretty correctly. Yet there was
something in them quite new to me. I had always rendered her justice
as to her cleverness, but I thought her acts were the instinctive
outcome of her nature. I had never supposed her capable of inventing
a whole system in order to support and justify the impulses of her
nature. This showed her in a somewhat nobler light, as it proved that
where I had suspected her of more or less mean calculation, she only
acted according to her own principles,--maybe bad, even terrible, but
always principles. For instance, I had suspected her of wanting to
marry me after Davis's death,--she proved me utterly in the wrong. She
herself began to talk about it. She confessed that if I were to ask
her for her hand she might not be able to refuse me, as she loved me
more than I believed (here as I am a living man I saw a warm blush
mounting to her neck and brow), but she knew this would never happen;
sooner or later I would leave her with a light heart,--but what of
that? If she dipped her hand into the water and felt the refreshing
coolness, should she refuse herself this delight because the sun would
suck the cool moisture?
Saying this she bent over the gunwale, which showed her figure in
all its immaculate perfection, and after plunging her hands into the
water, she stretched them out to me moist and pink and gleaming in
the sunshine. I took hold of the hands, and she, as if echoing my
sensations, said in a caressing voice, "Come."
I did not see Laura the whole of yesterday, as she was not well.
She had caught a chill sitting out late on the balcony, and it had
affected her teeth. What a nuisance! Fortunately the day before
yesterday a doctor arrived who is to remain in attendance upon Mr.
Davis; otherwise I should not have a soul to speak to. He is a young
Italian, small of stature, very dark, with an enormous head and very
sharp eyes. He seems very intelligent. It is evident that from the
very first he has grasped the situation, and found it very natural,
for without hesitation he addressed me as the master of the house. I
could not help laughing when he came this morning and asked me whether
he could see the countess so that he might prescribe for her. They
have some very quaint notions in this country. Usually, when a married
woman is suspected to belong to somebody else, the world is in arms to
hunt and run her down, often with thoughtless cruelty. Here, on the
contrary, they worship at the altar of love, and one and all take
sides with and plot for the lover. I told the doctor I would see
whether the countess would see him. I penetrated into Laura's sanctum.
She received me unwillingly, because her face is a little swollen, and
she did not wish me to see her in that state. And in truth her face
reminded me of my old drawing lessons. I noticed even then that with
a modern face one may commit inaccuracies, change this or that, and
provided the expression, the idea of the face remain intact, the
likeness will not suffer. It is quite a different thing drawing from
the antique; the slightest inaccuracy, the least deviation, destroys
the harmony of the face and makes it different altogether. I had an
example in Laura. The swelling was very slight,--I scarcely noticed it
as she obstinately turned the sound part of her face to me; but as her
eyes were a little reddened, the eyelids heavier than usual, it was
not the same face, perfect in its harmony and beauty. Of course I did
not let her see this, but she received my greeting half-disturbed,
as if troubled with a bad conscience. Evidently according to her
principles toothache is a mortal sin.
Queer principles these, anyway! I too have the soul of an ancient
Greek, but beyond the Pagan there is something else in me. Laura will
be sometime very unhappy with her philosophy. I can understand that
one may make a religion of beauty in a general sense, but to make
a religion of one's own beauty is to prepare great unhappiness for
ourselves. What kind of religion is that which a simple toothache
undermines, and a pimple on the nose shatters into ruin?
We shall have to leave for Switzerland, for the heat is almost
unbearable. Besides the heat, there is the Sirocco, that comes now and
then like a hot breath from Africa. The sea-breezes somewhat mitigate
the fierceness of this visitor from the desert, but it is none the
less very disagreeable.
The Sirocco acts injuriously on Mr. Davis. The doctor watches him
closely lest he should take opium, and consequently become either very
irritable or else quite stupefied. I notice that in his greatest
fits of anger he is afraid of Laura and myself. Who knows whether a
homicidal mania is not already germinating in the half-insane brain?
or maybe he is afraid we are going to kill him. Generally speaking,
my relation with him is one of the darkest sides of the part I am
enacting. I say one of the darkest, because I am fully aware that
there is more than one. I should not be my own self if I did not
perceive that my soul not only is stagnating, but is getting swiftly
corrupted in the arms of that woman. I cannot even express what
loathing, what bitterness and pangs of conscience, it caused me at
first that I should have plunged myself into the depth of sensuous
raptures so soon after the death of my father. It was not only my
conscience, but also the delicacy of feelings which I undoubtedly
possess, that revolted against it. I felt this so deeply that I could
not write about it. I have grown more callous since. I still reproach
myself from time to time, and seriously reflect, but the feeling has
lost its poignancy.
