Part 6 out of 8
my theories, while Kromitzki has Aniela. As the wind is tempered to
the shorn lamb I thought the human being capable of carrying only a
certain weight, and that if more were put upon his back he must needs
break down. In my misery without bounds, and in my equally great
foolishness and degradation, I felt that from the time of Kromitzki's
arrival I was beginning to despise Aniela. Why? I could not justify it
upon any common grounds. "One wife, one husband." This law I know by
heart, like any other fool; but in relation to my own feelings it is a
degradation for Aniela. What does it matter that it does not stand to
reason? I know that I despise her, and it is more than I can bear.
I felt that existence under these conditions would become simply
impossible, and that necessarily there must be some change and the
past be buried. What change? If my scorn could throttle my love, as a
wolf throttles a lamb, it would be well. But I had a foreboding that
something else would take place. If I did not love Aniela I could not
despise her now; therefore my scorn is only another link in the
chain, I understand perfectly that beyond Pani Kromitzka, beyond
Pan Kromitzki and their relation to each other, nothing interests
me,--nothing whatever; neither light nor darkness, war nor peace, nor
any other thing. She, Aniela, or rather both she and her husband, and
my part in their life, are my reason for existence. If for this same
reason I cannot bear my existence any longer, what will happen then?
Suddenly it came upon me, as a surprise, that I had not thought of the
most simple solution of the problem,--death.
What a tremendous power there is in human hands,--the power of cutting
the thread. Now I am ready. Evil genius of my life, do thy worst;
pile weight upon weight,--but only up to a certain time, as long as I
consent. If I find it too much I throw off the burden! "E poi eterna
silenza," Nirvana, the "fourth dimension" of Zoellner--what do I know?
The thought that it all depended upon me gave me an immense relief.
I remained thus an hour, stretched out on the couch, thinking how and
when I would do it; and that very abstraction of my thoughts from
Kromitzki seemed to calm me. Such a thing as the taking of one's life
wants some preparation, and this also forced my thoughts into another
groove. I remembered at once that my travelling revolver was of too
small a calibre. I got up to look at it and resolved to buy a new one.
I began to calculate ways and means to make it appear an accident.
All this of course as a mere theory. Nothing was settled into a fixed
purpose. I might call it rather a contemplating the possibility of
suicide than a purpose. On the contrary, I was now certain it would
not come to that soon. Now that I knew the door by which I could
escape I thought I might wait a little to see how far my evils would
extend, and what new tortures fate had in store for me. I was consumed
by a burning and painful curiosity as to what would happen next, how
those two would meet, and how Aniela would face me? I became very
tired, and dressed as I was I fell into a troubled sleep, full
of Kromitzkis, eyeglasses, revolvers, and all sorts of confused
combinations of things and people.
I woke up late. The servant told me that Pan Kromitzki had gone to
Ploszow. My first impulse was to follow and see them together. But
when seated in the carriage I suddenly felt I could not bear it, that
it would be too great a trial, and might hasten my escape through the
open door into the unknown; and I gave orders to drive somewhere else.
The greatest pessimist instinctively avoids pain, and fights against
it with all his might. He clutches at every hope and expects relief
through every change. There awoke within me such a desire to make them
go to Gastein as if my very life depended upon it. To make them leave
Ploszow! The thought did not give me rest, and took such possession of
me that I gave my whole mind to its realization. This did not present
great difficulties. The ladies were almost ready to start. Kromitzki
had come unexpectedly, evidently intending to give his wife a
surprise. A few days later he would not have found us at Ploszow. I
went to the railway office and secured places in a sleeping-car for
Vienna; then sent a messenger with a letter to my aunt telling her I
had bought tickets for the following day, as all the carriages were
engaged for the following week, and we should have to go to-morrow.
I still linger over the last moments spent at Warsaw. These memories
impressed themselves so strongly on my mind that I cannot pass them
over in silence. The day following Kromitzki's arrival I had a strange
sensation. It seemed to me that I did not love Aniela any longer, and
yet could not live without her. It was the first time I felt this--I
might call it psychical dualism. Formerly my love went through its
regular course. I said to myself, "I love her, therefore I desire
her,"--with the same logic as Descartes employs in the statement, "I
think, therefore I exist." Now the formula is changed into, "I do not
love her, but desire her still;" and both elements exist in me as if
they were engraved on two separate stones. For some time I did not
realize that the "I do not love her" was merely a delusion. I love her
as before, but in such a sorrowing manner, with so much bitterness and
venom, that the love has nothing in common with happiness.
Sometimes I fancy that even if Aniela were to confess to me her love,
if she were divorced or a widow, I should not be happy any more. I
would buy such an hour at the price of my life, but truly I do not
know whether I should be able to convert it into real happiness. Who
knows whether the nerves that feel happiness be not paralyzed in me?
Such a thing might happen. Really, what is life worth under such
The day before our departure, I went to a gunsmith's shop. It was a
quaint old man who sold me the revolver. If he were not a gunsmith
he might become a professor of psychology. I told him I wanted a
revolver, no matter whose make, Colt's or Smith's, provided it were
good and of a large calibre. The old man picked out the weapon, which
I accepted at once.
"You will want cartridges, sir?"
"Yes, I was going to ask you for them."
"And a case, sir?" he said, looking at me keenly.
"Of course, a case."
"That's all right, sir; then I will give you cartridges of the same
number as the revolver."
It was now my turn to look attentively at him. He understood the
inquiring look, and said:--
"I have been in the trade over forty years, sir, and learned something
about my customers. It often happens that people buy revolvers to blow
out their brains. Would you believe it never happens that such a one
buys a case? It is always this way: 'Please give me a revolver.' 'With
the case?' 'No, never mind the case.' It is a strange thing that a man
about to throw away his life should grudge a rouble for the case. But
such is human nature. Everybody says to himself, 'What the devil do
I want with a case?' And that's how I always find out whether a man
means mischief or not."
"That is very curious indeed," I replied; and it seemed to me a very
The gunsmith, with a slight twinkle in his eye, went on: "Therefore as
soon as I perceive his drift I make a point of giving him cartridges a
size too large. It is not a small thing, the taking away one's life;
it requires a deal of courage and determination. I fancy many a man
breaks into a cold perspiration as he finally says: 'Now for the
revolver! Ah, the cartridges do not fit; the gunsmith made a mistake;'
and he has to put it off until the following day. And do you think,
sir, it is an easy thing to do it twice over? Many a man who has faced
death once cannot do it again. There were some who came the next day
to buy a case. I laughed in my sleeve and said: 'There's your case,
and may it last you a long time.'"
I note down this conversation because everything relating to suicide
has become of interest to me, and the old gunsmith's words appeared to
contain a bit of philosophy worth preserving.
Now and then I remind myself that Aniela loved me, that I could have
married her, that my life might have been made bright and happy, that
it merely depended upon me, and that I wasted all that through my
incapacity for action. Then I put to myself the question: "Is there
any sign of insanity in me, and is it indeed true that I could have
had Aniela forever?" It must be true, for how could I otherwise recall
all the incidents from the time I met her first up to the present
moment? And to think that she might have been mine, and as faithful
and loyal to me as she is to that other one!--a hundred times more
faithful, because she would love me from her whole soul. Innate
incapacity?--yes, that is it. But even if it justifies me in my own
eyes, what matters it to me, since it does not give me any comfort?
The only thought that gives me comfort is that the descendants of
decayed as well as of the most buoyant races have to go the same
way,--to dust and ashes. This makes the difference between the weak
and the strong a great deal less. The whole misfortune of beings like
me is their isolation. What erroneous ideas have our novelists, and
for the matter of that even our physiologists, about the decaying
races. They fancy that inward incapacity must invariably correspond
with physical deterioration, small build, weak muscles, anaemic brain,
and weak intelligence. This may be the case now and then, but
to regard it as a general principle is a mistake and a pedantic
repetition of the same thing over and over again. The descendants of
worn-out races have no lack of vital powers, but they lack harmony
among these powers. I myself am physically a powerful man, and never
was a fool. I knew people of my sphere built like Greek statues,
clever, gifted, and yet they did not know how to fit themselves into
life, and ended badly, exactly through that want of even balance in
their otherwise luxuriant vital powers. They exist among us as in a
badly organized society where nobody knows where the rights of the
one begin and those of another cease. We live in anarchy, and it is a
known fact that in anarchy society cannot exist. Each of the powers
drags its own way, often pulling all the others with it; and this
produces a tragic exclusiveness. I am now suffering from this
exclusiveness, by reason of which nothing interests me beyond Aniela,
nothing matters to me, and there is nothing else to which I can
attach my life. But people do not understand that such a want of even
balance, such anarchy of the vital powers, is a far greater disease
than physical or moral anaemia. This is the solution of the problem.