As to Aniela, I try to forget her, because the memory is troublesome,
or rather I cannot arrive at a clear understanding as to the whole
Ploszow episode. At times I feel inclined to think that I was not
worthy of her; at others, that I made an ass of myself over a girl
like dozens of others. This irritates my vanity, and makes me feel
angry with Aniela. One moment I feel an unsavory consciousness of
guilt in regard to her, in another the offence appears to me futile
and childish. Taken altogether, I do not approve of the part I played
at Ploszow, nor do I approve of the part I am playing here. The
division between right and wrong is becoming more and more indistinct
within me, and what is more I do not care to make it clearer. This is
the result of a certain apathy of mind, which again acts as a sleeping
draught; for when the inward struggle tires me out I say to myself:
"Suppose you are worse than you were--what of that? Why should you
trouble about anything?"
Then I see another change in myself. Gradually I have got used to what
at first chafed my honor,--the insulting of the crippled man. I notice
that I permit myself hundreds of things I would not do if Davis,
instead of being physically and mentally afflicted, were an
able-bodied man capable of defending his own honor. We do not even
take the trouble of going out to sea. I never even imagined that my
sensitiveness could become so blunted. It is very easy to say to
myself: "What does the wretched Eastern matter to you?" But verily I
cannot get rid of the thought that my black-haired Juno is no Juno at
all,--that her name is Circe, and her touch changes men (as one might
say in correct mythological language) into nurslings of Eumaeus.
And when I ask myself as to the cause, the answer shatters many of my
former opinions. It is this: our love is a love of the senses, but
not of the soul. The thought again comes back that we, the outcome of
modern culture, cannot be satisfied with it. Laura and I were like
unto gods and beasts with humanity left out. In a proper sense our
feelings cannot be called love; we are desirable to each other, but
not dear. If we both were different from what we are, we might be a
hundred times more unhappy, but I should not have the consciousness
that I am drawing near the shelter of Eumaeus. I understand that love
merely spiritual remains a shadow, but love without spiritualism
becomes utter degradation. It is another matter that some people
touched by Circe's wand may find contentment in their degradation. It
seems a sad thing and very strange that I, a man of the Hellenic type,
should write thus. Scepticism even here steps in, and in regard to
Hellenism I begin to have my doubts whether life be possible with
those worn-out forms; and as I am always sincere, I write what I
Yesterday I received a letter from my aunt. It was sent after me from
Rome and dated two weeks back. I cannot understand why they kept it so
long at Casa Osoria. My aunt was sure I had gone to Corfu, but thought
I might have returned by this, and writes thus:--
"We have been expecting to hear from you for some time, and are
looking out with great longing for a letter. I, an old woman, am too
deeply rooted in the soil to be easily shaken, but it tells upon
Aniela. She evidently expected to hear from you, and when no letter
came either from Vienna or Rome, I saw she felt uneasy. Then came your
father's death. I said then, in her presence, that you could not think
now of anything but your loss; by and by you would shake off your
trouble and return to your old life. I saw at once that my words
comforted her. But afterwards, when week passed after week and you did
not send us a single line, she grew very troubled, mostly about your
health, but I fancy because she thought you had forgotten her. I, too,
began to feel uneasy, and wrote 'poste restante' to Corfu, as we had
agreed. Not getting any reply, I am sending another letter to your
house at Rome, because the thought that you may be ill makes us all
very unhappy. Write, if only a few lines; and, Leon, dear, pull
yourself together, shake off that apathy, and be yourself again.
I will be quite open with you. In addition to Aniela's troubles,
somebody has told her mother that you are known everywhere for your
love affairs. Fancy my indignation! Celina was so put out that she
repeated it to her daughter, and now the one has continual headaches,
and the other, poor child, looks so pale and listless that it makes
my heart bleed. And she is such a dear girl, and as good as gold. She
tries to look cheerful so as not to grieve her mother; but I am not so
easily deceived, and feel deeply for her. My dearest boy, I did not
say much to you at Rome, because I respected your affliction; but a
sorrow like that is sent by God, and we have to submit to His will and
not allow it to spoil our life. Could you not write a few words to
give us some comfort,--if not to me, at least to the poor child? I
never disguised it from you that my greatest wish was to see you two
happily married if it were in a year or two, as Aniela is a woman in a
thousand. But if you think otherwise it would be better to let me know
it in some way. You know I never exaggerate things, but I am really
afraid for Aniela's health. And then there is her future to be thought
of. Kromitzki calls very frequently upon the ladies, evidently with
some intentions. I wanted to dismiss him without ceremony, especially
as I have my suspicions that it was he who spread those tales about
you; but Celina solemnly entreated me not to do this. She is quite
distracted, and does not believe in your affection for Aniela. What
could I do? Suppose her motherly instinct is right, after all? Write
at once, my dear Leon, and accept the love and blessing of the old
woman who has only you now in the world. Aniela wanted to write to you
a letter of condolence after your father's death, but Celina did not
let her, and we had a quarrel over this. Celina is the best of women,
but very provoking at times. Kind greetings and love from us all.
Young Chwastowski is establishing a brewery on the estate. He had some
money of his own, and the rest I lent him."
At first I thought the letter had not made any impression upon me; but
presently, when walking up and down the room, I found that I had been
mistaken. The impression increased every minute, and became very
strong indeed. After an hour I said to myself with amazement: "The
deuce is in it! I cannot think of anything else but that." Strange how
quick my thoughts travel, chasing each other like clouds driven by the
wind. What a creature of nerves I am! First, a great tenderness for
Aniela woke up within me. All that I had felt for her not long ago,
and that had lain dormant in odd nooks of my soul, stirred into life.
To go at once, soothe her, make her happy, was the first impulse of my
heart,--not clearly defined, perhaps, but very strong all the same.
When I imagined to myself the tearful eyes, her hands resting within
mine, the old feeling for her woke up with renewed strength. Then the
idea crossed my mind to compare her to Laura,--with a fatal result for
Laura. I felt sick of the life I was leading; felt the want of a purer
atmosphere than I was breathing here,--of restfulness, gentleness, and
above all, rectitude of feeling. At the same time a great joy filled
my heart, that nothing was lost yet, everything could be made right;
it depended only upon my will. Suddenly I bethought myself of
Kromitzki, and of Aniela's mother, who, not trusting me, is evidently
on his side. A dull anger rose within me, which, gradually increasing,
smothered all other feelings. The more my reason acknowledged that
Pani Celina was right in mistrusting me, the more I felt offended that
she should harbor that mistrust. I worked myself up into a terrible
rage against everybody, including myself. What I thought and felt can
be expressed in a few words: "Very well, let it be as they wish!"
The letter came yesterday; to-day, analyzing myself more quietly, I
find to my own astonishment that the offence not only rankles in my
mind, but also has taken firmer root. I say to myself all that a
soberly thinking man can say in mitigation thereof, and yet I cannot
forgive either Aniela or her mother the Kromitzki business. Aniela
could have put a stop to it with one word, and if she has not done it,
she is sacrificing me to her mother's headaches. Besides, Kromitzki
lowers Aniela in my eyes, stains her, and brings her down to the level
of marriageable girls. I cannot even speak of it quietly.
Maybe my reasoning and feeling are those of an exasperated man; maybe
that love of self is too predominant in me. I know that I am able to
look at and judge myself as a stranger would; but this dualism does
not help me in the least. I am more and more embittered. To write
about it irritates my nerves,--therefore, enough!
During the night I thought, "Perhaps to-morrow I shall be more
composed." Nothing of the kind. I am simply in a rage with Aniela,
Aniela's mother, my aunt, and myself. The wind ought to be tempered
for the shorn lamb, and they forget that my wool is deucedly thin.
After all, I am comfortable where I am. Laura is like a marble statue.
Near her nothing troubles me very much, because there is nothing
except beauty. I am tired of over-strained, tender souls. Let
Kromitski comfort her.