Formerly the conditions of life and a differently constituted
community summoned us, and in a way forced us, into action. Now, in
these antihygienic times, when we have nothing to do with public life,
and are poisoned by philosophy and doubts, our disease has grown
more acute. We have come to this at last, that we are not capable of
sustained action, that our vitality shows itself only in sudden leaps
and bounds, and consequently the most gifted among us always end in
some kind of madness. Of all that constitutes life there is only woman
left for us; and we either fritter and squander ourselves away in
licentiousness or cling to one love as to a branch that overhangs a
precipice. As it is mostly an unlawful love we cling to, it carries
within itself the elements of a tragedy. I know that my love for
Aniela must end badly; and therefore I do not even try to defend
myself from it. Besides, whether I resist or submit, it means ruin
The baths and especially the cool, bracing air are improving Pani
Celina's health, and she is growing stronger day by day. I surround
her with every care and think of her comforts as if she were my own
mother. She is grateful for it, and seems to be growing very fond of
me. Aniela notices it, and cannot help feeling a certain regret at
this vision of happiness that might have been ours if things had
turned out differently. I am quite certain now that she does not love
Kromitzki. She is and will be faithful to him; but when I see them
together I notice in her face a certain constraint and humiliation.
I see it every time when he, whether really in love or only showing
himself off as a doting husband, fondles her hands, smoothes her hair
or kisses her brow. She would rather hide herself in the very earth
than be forced to submit to these endearments in my and other people's
presence. Nevertheless she submits, with a forced smile. I smile too,
but as a diversion I mentally plunge my hands into my vitals and
tear them to pieces. At times the thought crosses my mind that this
priestess of Diana is more at ease and less reticent when alone with
her husband. But I do not often indulge in thoughts like these, for I
feel that one drop more and I shall lose my self-control altogether.
My relation to Aniela is terrible for me as well as for her. My love
shows itself in the guise of hatred, scorn, and irony. It frightens
Aniela and hurts her. She looks at me now and then, and her pleading
eyes say, "Is it my fault?" And I repeat to myself, "It is not her
fault;" but I cannot, God help me, I cannot be different to her. The
more I see her oppressed and hurt, the fiercer becomes my resentment
towards her, towards Kromitzki, myself, and the whole world. And yet
I pity her from my whole heart, for she is as unhappy as I am. But
as water, instead of subduing a conflagration, makes it rage all the
fiercer, so my feelings are rendered fiercer by despair. I treat the
dearest being with scorn, anger, and irony, and thereby hurt myself
far more than I hurt her; for she is capable of forgiveness, but I
shall never be able to forgive myself.
That man notices there is some ill-feeling between me and his wife,
and he explains it in a manner worthy of him. It seems to him that
I hate her because she preferred him to me. He fancies that my
resentment is nothing but offended vanity. Truly only a husband can
look upon it in this light. Consequently he tries to make it up to her
by his caresses, and treats me with the kind indulgence of a generous
How vanity blinds some people! What a strange creature he is! He goes
every day to the Straubinger hotel, watches the couples promenading on
the Wandelbahn, and with a certain delight puts the worst construction
upon their mutual relations. He laughs at the husbands who, according
to his views, are deceived by their wives; every new discovery puts
him into better humor, and his eyeglass is continually dropping out
and put back again. And yet the same man who considers conjugal
faithlessness such an excellent opportunity for making silly jokes,
would consider it the most awful tragedy if it happened to himself.
Since it is only a question of other people it is a farce; touching
his own happiness it would cry out to heaven for vengeance. Why,
you fool!--go to the looking glass, see yourself as you are, your
Mongolian eyes, that hair like a black Astrachan cap, that eyeglass,
those long shanks; enter into yourself and see the meanness of your
intellect, the vulgarity of your character,--and tell me whether a
woman like Aniela ought to remain true to you for an hour! How did you
manage to get her, you spiritual and physical upstart? Is it not an
unnatural monstrosity that you are her husband? Dante's Beatrice,
marrying a common Florentine cad, would have been better matched.
I had to interrupt my writing because I felt I was losing my balance;
and yet I fancied myself resigned! May Kromitzki rest easy; I do not
feel that I am any better than he. Even if I supposed I was made of
finer stuff than he, it would be small comfort, since my deeds are
worse than his. He has no need of hiding anything, and I am obliged
to play the hypocrite, take him always into account, conceal my real
feelings, deceive and circumvent him. Can there be anything meaner
than pursuing such a course of action, instead of taking him by the
throat? I abuse him in my diary. Such underhand satisfaction even a
slave may permit himself towards his master. Kromitzki never could
have felt so small as I did in my own eyes when I committed a
multitude of littlenesses, devised cunning plans to make him take
separate lodgings and not stop in the same house with Aniela. And
after all, I gained nothing. With the simple sentence, "I wish to be
near my wife" he demolished all my plans. It is simply unbearable,
especially as Aniela understands every movement of mine, every word
and scheme. I fancy she must often blush for me. All this taken
together makes up my daily food. I do not think I shall be able to
bear it much longer, as I cannot be equal to the situation,--which
simply means: I am not villain enough for the conditions in which I
I overheard from the veranda the end of a conversation carried on in
an audible voice between Kromitzki and Aniela.
"I will speak to him myself," said Kromitzki; "but you must tell your
aunt the position I am in."
"I will never do it," replied Aniela.
"Not if such is my wish?" he said sharply.
Not desirous of playing the part of eavesdropper, I went into the
room. I saw on Aniela's face an expression of pain, which she tried to
hide upon seeing me. Kromitzki was white with anger, but greeted me
with a smile. For a moment an unreasonable fear got hold of me that
she had confessed something to her husband. I am not afraid of
Kromitzki; my only fear is that he may take away Aniela and thus part
me from my sorrows, my humiliations, and torments. I live by them;
without them I should be famished. Anything rather than part from
Aniela. In vain I racked my brain to guess what could have taken place
between them. At moments I thought it probable that she had told him
something; but then his manner towards me would have changed, and it
was if anything even more polite than usual.
Generally speaking, but for my aversion to the man, I have no fault
to find with him in so far as I am concerned. He is very polite and
friendly, gives way to me in everything as if he were dealing with a
nervous woman. He tries all means to gain my confidence. It does
not discourage him in the least that I meet his advances at times
brusquely or sarcastically, and without much consideration for his
feelings show up his ignorance and want of refined nerves. I do not
miss any opportunity to expose before Aniela how commonplace he is in
heart and intellect. But he is wonderfully patient. Maybe he is so
only with me. To-day I saw him for the first time angry with Aniela,
and his complexion was of the greenish hue of people who are angry in
cold blood and nurse their wrath long afterwards. Aniela is probably
afraid of him, but she is afraid of everybody,--even of me. It is
sometimes difficult to understand how this woman with the temper of
a dove can at a given moment summon so much energy. There was a time
when I thought her too passive to be able to resist me long. What
a disappointment! Her resistance is all the stronger, the more
unexpected it is. I do not know what was the question between her and
Kromitzki, but if she says that she is not going to do what he asks
her, she will shake with fear but will not yield. If she were mine, I
would love her as the dog loves its mistress; I would carry her on
my hands, and not allow the dust to touch her feet; I would love her
My jealousy would be a miserable thing if it were not at the same time
the pain of the true believer who sees his divinity dragged in the
dust. I would abstain even from touching her hand if I could place her
on some inapproachable height where nobody could come near her.
I deluded myself as to my state of quiescence. It was only a temporary
torpidity of the nerves, which I mistook for calmness. Besides, I knew
it could not last.