I carried the letter to the post-office myself. It was not a long one:
"I wish Pan Kromitzki every happiness with Panna Aniela, and Panna
Aniela with Pan Kroinitzki. You wished for a decision, dear aunt, and
I comply with your wish."
I was thinking whether my aunt's allusion to Kromitzki was but a piece
of female diplomacy in order to bring me to book. If so, she is to be
congratulated upon her skill and knowledge of human nature.
A week has passed. I have not written because I feel half suffocated,
torn by doubts, sorrow, and anxiety. Aniela has never been, and is not
indifferent to me. The words of Hamlet recur to me:--
"I loved Ophelia; forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love,
Make up my sum."
I should only have to change the outcry:--
"I loved Aniela; forty thousand Lauras could not make up my sum."
And needs must be that with my own hands I wrought the evil. There is
a glimmer of comfort in the thought that to be united to a man like me
might be a worse fate for her,--but it is not so. If she were mine I
would be true to her. Then again it rankles in my mind that perhaps
a Kromitzki is sufficient to her happiness. When I think of this
everything seethes within me, and I feel ready to send off another
It is done with! that is the only comfort for people like me, for then
they can fold their hands and idle away their time as before. Perhaps
it is a sign of exceptional weakness, but I find some comfort in it.
Now I can think in peace.
I put to myself the question, "How is it that a man who not only
boasts of a thorough knowledge of self, but also possesses it, has for
some time almost blindly followed his instinctive impulses?" Of what
use is self-knowledge if at the first commotion of the nerves it hides
in a remote nook of the brain and remains there, a passive witness to
impulsive acts? To investigate things _post factum?_ I do not know of
what use this can be to me, but as I have nothing else to do, let us
investigate. Why did I act as I did? It must be because though I am an
intelligent man, very intelligent even (the deuce take me if I intend
to boast or flatter myself), I lack judgment. And chiefly it is the
calm, masculine judgment that is wanting. I do not control my nerves,
I am hypersensitive, and a crumpled roseleaf would irritate me.
There is something feminine in my composition. Perhaps I am not an
exception, and there are more of that type in my country, which is of
small comfort. This kind of mind may have much understanding, but is a
bad guide through life; it darts restlessly here and there, hesitates,
sifts, and filters every intention, and at last loses itself among
cross-roads. Consequently the capacity for acting gets impaired, and
finally it degenerates into a weakness of character, an innate and not
uncommon fault with us. Then I put to myself another question. Let us
say my aunt had not made any allusion to Kromitzki, would the result
have turned out differently? And truly I dare not say yes. It would
not have come so swiftly,--that is certain; but who knows whether in
the end it would have turned out more satisfactory. Weak characters
want infinite accommodations; only powerful ones are spurred on by
opposition. Laura, who in certain things is as subtle as musk, most
likely understood this and therefore showed herself so--gracious.
Finally, what is the upshot of it? Am I a milksop? Not in the least.
A man who looks straight at truth would not shrink from confessing
it,--but no. I feel that I could go on an arctic expedition without a
moment's hesitation, be a missionary in darkest Africa. I am possessed
of a certain pluck, inherited courage, which would carry me through
many bold adventures and risky enterprises. My temperament is lively;
perhaps less nimble than Sniatynski, I am yet no laggard. But when
it comes to solving any of life's problems my scepticism renders me
powerless, my intellect loses itself in observations, reasonings, the
will has nothing to rest upon, and my acts depend mainly upon external
I never liked Laura, though I was and am still under the spell of
her physical charms. This at first sight looks like a paradox, but
nevertheless is a common enough occurrence. One may love and not like
the person in question. As often as I happened to meet a love full of
thorns and apt to take easily offence, it was only because there was
no real liking at the bottom. Now Sniatynski and his wife are not only
in love, but they like each other immensely, and therefore are happy.