Yes, something has passed between them. They hide some mutual offence,
but I see it. For some days I have noticed that he does not take her
hands, as he used to and kiss them in turn; he does not stroke her
hair or kiss her forehead. I had a moment of real joy, but Aniela
herself poisoned it. I see that she tries to conciliate and humor him
as if wishing to restore their former relations. At the sight of this
a great rage possessed me, and showed itself in my behavior to Aniela.
Never had I been so pitiless to her and myself.
To-day, returning from the Wandelbahn, I met Aniela on the bridge
opposite the Cascades. She stopped suddenly and said something, but
the roar of the water drowned her voice. This irritated me, for at
present everything irritates me. Whereupon, leading her across the
bridge towards our villa, I said impatiently: "I could not hear what
you were saying."
"I wanted to ask you," she said, with emotion, "why you are so
different to me now? Why have you no pity upon me?"
All my blood rushed to my heart at these words.
"Can you not see," I said quickly, "that I love you more than words
can tell? and you treat it as if it were a mere nothing. Listen! I do
not want anything from you. Only tell me that you love me, surrender
your heart to me, and I will bear anything, suffer anything, and will
give my whole life to you and serve you to the last breath. Aniela,
you love me! Tell me, is it not true? You will save me by that one
word; say it!"
Aniela had grown as pale as the foam on the cascade. It seemed as if
she had turned to ice. For a moment she could not utter a word; then
making a great effort, she replied:--
"You must not speak to me in that way."
"Then you will never say it?"
"Then you have not the least--" I broke off. It suddenly whirled
across my brain that if Kromitzki asked her, she would not refuse him;
and at this thought rage and despair deprived me of all consciousness.
I heard the rushing of waters in my ear, and everything grew dark
before my eyes. I only remember that I hurled a few horrible, cynical
words at her, such as no man should use against a defenceless woman,
and which I dare not put down in this diary. I remember as in a dream
that she looked at me with dilated eyes, took me by the sleeve, then
shook my shoulder, and said, anxiously:--
"Leon, what is the matter with you,--what ails you?"
What ailed me was that I was losing my senses. I tore my hand away and
rushed off in the opposite direction. After a moment I retraced my
steps; but she was gone. Then I understood only one thing: the time
had come to put an end to life. The thought seemed to me like a rift
in the dark clouds that weighed upon me. It was a strange state of
consciousness, in one direction. For the moment all thoughts about
myself, about Aniela, were wiped from my memory; but I contemplated
the thought of death with the greatest self-possession. I knew, for
instance, perfectly well that if I threw myself from the rocks it
would be considered an accident, and if I shot myself in my own room
my aunt would not survive the shock. It was still stranger that, in
spite of this consciousness, I did not feel called upon to make any
choice, as if the connection between my reasoning and my will and
its consequent action had been severed. With a perfectly clear
understanding that it would be better to throw myself from the rocks,
I yet went back to the villa for my revolver. Why? I cannot explain
it. I only remember that I ran faster and faster, at last went up
the stairs into my room, and began to search for the key of my
portmanteau, where the revolver was. Presently I heard steps
approaching my door. This roused me, and the thought flashed through
my mind that it was Aniela, that she had guessed my intention, and
came to prevent it. The door was flung open, and there was my aunt,
who called out in a breathless voice:--
"Leon, go quick for the doctor! Aniela has been taken ill."
Hearing that, I forgot all else, and without hat I rushed forth, and
in a quarter of an hour brought a doctor from the Straubinger hotel.
The doctor went to see Aniela, and I remained with my aunt on the
veranda. I asked her what had happened to Aniela.
"Half an hour ago," said my aunt, "Aniela came back with such a
feverishly burning face that both Celina and I asked whether anything
had happened to her. She replied, 'Nothing, nothing,' almost
impatiently; and when Celina insisted upon knowing what was the matter
with her, Aniela, for the first time since I have known her, lost her
temper and cried out, 'Why are you all bent upon tormenting me?' Then
she became quite hysterical, and laughed and cried. We were terribly
frightened, and then I came and asked you to fetch the doctor. Thank
God, she is calmer now. How she wept, poor child, and asked us to
forgive her for having spoken unkindly to us."
I remained silent; my heart was too full for words.
My aunt paced up and down the veranda, and presently, her arms akimbo,
stopped before me and said,--
"Do you know, my boy, what I am thinking? It is this: We somehow do
not like Kromitzki,--even Celina is not fond of him; and Aniela sees
it, and it hurts her feelings. It is a strange thing; he does his best
to make himself pleasant, and yet he always seems like an outsider. It
is not right, and it grieves Aniela."
"Do you think, aunty, that she loves him so very much?"
"I did not say very much. He is her husband, and so she loves him, and
feels hurt that we treat him badly."
"But who treats him badly? I think she is not happy with him,--that is
"God forbid that you should be right. I do not say but she might have
done better; but after all there is nothing to be said against him.
He evidently loves her very much. Celina cannot quite forgive him the
sale of Gluchow; but as to Aniela, she defends him, and does not allow
anybody to say a word against him."
"Perhaps against her own conviction?"
"It proves all the more that she loves him. As to his affairs, the
worst is that nobody knows how he stands; and this is a great source
of trouble to Celina. But after all, wealth is not everything;
besides, as I told you before, I will not forget to provide for
Aniela, and you agree with me, do you not? We both owe her a kind of
duty, not to mention that she is a dear, affectionate creature, and
deserves everything we can do for her."
"With all my heart, dear aunt; she will be always as a sister to me,
and shall not be in want of anything as long as I live."
"I count upon my dear boy, and can die in peace."
Thereupon she embraced me. The doctor, coming towards us, interrupted
our conversation. In a few words he set our minds at rest,--
"A little nervous agitation; it often appears after the first baths.
Leave off bathing for a few days, plenty of air and exercise,--that is
all that is wanted. The constitution is sound; strengthen the system,
and all will be well."
I paid him so liberally that he bowed, and did not put on his hat till
he was beyond the railings of the villa. I would have given anything
if I could have gone immediately to Aniela, kissed her feet, and
begged her forgiveness for all the wrong I had done her. I vowed to
myself that I would be different, more patient, with Kromitzki,--not
revolt any more, nor grumble. Contrition, contrition deep and sincere,
permeated my whole being. How unspeakably I love her!
Close upon noon I met Kromitzki coming back from a long walk on the
Kaiserweg. I put my good resolutions at once to the test, and was more
friendly with him. He thought it was sympathy because of his wife's
illness, and as such accepted it in a grateful spirit. He and Pani
Celina spent the remainder of the day with Aniela. She had expressed a
wish to dress and go out; but they did not let her. I did not permit
myself even to chafe at that. I do not remember that I ever subdued
myself to the same extent. "It is all for you, dearest," I said
inwardly. I was very stupid all the day, and felt an irresistible
desire to cry like a child. Even now tears fill my eyes. If I have
sinned greatly, I bear a heavy punishment.
After yesterday's commotion a calm has set in. The clouds have
discharged their electricity, and the storm is over. I feel exhausted
morally and physically. Aniela is better. This morning we met alone on
the veranda. I put her on a rocking-chair, wrapped a shawl around her
shoulders, as the morning was rather chilly, and said:--
"Aniela dear, I beg your pardon from my whole heart for what I said
yesterday. Forgive and forget if you can, though I shall never forgive
She put out her hand at once, and I clung to it with my lips. I could
have groaned aloud; there is such a gulf between my love and my
misery. Aniela seemed to feel it too, for she did not withdraw her
hand at once. She too tried to control her emotion, and the feeling
which urged her towards me. Her neck and breast heaved as if she were
strangling the sobs that rose to her throat. She feels that I love her
beyond everything; that a love like mine is not to be met with every
day; and that it might have been a treasure of happiness to last our
whole life. Presently she grew more composed and her face became
serene. There was nothing but resignation there, and angelic goodness.
"There is peace between us, is there not?" she asked.
"Yes," I replied.
"How can I tell, dearest? You know best how things stand with me."
Her eyes again grew misty, and again she recovered herself.
"All will be well," she said, "you are so good."
"I, good?" I exclaimed with real indignation; "do you not know that if
you had not fallen ill yesterday I should--"
I did not finish. I suddenly remembered that it would be mean and
cowardly to use such a weapon against her. I felt all the more ashamed
of my rashness as I saw the troubled eyes looking anxiously into mine.