Ah me! I feel I could have liked Aniela, and we might have been as
happy! Better not think about it. As to Laura, she will meet many who
may fall in love with her raven hair and statuesque beauty, but
she will never inspire real liking. This singular woman attracts
irresistibly, and at the same time repulses. I have said that beyond
beauty there is nothing else; for even her uncommon intelligence is
only the humble slave kneeling at the feet of her own beauty. Not more
than a week ago I saw Laura giving money to a child whose father had
been drowned recently, and I thought to myself: "She would put the
child's eyes out in the same way, gracefully and sweetly, if she
thought it would add to her beauty." One feels these things, and one
may lose one's head over a woman like that, but it is impossible to
like her. And she who understands so many things does not understand
Yet how beautiful she is! A few days ago, when she came down the steps
leading into the garden, swaying lightly on those magnificent hips,
"I thought I should drop," as the poet Slowacki says. Decidedly I
am under the sway of two powers,--the one attracting, the other
repelling. I want to go to Switzerland, and I want to go back to Rome.
I do not know how it will end. Ribot rightly says that a desire to do
a thing is only a consciousness, not an act of volition; still less is
it an act of volition to have a twofold desire. I received a letter
from my lawyer, who wants to see me about the affairs of the
succession; these are mere formalities, and they could arrange things
without me, did I feel disinclined to move. But it will serve as a
pretext. For some time I have liked Laura even less than formerly. It
is for no fault of hers, as she is always the same, but as it happens,
I have transferred to her some of the dislike I have for myself. At
the time of my inward struggles I turned to her not only for peace,
but also for a kind of wilful degradation; now for that very reason I
feel displeased with her. She did not even know of the storm raging
in my breast; besides, what could it matter to her, as it was nothing
which could serve her as an ornament? She only noticed that I was
feverish and more impulsive than usual; she asked a little after
the cause, but without insisting too much. Perhaps after all the
attraction here will win and I shall not depart; in any case, I am
going to tell her that I am obliged to go. I am curious to know how
she will take it, still more curious as I can imagine it very well. I
suspect that with all her love for me, which is very like my love for
her, she does not really like me,--that is, if she ever takes the
trouble to like or to dislike anybody. Our minds have certain points
of resemblance, but thousands of contradictions.
I am terribly tired. I cannot help thinking of the sensation my letter
has made at Ploszow. I think incessantly of this even when with Laura;
I see before me continually Aniela and my aunt. How happy Laura is in
her everlasting repose! I have such difficulty to bear with my own
I shall be glad of a change. Peli, though a seaside resort, is very
empty. The heat is quite exceptional. The sea is calm; no waves wash
against the shore; it seems exhausted and breathless from the heat.
At times the wind rises, but it is a suffocating blast, that raises
clouds of white dust which covers the palms, fig-trees, and myrtles,
and penetrates through the blinds into the house. My eyes ache as the
walls reflect a glaring sun, and in the daytime it is impossible to
look at anything.
To Switzerland or to Rome, but away from here. It seems anywhere it
would be better than here. We all prepare for the journey. I have not
seen Mr. Davis for four or five days. I fancy his insanity will break
out any day. The doctor tells me the poor man challenges him to fight.
He considers this a bad sign.
ROME, CASA OSORIA, 18 May.
It was evidently solitude I wanted. I feel as I felt after my arrival
at Peli, sad, but at the same time peaceful. I feel even more peaceful
here than in my first days at Peli, because there is none of that
uneasiness Laura's presence used to give me. I walk about the still,
gloomy house, and find thousands of details that remind me of my
father, and the memory grows fresh again in my heart. He too had
vanished into the distant haze, and now I meet him again as in his
former, real life. There on the table in his studio are the lenses
through which he looked at his specimens, the bronze implement he
used in scraping the dry soil from the pottery; colors, brushes,
manuscripts, and notes about the collections are lying about. At times
I have a feeling as if he had gone out and would return presently to
his work, and when the illusion disappears a great sorrow seizes me,
and I love not only his memory, but love him who sleeps the eternal
sleep on the Campo Santo.
And I feel sad; but the feeling is so infinitely purer than those
which had such absolute sway over my mind those last weeks that I feel
more at ease,--a better man, or, at least, not so corrupt as I had
seemed to myself. I notice also that no reasoning, nor the most
desperate argumentation can deprive us of a certain feeling of
satisfaction, when we come in contact with nobler elements. Whence
comes that irresistible, irrepressible tendency towards the good?