"What did you want to say?"
"I was going to say words unworthy of myself; besides, they have no
"Leon! I must know what you meant, else I shall have no peace."
Suddenly a breath of wind blew a lock of her hair into her eyes. I
rose, and with the light, tender touch of a mother, put it back into
"Dear Aniela, do not force me to tell what I ought to forget. If it be
a question of your peace of mind I pledge you my word that you need
not have any fear for the future."
"You promise this?" she asked, still looking intently at me.
"Yes, most solemnly and emphatically; will that satisfy you, and drive
out any foolish notions from the little head?"
The postman coming in with a parcel of letters interrupted our
conversation. There was the usual budget from the East for Kromitzki;
only one letter for Aniela, from Sniatynski (I recognized his
handwriting on the envelope), and one for me from Clara. The latter
does not say much about herself, but inquires most minutely what I am
doing. I told Aniela who it was that had written, and she, to show me
that all ill-feeling and constraint had gone, began to tease me. I
paid her back in the same coin, and pointing to Sniatynski's letter
said there was another poor man who had succumbed to little Aniela's
wiles. We laughed and bandied jests for a little time.
The human soul, like the bee, extracts sweetness even from bitter
herbs. The most unhappy wretch still tries to squeeze out a little
happiness from his woes, and the merest shadow and pretext will serve
his turn. Sometimes I think that this intense longing for happiness is
one proof more that happiness is awaiting us in another world. I am
convinced also that pessimism was invented as a comfort to satisfy a
want, sum up all human misery, and put it into a philosophic formula.
It satisfies our thirst for truth and knowledge, and happiness itself
is nothing but satisfied craving. Perhaps love in itself is such a
source of happiness that even a clouded love like ours is interwoven
with golden rays. Such a ray fell on our path to-day. I had not
expected it, as I had not expected that a man whose desires are
without limits could be satisfied with so little.
We had scarcely read our letters when Pani Celina, who is now able to
walk without help, came towards us with a footstool for Aniela.
"Oh mamma!" cried out Aniela, in a shocked voice; "You ought not to do
"And did you not yourself nurse me night and day when I was ill?"
I took the footstool from Pani Celina's hands, and kneeling down
before Aniela, I waited until she had put her little feet upon it; and
kneeling thus before her for a second filled me with happiness for the
whole day. It is a fact. A very poor man lives upon crumbs, and smiles
I have a crippled heart, but it is capable of love. It is only now I
fully understand what Sniatynski meant. If I were not a man out
of joint, without an even-balanced mind, poisoned by scepticism,
criticism of myself, and criticism of criticism, if my love were in
harmony with law and principles, I should have found in Aniela the
dogma of my life, and other dogmas, other beliefs, would have come
to me in course of time. Yet I do not know; perhaps I could not love
otherwise than crookedly; and in this lies my incapacity for life.
In short, that which ought to have been my health and salvation has
become my disease and damnation. Strange to say, there was no lack of
warnings. It almost seems as if people had foreseen what would befall
me. I remember constantly the words Sniatynski wrote to me when I was
with the Davises at Peli: "Something must always be growing within
us; beware lest something should grow in you which would cause your
unhappiness, and the unhappiness of those near and dear to you." I
laughed then at the words, yet how true they were. My father, too,
spoke several times as if he had pierced the veil that hides the
future. To-day the remembrance is too late. I know it is useless to
rake up the ashes of the past, but I cannot help it. I am sorry for
myself, but more sorry still for Aniela. She would have been a hundred
times happier with me than with Kromitzki. Supposing even I should
have subjected her at first to analysis, and discovered various
faults, I should have loved her all the same. She would have been
mine, and as such she would have become part of me and entered into
the sphere of my egoism. Her faults would have been my weaknesses, and
we are always ready to make allowance for ourselves, and though we
criticise self we do not cease to care for its well-being. Thus she
would have been dear to me; and as she is infinitely better than I, in
time she would have become my pride, the noblest part of my soul; I
should have found out that criticism, as far as she was concerned, was
out of place; gradually she would have won me over to her pure faith
and wrought my salvation. All that has been wasted, spoiled, and
transmuted into a tragedy for her,--into evil and a tragedy for me.
I have been reading what I wrote yesterday, and am struck by what
I said at the end, namely: that the love which might have been my
salvation has become a source of evil. I cannot quite agree with the
thought. How can love for a pure woman like Aniela bring forth evil?
One word explains it,--it is a crooked love. I must own the truth. If
two years ago somebody had told me that I, a civilized man, a man with
aesthetic nerves, and living in peace with the penal code, should
meditate for nights and days how to put out of the world, even by
murder, a man who would be in my way, I should have taken that
somebody for an escaped lunatic. Yet it is true; I have come to that.
Kromitzki shuts out from me the world; he takes from me the earth,
water, and air. I cannot live because he lives; and for that reason I
incessantly think of his death. What a simple and complete solution of
all the difficulties and entanglements his death would be. I thought
more than once that since the hypnotizer can send his medium to sleep,
a more concentrated power would be able to put him to sleep forever. I
have sent for all the newest books about hypnotism. In the mean while
with every glance I say to Kromitzki, "Die!" and if such a suggestion
were sufficient, he would have been dead some time ago. But the whole
result of it is that he is as well as ever, is Aniela's husband, and
I remain with the consciousness that my intention is equally criminal
and foolish, ridiculous, and unworthy of an active man; and it makes
me lose my self-respect more and more. Yet it does not prevent my
trying to hypnotize Kromitzki.
It is the old story again of the intelligent man who, given up by the
doctors, goes for advice to quacks and wise women. I want to kill my
enemy by hypnotism; and as it only shows my own worthlessness, it is I
who suffer by it. I must also confess that as often as I am alone, I
begin to think of all possible means in human power to put the hateful
man out of the way. For some time I nursed the thought of killing him
in a duel; but this would not lead to anything. Aniela would never
marry the man who had killed her husband; then, like a common
criminal, I began to think of other ways. And what is the strangest
thing of all, I discovered ways which human justice would not be able
to detect. Foolishness! vain thoughts! pure theory!
Kromitzki need have no fear for his life; thoughts like these will
never be acted upon. I should not kill him if I could do it without
more responsibility than is incurred in crushing a spider; should not
kill him if we two were alone together on a desert island. If one
could divide the human brain as one cuts in two an apple, and lay
bare its thoughts, it would be found that mine is honeycombed with
murderous thoughts. What is more, I am well aware that if I refrain
from killing Kromitzki it is not by reason of any moral principle
contained in the law "Thou shalt do no murder." This law I have
already violated morally. I refrain from killing him because some
remnants of chivalric tradition bar my way; because my refined nerves
would not permit me to commit a brutal deed; in short, I am too far
removed from primitive man to be physically competent to the task,
though morally I slay him every day. And now I ask myself whether, in
presence of a higher judgment, I should be held responsible, as if I
had committed the deed.
It may be that if one could lay open the human brain, as I said
before, in the most virtuous individual thoughts would be found to
make our hair stand on end. I remember that, when a little boy, there
came upon me a period of such religious fervor that I prayed from
morning until night; and at the same time, in the midst of my pious
transports, there came into my mind blasphemous thoughts, as if an
evil wind had blown them thither, or a demon whispered them into my
ear. In the same way I had irreverent thoughts about persons whom
I loved with all my heart and for whom I would have given my life
without a moment's hesitation. I remember that this, which I might
call a tragedy of childhood, cost me a great deal of anguish. But I
will not dwell upon that now. Going back to blasphemous or criminal
thoughts, I do not think we are responsible for them, as they come
from the knowledge of evil, not from an evil growing within the
organism itself; and for the very reason that it is outward to
ourselves we fancy an evil spirit suggesting the thoughts. Man listens
to it, and being averse to evil, spurns it; and there may be some
merit in this. But with me it is different. The thought of getting rid
of Kromitzki does not come from the outside, but springs from me and
exists within me. I have come down to that morally, and if I do not
commit the deed it is a mere matter of nerves. The part of my inward
Mephistopheles is confined to mocking and whispering into my ear that
the deed would only prove my energy, and not be much of a crime.