Spinning out this thread I go very far. Since our reason is considered
a reflection of the logical principle of all life, may not our
conception of good be a similar reflection from an absolute good. Were
it so, one might throw at once all doubts to the wind, and shout, not
only, "Eureka!" but also, "Alleluia!" Nevertheless, I am afraid lest
the foundation fall to pieces, like many others, and I dare not build
on it. Besides the reasoning is but vague; I shall go back to it
undoubtedly, because this means the extraction of a thorn, not from
the feet, but from the soul. Now I am too tired, too sad and restful
at the same time.
It seems to me that of all creatures upon earth it is only the human
being that can act sometimes against his volition. I wanted to leave
Peli for some time, and yet day after day passed, and I remained. The
day previous to my departure I was almost certain I should stop, when
unexpectedly Laura herself helped me to a decision.
I told her about the lawyer's letter and my going away, only to
see how she would receive the news. We were alone. I expected some
exclamation from her part, some emotion, and lastly a "veto." Nothing
of the kind took place.
Hearing the news, she turned to me, passing her hand gently over my
hair; she brought her face close to mine, and said:--
"You will come back, will you not?"
By Jove! it is still an enigma to me what she meant. Did she suppose I
was really obliged to go? or, trusting to the power of her beauty, had
she no doubt whatever that I would come back? or, finally, did she
grasp at the chance to get rid of me?--because after such a question
there remained nothing for me but to go. The caressing touch and
accompanying question are a little against the last supposition,
which after all seems to me the likeliest. At odd moments I am almost
certain she wanted to say by it:--
"It is not you who dismiss me; it is I who dismiss you."
I confess that, if it was a dismission, Laura's cleverness is simply
amazing; all the more so, as the manner was so sweet and caressing,
and left me in uncertainty whether she was mocking me or not. But why
delude myself? By that simple question she had won the game. Perhaps
at other times my vanity would have suffered; but now it leaves me
indifferent. That same evening, instead of coolness, there was perfect
harmony between us. We separated very late. I see her still, walking
with me, her eyes lowered, as far as my room. She was simply so
beautiful that I felt sorry I was going. The next morning she said
good-by to me at the station. The bunch of tea-roses I lost only in
Genoa. Strange woman! As I went further on my journey, I felt side by
side a physical longing and a great relief. I went on to Rome without
stopping, and now feel as a bird released from his cage.
There is scarcely anybody I know in Rome. The heat has driven them to
their villas, or up into the mountains. In the daytime there are
few people in the streets except tourists, mostly Englishmen in
pith-helmets, puggarees, red Baedekers, with their everlasting "Very
interesting!" on their lips. At noon our Babuino is so deserted that
the footstep of a solitary passer-by re-echoes on the pavement. But in
the evening the street swarms with people. At that time I feel usually
very depressed, nervous, and restless. I go out, and walk about until
I am tired; and that gives me relief. I walk mostly on the Pincio,
three or four times along that magnificent terrace. At this time
lovers stroll about. Some couples walk arm in arm, their heads close
together, their eyes uplifted, as if overflowing with happiness;
others sit in the deep shadows of the trees. The flickering light of
the lamp reveals now and then half-concealed under his plumes the
profile of a Bersagliere, sometimes the light dress of a girl, or the
face of a laborer or student. Whispers reach my ear; love-vows and low
snatches of song. All this gives me the impression of a carnival of
spring. I find a singular charm in thus losing myself among the crowd,
and breathe their gayety and health. There is so much happiness and
simplicity! This simplicity seems to penetrate into my whole being,
and acts more soothingly upon my nerves than a sleeping draught. The
evenings are clear and warm, but full of cool breezes. The moon rises
beyond Trinita dei Monti, and sails above that human beehive like a
great silver bark, illuminating the tops of trees, roofs, and towers.
At the foot of the terrace glimmers and surges the city, and somewhere
in the distance, on a silvery background, appears the dark outline of
St. Peter's, with a shining cupola like a second moon. Never did Rome
seem more beautiful to me, and I discover new charms every day. I
return home late, and go to bed almost happy in the thought that
to-morrow I shall wake up again in Rome. And I do sleep. I do not know
whether it is the exercise I take, but I sleep so heavily that it
leaves a kind of dizziness when I wake up in the morning.