These are the crossways on which I never dreamed of finding myself.
I look into the depths of my own self with amazement. I do not know
whether my exceptional troubles will partly atone for my errors, but
one thing I know, namely: that he whose life cannot find room in
the simple code Aniela and others like her cling to, if his soul is
brimming over and breaks its bounds it must mix with dust and be
polluted in the mud.
To-day in the reading-room Kromitzki pointed out to me an Englishman
accompanied by a very beautiful woman, and told me their story. The
beauty is a Roumanian by birth and married a Wallachian bankrupt
Boyar, from whom the Englishman simply bought her at Ostend. I have
heard of similar transactions at least a dozen times. Kromitzki even
mentioned the sum the Englishman had given for her. The story made a
strange impression upon me. I thought to myself, "This is one way,
however disgraceful for the seller and buyer; it is a simple method of
obtaining a desired result. The woman concerned in it need not know
anything about the transaction, and the agreement could be concealed
under decent appearances." Involuntarily I began to apply the idea to
our own situation. Suppose it answered. The whole thing presented
itself to me under two aspects: in regard to Aniela as a horrible
profanation; in regard to Kromitzki, not only as feasible, but at the
same time gratifying my scorn and hatred for him. If he agreed to it,
he would prove himself a villain, and show what kind of man he is, and
what a monstrous thing has been done in giving Aniela to him. I should
then be quite justified in all my endeavors to take her from him. But
would he agree? I said to myself: "You hate him, and consequently
believe him capable of any evil." But thinking of him objectively, I
remembered that the man had sold his wife's property, had deceived
her and Pani Celina, and also that the ruling passion of his life was
greed for gain. It was not I alone who considered him as one wholly
possessed by the gold fever. Sniatynski thought the same, and so do
my aunt and Pani Celina. This kind of moral disease always leads into
pitfalls. I understand that much will depend upon the state of his
affairs. How they stand nobody seems to know, unless it be his agent
Chwastowski. It suddenly struck me that I might get some information
from this same Chwastowski, but that would take some time. Perhaps I
will run over to Vienna and see his brother the doctor, who is working
in the Vienna hospitals; the brothers are sure to correspond with each
other. My aunt thinks that he is not doing as well as he wants us
to believe, and I imagine that he has sunk all his money in
some speculation from which he expects a great profit. Will he
succeed?--that is the question. He himself does not know; hence
his restlessness, and the multitude of letters he sends to young
Chwastowski. In the mean while I will sound him cautiously, lest I
should rouse his suspicions, as to what he thinks of the Boyar who
sold his wife to the Englishman. I do not suppose for a moment that
he will be quite sincere, but I will help him and guess the rest. The
whole sum and substance of this is, that it has put a little more life
into me. There is nothing more horrible than to suffer passively; and
anything that rouses me from my apathy is acceptable. I repeat to
myself, "At least to-morrow and the day after, you will have something
to do to further your plans;" and that promises a transition from
utter passiveness to a feverish activity. I must be doing something;
it is a question of not losing control over my senses. I pledged my
word to Aniela not to attempt my life, and I cannot go on living as I
do. If the road I am taking be ignominious, the ignominy will be for
Kromitzki more than for me. I must and will separate them, not only
for my own sake but also for Aniela's sake. I am really feverish.
Everybody seems to derive some benefit from the bathing except me.
There are some hot days even in Gastein. What heat! Aniela is dressed
in white soft flannel, such as English girls wear for lawn-tennis. We
have our breakfast in the open air. She comes from her bath as bright
and fresh as the snow at sunrise. The supple figure shows to great
advantage in the graceful dress. The morning light falls upon her and
shows distinctly every hair on the eyebrows, lashes, and the delicate
down on either side of her face. The hair is glistening with
moisture and looks fairer in this light, and the eyelids are almost
transparent. How young she is, and how intoxicating her appearance! In
her, then, is my life, in her everything I want. I will not go away, I
cannot. Looking at her I seem to lose my senses from intoxication, and
at the same time from pain; for close by her side sits he who is her
husband. It cannot continue thus; let her belong to no one provided
she be not his. She understands to a certain extent what I suffer, but
not altogether. She does not love her husband, but considers it her
duty to live with him. I gnash my teeth at the very thought, for in
admitting his rights she degrades herself; and that is not allowed,
even to her. Far better she were dead. Then she will be mine; because
the lawful husband will remain behind, but not I. By this token I am
more lawfully hers than he is.
There is something very strange going on within me at times. For
instance, when I am very tired or when my mind is concentrated upon
one point I seem to look into the future, into far-away space which
remains invisible to me in a normal state. Then there comes to me such
a conviction that Aniela belongs to me--that in some way she is or
will be mine--that when I wake up I have to remind myself that there
exists such a man as Kromitzki. Maybe in moments like those I cross
the boundary which separates the living from the dead, and have a
vision of things more perfect, such as the ideals we dream about,
as they might shape themselves in outward form. Why is it these two
worlds are not more in touch with each other? As often as I try to
solve this problem I lose myself; I cannot understand this want of
harmony, but feel dimly that therein lie our imperfection and our
misery. The thought comforts me, for in the ideal world Aniela could
not belong to a man like Kromitzki.
Another disappointment, another plan shattered, but I have still hope
that all is not lost. I spoke to-day with Kromitzki about the Boyar
who sold his wife, and invented a whole story in order to discover his
real feelings. We met the Englishman with his purchased wife near the
Cascades. I began by praising her beauty, and then remarked:--
"The doctor here told me something about the transaction, and I think
you are a little hard upon the Boyar."
"Hard upon him? not a bit; he amuses me intensely," he replied.
"There are extenuating circumstances in the case. He is not only a
Boyar, but the owner of extensive tannery works. Suddenly, because of
the infection, the importation of skins from Roumania was forbidden.
The man recognized that unless he could tide over the time until the
law was repealed he would be ruined, and with him hundreds of families
to whom he gave employment. My dear fellow, he looked at it from
a business point of view; perhaps business morality is a little
different from general morality, and as he had once entered into
"He had a right to sell his wife? To fulfil one part of his duties he
had no right to trample upon another and perhaps more binding duty."
Kromitzki could not have disappointed me more thoroughly than by thus
showing some decent feeling. But I did not give up my hope at once.
I know that even the meanest person has still at his disposition
high-sounding words wherewith to mask his real character. Therefore I
"You do not take into account one thing, namely, that the man would
have dragged his wife with him into poverty. Confess it is a singular
idea of duty that it should lead us to deprive those dependent on us
of their daily bread."
"Do you know, I had no idea you were so deucedly sober-minded."
"You fool!" I thought to myself; "don't you understand that these are
not my views, but views I want you to adopt?" Aloud I said:--
"I only try to put myself into the place of this business man.
Besides, you do not consider that the woman probably did not love her
husband, and that the other man was aware of it."
"In such a case they were worthy of each other."
"That is another question altogether. Looking a little deeper into
the affair, and supposing that being in love with the Englishman, she
nevertheless remained faithful to her husband, she may be worthier
than you think. As to the Boyar, he may be a villain for anything I
know, but what can he do, I ask you, in case somebody comes to him and
says: 'You are a bankrupt twice over; you have debts you cannot pay,
and a wife that does not love you. Divorce that woman, and I will take
care of her future, and will also take upon me all your liabilities.'
It is a way of speaking, to say the man 'sold' his wife; but can a
transaction like this be called a sale? Consider that the merchant
who agreed to this proposition by one stroke saved his wife from
poverty,--and possibly this is the right way to look upon duty,--and
saved all those who depended upon him!"
Kromitzki thought a little, then dropped his eyeglass and said:--
"My dear fellow, as to business I flatter myself that I know a great
deal more about it than you; but as to arguments, I confess that you
would soon drive me into a corner. If you had not inherited millions
from your father, you would be able to amass a fortune as a barrister.
You have put the whole thing in such a light that I do not know what
to think of that Roumanian chap. All I know about it is that some
kind of transaction about his wife had occurred, and that, put it in
whatever light you will, is always a disreputable thing. Besides, as
I am somewhat of a merchant myself, I will tell you another thing:
a bankrupt can always find a way out of his difficulties: he either
makes another fortune and then pays his debts, or he blows out his
brains and pays with his life; and at the same time, if he is married,
he sets his wife free and gives her another chance."
I fumed and raged inwardly, and would have given anything if I could
have shouted out to him: "You are a bankrupt already in one thing, for
your wife does not love you. You see the Cascades; jump in, set her
free, and give her the chance of some happiness." But I remained
silent, chewing the bitter cud of my reflections. Kromitzki, however
commonplace he might be, though capable of selling Gluchow and taking
advantage of his wife's trust in him, was not the villain I took him
for. It was a disappointment and destroyed the plan to which for the
moment I had clung as to a plank of safety. Again I felt powerless,
and saw looming up before me the vast solitude. Nevertheless, I held
fast to that purpose because I understood that unless I could do
something, I should go mad. "It will at least prepare the ground for
anything that may turn up, and accustom Kromitzki to the thought of
parting with Aniela," I said to myself. As I said before, nobody knows
in what state Kromitzki's affairs are, but I suppose that a man who
speculates is liable to losses as well as to gains. I said to him:--
"I do not know whether your principles are, strictly speaking,
business principles, but at any rate they are the sentiments of an
honorable man, and I respect you for them. You said, if I understood
you, that a man has no right to drag his wife with him into poverty."
"No, I did not say that; I only said that to sell one's wife is a
villany; the wife ought to share her husband's fate. I think but
little of a fair-weather wife, who wants to break her marriage vows
because her husband cannot give her the comforts of life."
"Suppose she did not agree, he might set her free against her will.
Besides, if she knew that by submitting to a divorce, she could save
her husband, duty well understood would bid her to yield."
"It is unpleasant even to talk about such things."
"Why? are you sorry for the Boyar?"
"Not I; I shall always hold him for a blackguard."
"Because you do not look at things from an objective point of view.
But that is not astonishing. A man like you, with whom everything is
prospering, cannot enter into the psychology of a bankrupt unless
he be a philosopher; and philosophy has nothing to do with making
I did not wish to prolong the conversation, so utterly disgusted was
I with my own perversity. I had sown the seed,--a very small and
pitiable seed to produce anything; and yet I clung to it tenaciously.
One thing revived my hope. At the moment when I tried to make him
believe that a ruined man ought to set his wife free, there was a
certain constraint and trouble in his expression. I also noticed that
when I spoke about his millions a slight sigh escaped him. To infer
from this that he is on the brink of ruin, would be jumping at
conclusions; but I may fairly conjecture that his affairs are in
a precarious state. I resolved to get at the truth as quickly as
In the mean while my own self seemed to be divided in two parts. The
one said: "If you waver ever so little, I will push you downward if
it should cost me my whole fortune. I will work your ruin, and when
I come to deal with a broken man, it remains to be seen whether for
certain transactions you do not find a gentler word than, 'villany.'"
Yet I was conscious at the same time that these were not my thoughts
nor my ways of dealing; that they had been suggested to me by somebody
else, and that but for my desperate position they would never have
found room in me, as they are averse to my nature and repulsive to me.
Money never played any part in my life, either as means or as aim. I
consider myself incapable of using such a weapon, and I felt what a
degradation it would be for me and Aniela to introduce that element
into our relations to each other. The thought of it was so repulsive
to me that I said to myself: "Will you not spare yourself? Must you
even drink from such a bowl? See how you are degenerating step by
step. Formerly thoughts like these would never have crossed your mind;
and what is more, schemes like these are utterly useless, and will
only lower you in your own eyes."
In fact, formerly, when my aunt spoke of Kromitzki's affairs in a
doubting spirit, it had always caused me some uneasiness. The prospect
that at some time or other he might want me to assist him or take a
share in his transactions had made me consider what I should do in
such a case; and I always vowed that I would decline and have nothing
to do with any of his affairs; so repugnant to me was the thought of
mingling money matters with my relations to Aniela. I remember that
I saw in this another proof of the nobility and refinement of my
feelings. To-day I grasp that weapon as if I were a banker and had
lived by money transactions all my life.
I perceive with absolute certainty that my thoughts and deeds are
worse than myself, and I ask myself how that can be. Most probably
because I cannot find the way out of the labyrinth. I love a noble
woman; my love is very great; and yet, putting the two together, the
net result is crookedness, and enchanted circles where my character
loses itself and even my nerves grow less sensitive. When, in former
times, I erred and strayed from the right path there still remained
something, some aesthetic feeling, by the help of which I still
distinguished good from evil. At present I have none of that feeling,
or if it still exists it is powerless. If I had only at the same time
lost the consciousness of what is ugly and offensive! But no; I have
it still, only it does not serve me as a curb, and is of no effect
except to aggravate my troubles. Beside my love for Aniela there is no
room for anything; but consciousness does not require space. I absorb
love, hatred, and sorrow as a cancer breeds in a diseased organism.
He who has never been in a position similar to mine cannot understand
it. I knew that from love's entanglements spring various sufferings,
but I did not appreciate those sufferings. I did not believe they were
so real and so difficult to bear. Only now I understand the difference
between "knowing" and "believing," and the meaning of the French
thinker's words: "We know we must die, but we do not believe it."
To-day my pulses are beating wildly, and there is a singing in my
ears; for something has occurred the memory of which thrills every
nerve as in a fever. The day was very beautiful, the evening more
lovely still, and there was a full moon. We resolved to make an
excursion to Hofgastein,--all but Pani Celina, who preferred to remain
at home. My aunt, Kromitzki, and I went down together to the villa
gate, whence Kromitzki sped towards Straubinger's to order a carriage,
my aunt and I waiting for Aniela, who lingered behind. As she did not
come I went back and saw her descending the winding staircase leading
from the second floor into the garden.
As the moon was on the other side, this part of the house was wrapped
in darkness, and Aniela came down very slowly. There was a moment when
my head was on a level with Aniela's feet. The temptation was too
great; I put my hands gently around them and pressed my lips to
them. I knew I should have to pay a heavy penalty for this minute of
happiness, but I could not forego it. God knows with what reverence I
touched her feet, and for how much pain this moment compensated me.
But for Aniela's resistance I should have put her foot upon my head
in token that I was her servant and her slave. She drew back and went
upstairs again but I ran down calling out loudly, so that my aunt
could hear me:--
"Aniela is coming, coming."
Nothing remained for her now but to come down again, which she could
do safely, as I had remained near the gate. At the same moment
Kromitzki arrived with the carriage. Aniela coming up to us said:--
"I came to ask you, aunty, to let me stop at home. I would rather not
leave mamma alone. You can go, and I will wait for you with the tea."
"But Celina is quite well," replied my aunt, with a shade of annoyance
in her voice, "it was she who proposed the excursion, mainly for your
"Yes, but--" began Aniela.
Kromitzki came up, and hearing what was the matter, said sharply:
"Please do not raise any difficulties." And Aniela, without saying a
word, took her seat in the carriage.
In spite of my emotion I was struck by Kromitzki's tone of voice and
Aniela's silent obedience,--all the more as I had already noticed that
his manners towards her during the day had been those of a man who
is displeased. There was evidently the same reason, of which I knew
nothing, at the bottom of this, and of the estrangement some time ago.
But there was no room now for these reflections; the fresh memory of
the kiss I had imprinted on her feet still overpowered my senses. I
felt a great delight and joy, not unmixed with fear. I could account
for the delight because I felt it every time I only touched her hand.
But why the joy? Because I saw that the immaculate Aniela could not
escape from me altogether, and must needs confess to herself: "I am on
the downward path too, and cannot look people in the face; he was at
my feet a moment ago, the man who loves me, and I am obliged to be his
accomplice and cannot go to my husband and tell him to take me hence."
I knew she could not do this without creating a commotion; and if she
could, she would not do it, for fear of an encounter between me and
Kromitzki,--"And who knows for whom she is most afraid?" something
within me whispered.
Aniela's position is indeed a difficult one, and I, knowing this, take
advantage of it without more scruples than are admitted by a general
in time of war who attacks the enemy at his weakest point. I asked
myself whether I would do the same if Kromitzki would make me
personally responsible; and as I could conscientiously say "Yes," I
thought there was no need for any further consideration. Kromitzki
inspires me with fear only in so far as he has power to remove Aniela
and put her out of my reach altogether. The very thought makes me
desperate. But at this moment, in the carriage, I only feared Aniela.