Part of the morning I spend with the lawyer. Sometimes I work at
compiling a catalogue of the collections for my own use. My father did
not leave any instructions as to his collections; consequently they
are my property. I would hand them over to the city, in fulfilment of
his wishes, if I were quite sure he did wish it. As he did not will
them away, he, moved by my aunt's remonstrances, may have left it to
me to bring them sometime or other over to Poland. That my father
thought of this in later times is proved by the numerous bequests and
codicils in his will. Among others there is one that touched me more
deeply than I can tell: "The head of the Madonna by Sassoferrato I
leave to my future daughter-in-law."
The sculptor Lukomski began a month ago a full-length statue of my
father, from a bust done by himself some years ago. I call upon him
often in the middle of the day to watch the progress of the work. The
studio is a barn-like building, with a huge skylight on the north
side; consequently no sun comes in, and the light is cold. When I sit
there I seem to be out of Rome altogether. To heighten the illusion,
there is Lukomski, with his Northern features, light beard, and the
dreamy blue eyes of a mystic. His two assistants are Poles, and the
two dogs in the yard are called Kruk and Kurta,--in short, the place
has the appearance of a northern isle in a southern sea. I like to go
there for the quaintness of the thing, and I like to watch Lukomski
at his work. There is in him at the same time so much power and
simplicity. He is especially interesting when he stands back a short
distance so as to get a better view of his work, and then suddenly
goes back as to an attack. He is a very talented sculptor. The shape
of my father seems to grow under his hand, and assume a wonderful
likeness. It will be not only a portrait, but a work of art.
If anybody, it is he who is altogether absorbed in the beauty of form.
It seems to me that he works out his thoughts by the help of Greek
noses, heads, arms, and torsos, more than by help of ideas. He has
lived fifteen years at Rome, and still goes to galleries and museums,
as if he had arrived yesterday. This proves that worship of form may
fill a man's life, and become his religion, provided he is its high
priest. Lukomski has as much veneration for beauty in human shape as
devotees for holy shrines. I asked him which he considered the most
beautiful woman in Rome. He answered, without hesitation, "Mrs.
Davis;" and there and then, with his plastic thumbs, with the
expressive motion common to artists, he began to draw her outline in
the air. Lukomski, as a rule, is self-contained and melancholy; but
at this moment he was so animated that his eyes lost their mystic
expression. "Like this, for instance," he said, drawing a new line,
"or like that. She is the most beautiful woman not only in Rome, but
in the whole world." He says that when she lifts her head, the neck
is as the continuation of the face,--the same breadth, which is very
rare; sometime on the Transtevere one might see women with similar
necks; but never in that perfection. Really, who seeks to find a flaw
in Laura's beauty, must seek in vain. Lukomski goes so far as to
maintain that statues ought to be raised to women like her in their
lifetime. Of course, I did not contradict him.
The Italian law procedure begins to bore me. How slow they are, in
spite of their vivacity! and how they talk! I am literally talked to
shreds. I sent for some of the newest French novels, and read for
whole days. The writers make upon me the impression of clever
draughts-men. How quickly and skilfully each character is outlined!
and what character and power in those sketches! The technical part can
go no farther. As to the characters thus drawn, I can only say what I
said before,--their love is only skin deep. This may be the case now
and then; but that in the whole of France nobody should be capable of
deeper feelings, let them tell this to somebody else. I know France
too well, and say that she is better than her literature. That running
after glaring, realistic truth makes the novel untrue to life. It is
the individual we love; and the individual is composed not only
of face, voice, shape, and expression, but also of intelligence,
character, a way of thinking,--in brief, of various intellectual and
moral elements. My relation to Laura is the best proof that a feeling
founded upon outward admiration does not deserve the name of love.
Besides, Laura is an exceptional case.
Yesterday I lunched with Lukomski; in the evening I loitered as usual
on the Pincio. My imagination sometimes plays me strange tricks. I
fancied that Aniela was leaning on my arm. We walked together,
and talked like people who are very fond of each other. I felt so
happy,--so different from what I had felt near Laura! When the
illusion vanished I felt very lonely; I did not want to go home. That
night I could not sleep at all.
How utterly unprofitable my life is! These continual searchings of
my mind are leading me into the desert. And it might have been so
different! I am surprised that the memory of Aniela should be still so
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