What will happen to-morrow? How will she take it? As a liberty, or as
a mere impulse of respect and worship?
I felt as a dog may feel that has done wrong and is afraid of being
whipped. Sitting opposite Aniela, I tried at moments when the moon
shone on her face to read there what was to be my sentence. I looked
at her so humbly and was so meek that I pitied myself, and thought she
too ought to pity me a little. But she did not look at me at all, and
listened or seemed to listen attentively to what Kromitzki was telling
my aunt he would do if Gastein belonged to him. My aunt only nodded,
and he repeated every moment: "Now, really, don't you think I am
right?" It is evident that he wants to impress my aunt with his
enterprising spirit, and to convince her that he is capable of making
a shilling out of every penny.
The road to Hofgastein, hewn out of the rocks, skirting the
precipices, winds and twists around the mountain slopes. The light
of the moon shone alternately on our faces and those of the ladies
opposite, according to the varying directions of the road. In Aniela's
face I saw nothing but a sweet sadness, and I took courage from the
fact that it was neither stern nor forbidding. I did not obtain
a single glance, but I comforted myself by the thought that when
concealed in the shadow, she would perhaps look at me and say to
herself: "Nobody loves me as he does, and nobody can be at the same
time more unhappy than he,"--which is true. We were both silent. Only
Kromitzki kept on talking; his voice mingled with the rush of the
waters below the rocks and the creaking of the brake, which the driver
often applied. This creaking irritated my nerves very much, but the
warm, transparent night lulled them into restfulness again. It was,
as I said before, full moon; the bright orb had risen above
the mountains, and sailing through space illumined the tops of
Bocksteinkogl, the Tischlkar glaciers, and the precipitous slopes
of the Graukogl. The snow on the heights shone with a pale-green,
metallic lustre, and as the mountain sides below were shrouded in
darkness, the snowy sheen seemed to float in mid air, as if not
belonging to the earth. There was such a charm, such peace and
restfulness in these sleeping mountains, that involuntarily the words
of the poet came into mind:--
"At such a moment, alas! two hearts are grieving.
What there is to forgive, they are forgiving;
What was to be forgot, they dismiss to oblivion."
And yet what is there to forgive? That I kissed her feet? If she were
a sacred statue she could not be offended by such an act of reverence.
I thought if it came to an explanation between us I would tell her
I often think that Aniela does me a great wrong, not to say that she
calls things by wrong names. She considers my love a mere earthly
feeling, an infatuation of the senses. I do not deny that it is
composed of various threads, but there are among them some as purely
ideal as if spun of poetry. Very often my senses are lulled to sleep,
and I love her as one loves only in early youth. Then the second self
within me mocks, and says derisively: "I had no idea you could love
like a schoolboy or a romanticist!" Yet such is the fact. I may be
ridiculous, but I love her thus, and it is not an artificial feeling.
It is this which makes my love so complete, and at the same time so
sad; for Aniela misconstrues it and cannot enter into its spirit. Even
now I inwardly spoke to her thus: "Do you think there are no ideal
chords in my soul? At this moment I love you in such a way that you
may accept my love without fear. It would be a pity to spurn so much
feeling; it would cost you nothing, and it would be my salvation.
I could then say to myself: 'This is my whole world; within its
boundaries I am allowed to live. It would be something at least. I
would try to change my nature, try to believe in what you believe, and
hold fast to it all my life.'"
It seemed to me that she ought to agree to such a proposition, after
which there would be everlasting peace between us. I promised myself
to put it before her, and once we know that our souls belong to each
other we may even part. There awoke within me a certain hope that she
will agree to this, for she must understand that without it both our
lives will remain miserable.
It was nine o'clock when we arrived at Hofgastein. It was very quiet
and still in the village. Only the Gasthaus was lighted, and before
Meger's some excellent voices were singing mountain airs. I thought of
asking the serenaders to sing before our window, but I found they were
not villagers; they were Viennese mountaineers, to whom one could
not offer money. I bought two bunches of edelweiss and other Alpine
flowers, and giving one to Aniela I accidentally, as it were,
unloosened the other and the flowers fell under her feet.
"Let them lie there," I said, seeing she was stooping to pick them up.
I went in search of some more flowers for my aunt. When I came back I
heard Kromitzki say:--
"Even here at Hofgastein, by erecting another branch establishment,
one could easily make a hundred per cent."
"You are still hammering at the same subject," I said quietly. I said
this on purpose; it was the same as to say to Aniela: "See, while my
whole being is occupied with you he thinks of nothing but how to make
money. Compare our feelings; compare us with each other." I am almost
certain she understood my meaning.
On the return journey I made several attempts to draw Aniela into
general conversation, but did not succeed. When we arrived at the gate
of the villa Kromitzki went upstairs with the ladies, and I remained
behind to pay for the carriage. When I went up I did not find Aniela
at tea. My aunt said she had gone to bed and seemed very tired.
A great uneasiness got hold of me, and I reproached myself for
tormenting her. There is nothing more crushing for the man who loves
truly than the consciousness that he is bringing unhappiness on her he
loves. We took our tea in silence, for my aunt was drowsy, Kromitzki
seemed depressed, and I tormented myself more and more with anxious
thoughts. "She must have taken it very much to heart," I thought, "and
as usual has put upon it the worst construction." I expected she would
avoid me the next day and consider our treaty of peace broken by that
rash act of mine. This filled me with fear, and I resolved to go, or
rather to escape, the next day to Vienna; firstly, because I dreaded
meeting Aniela, secondly, because I wanted to see Doctor Chwastowski;
and finally, I thought,--and God knows how bitter is the thought,--to
relieve her of my presence for a few days and give her rest.
A whole budget of events. I do not know where to begin, as the last
sensations are the uppermost. Never yet had I such convincing proofs
that she cares for me. It will cost me no small effort to put
everything down in proper order. I am now almost sure Aniela will
agree to the conditions I am going to propose to her. My head is still
in a whirl; but I will try to start from the beginning.
I have been in Vienna and brought some news I am going to discuss with
my aunt. I have seen Chwastowski. What a fine fellow he is!--works at
the hospitals, is busy upon a series of hygienic articles his brother
is to publish in three-penny booklets for the people, belongs to
several medical and non-medical associations, and still finds time for
various gay entertainments on the Kaerthner Strasse. I do not know
when he finds time to sleep. And the fellow looks like a giant from a
fair. What an exuberance of life!--he seems literally brimming over
with life. I told him without any preliminaries what had brought me to
"I do not know," I said, "whether you are aware that my aunt and I
possess considerable capital. We are not obliged to speculate, but
if we could invest our money in some enterprise where it would bring
profit, the profit would be so much gain for the country. I suppose if
at the same time we could render a service to Pan Kromitzki it would
be a two-fold gain. Between ourselves, he is personally indifferent to
us, but he is by his marriage connected with our family. We should be
glad to help him provided we can do so without running any risk."
"And you would like to know how he stands in his affairs, sir?"
"Yes, I should. He seems very sanguine in his hopes, and no doubt
believes himself to be right. The question is whether he does not
delude himself. Therefore if your brother has written you anything
without binding you to secrecy I should like to know what he says. You
might also ask him to give me an exact statement as to their business
transactions. My aunt relies upon you, considering that the relations
which connect us with your family are of a much older standing than
those connecting her with Kromitzki."
"All right; I will let my brother know about it. He mentioned
something in one of his letters, but as it does not interest me very
much I did not take notice of it at the time."
Saying this, he began to search in his desk among his papers, where
he found it easily and then read aloud: "'I am heartily tired of the
place. No women here worth talking about, and not a pretty one in the
whole lot.'" He laughed. "No, that's not what I wanted. He would like
to be in Vienna." Turning over a page he handed it to me, but I found
only these few lines:--
"As to Kromitzki, his speculation in oil has turned out a failure.
With the Rothschilds a struggle is impossible, and he went against
them. We had to get out of it as well as we could, but lost a deal
of money. We have got a monopoly in the contract business; there are
immense profits to be made, but there is also a considerable risk. It
all depends upon the honesty of the people we deal with. We treat them
fairly and trust to luck. But money is wanted, because the government
pays us at stated terms, and we have to pay money down, and besides
that, often receive bad material. I have to look at present after
"We will furnish the money," I said, when I had finished reading.
On the way back to Gastein I thought it over and my better instincts
prevailed. "Let the future take care of itself," I thought; and in
the mean while would it not be more simple and more honest to help
Kromitzki instead of ruining him? Aniela would appreciate such an act,
and my disinterestedness would win her approval; and as to the future,
let Providence decide about that.
But would it be an act of disinterestedness on my part? Reflecting
upon it, I found that my own selfish views had a great deal to do with
it. Thus I foresaw that Kromitzki, getting hold of the money, would
leave Gastein immediately and release me from the torments his
presence near Aniela gives me. Aniela would remain alone, surrounded
by my devotion, with gratitude in her heart for me, resentment or even
indignation towards Kromitzki because he had availed himself of my
offer. I seemed to see new horizons opening before me. But above all,
and at whatever cost, I wanted to get free of Kromitzki's presence.
I thought so much of my future relation to Aniela that I arrived
at Lend-Gastein before I was aware of it. At Lend I found a great
commotion. A railway accident had happened on the branch line of Zell
am See, and the place was full of wounded people; but scarcely had
I taken my seat in the carriage when the impression the killed and
wounded had made upon me gave way to the thoughts that occupied me so
exclusively. I saw clearly that some change must take place in our
relation, that the present state could not be prolonged indefinitely
without doing mischief to both of us and bringing us both to such a
pass that it would be better for me to roll down the precipice there
and then and make an end of it at once.
Aniela, though she does not yield in the least, must needs be
distracted in her mind by the continual presence of that forbidden
love. It is true she does not give me any encouragement, but now and
then I kiss her hands, her feet; she is compelled to listen to words
of love, obliged to have secrets from her husband and her mother, and
always control herself and me lest I might overstep the boundary. Life
under such conditions becomes unbearable to us both. It must undergo
some change. At last I had found, I thought, a solution of the
problem. Let Aniela frankly admit that she loves me, and say to me:
"I am yours heart and soul, and will be yours forever; but let that
satisfy you. If you agree to that our souls henceforth will be as
one and belong to each other forever." And I bound myself to her. I
fancied I was taking her hand and saying: "I take you thus and promise
not to seek for anything more, promise that our relations will remain
purely spiritual, but as binding as those of husband and wife."
Is such an agreement feasible, and will it put an end to our sorrow?
For me it is a renunciation of all my hopes and desires, but it
creates for me a new world in which Aniela will be mine. Besides that,
it will make our love a legitimate right; and I would give my very
health if Aniela would agree to it. I see in this another proof of the
earnestness of my love, and how I wish her to be mine; I am ready to
pay any price, accept any restrictions, provided she acknowledges her
I began to think intently whether she would agree. And it seemed to me
she would. I heard myself speaking to her in a persuasive, irrefutable
"Since you really love me, what difference can it make to you if you
tell me so with your own lips? What can there be nobler, holier than
the love I ask you for? I have surrendered to you my whole life,
because I could not do otherwise. Ask your own conscience, and it
will tell you that you ought to do this much for me. It is the same
relation as Beatrice's to Dante. Angels love each other in that way.
You will be near me, as near as one soul can be to another, and yet as
distant as if you dwelt on the highest of heights. That it is a
love above all earthly loves is all the more a reason for your not
rejecting it; carried on the wings of such a love your soul will
remain pure; it will save me and bring peace and happiness to both of
I felt within me a boundless wealth of this almost mystic love, and a
belief that this earthly chrysalis would come forth in another world a
butterfly, which, detached from all earthly conditions would soar from
planet to planet, till it became united to the spirit of All-Life. For
the first time the thought crossed my mind that Aniela and I may pass
away as bodies, but our love will survive and even be our immortality.
"Who knows," I thought, "whether this be not the only existing form
of immortality?"--because I felt distinctly that there is something
everlasting in my feeling, quite distinct from the ever changing
phenomena of life. A man must love very deeply to be capable of such
feelings and visions; he must be very unhappy, and perhaps close on
the brink of insanity. I am not yet on that brink, but I am close upon
mysticism, and never so happy as when I thus lose myself and scatter
my own self, so that I have some difficulty in finding it again. I
fully understand why this is the case. My dualism, my inward criticism
shattered all the foundations of my life, together with the happiness
these foundations would have given me. In those lands where, instead
of syllogisms, visions and dim consciousness reign paramount,
criticism finds no room; and this solution gives me rest and relief.
Thus I rested when I drew near Gastein. I saw myself and Aniela wedded
spiritually and at peace. I had the proud consciousness that I had
found a way out of the enchanted circle and into happiness. I was
certain Aniela would give me her hand, and thus together we would
begin a new life.
Suddenly I started as if waking from a dream, and saw that my hand was
covered with blood. It appeared that the same vehicle I was travelling
in had been used to transport some of the injured victims of the
railway disaster. There was a deal of blood at one side of the seat,
which the driver had not noticed or had forgotten to wipe off. My
mysticism does not go so far as to create belief in the intervention
of mysterious powers through omens, signs, or predictions. Yet, though
not superstitious myself, I am able to enter the train of thought of a
superstitious man, and consequently observe the singular coincidence
of this fact. It seemed to me strange that in the carriage where I
dreamed about the beginning of a new life some other life had perhaps
breathed its last; also that with bloodstained hands I had been
thinking of peace and happiness.
Coincidences like these more or less influence nervous persons, not by
filling them with presentiments, but rather by throwing a dark shadow
upon all their thoughts. Undoubtedly mine would have travelled in that
direction had I not been close upon Wildbad. Slowly crawling up the
hill I saw another carriage coming down at an unusual speed. "There
will be another collision," I thought, as on the steep road it is very
difficult for two carriages to pass each other. But at the same moment
the driver of the vehicle put on the brake with all his strength, and
the horses went at a slow pace. Suddenly, to my great astonishment, I
recognized in the inmates of the carriage my aunt and Aniela. They,
too, had caught sight of me; and Aniela cried out:--
"It is he! Leon! Leon!"
In an instant I was at their side. My aunt fell upon my neck, and
repeated, "God has been good to us!" and breathed as rapidly as if she
had been running all the way from Wildbad. Aniela had clutched my hand
and held it fast; then all at once a terrible fear shone in her face,
and she cried out:--
"You are wounded?"
I understood at once what was the matter, and said,--
"Not in the least. I was not at the accident at all. I got the blood
on my hand from the carriage, which had been used for the wounded."
"Is it true, quite true?"
"What train was it that was wrecked?" asked my aunt.
"The train coming from Zell am See."
"Oh, good God! A telegram came to say it was the Vienna train. It
almost killed me. Oh, God, what happiness! Praise be to God!"
My aunt began wiping the perspiration from her face. Aniela was as
white as a sheet. She released my hand, and turned her head aside to
hide her tears and twitching mouth.
"We were alone in the house," continued my aunt. "Kromitzki had gone
with some Belgians to Nassfeld. The landlord came and told us about
the accident on the line, and you can well imagine what state I was
in, knowing you were coming by that same line. I sent the landlord at
once for a carriage, and this dear child would not let me go alone.
What a terrible time it has been for us! Thank God, we escaped with a
mere fright. Did you see the wounded?"
I kissed my aunt's and Aniela's hands, and told them what I had seen
at Lend-Gastein. It appeared that the telegram sent to the Kurhaus was
thus expressed: "Railway accident at Lend-Gastein; many killed and
wounded." From which everybody concluded that the calamity had
happened on the Vienna-Salzburg line.
I gave them a few fragmentary details of what I had seen. I did not
think much of what I was saying, as my head was full of the one joyful
thought: "Aniela could not wait for news at home, and preferred to
come with my aunt and meet me!" Did she do this for my aunt's sake?
Most assuredly not. I saw the trouble in her face, the sudden terror
when she noticed the blood on my hand, and the lighting up of her
whole countenance when she heard I had not been near the place at the
time of the accident. I saw she was still so deeply moved as to be
inclined to weep from sheer happiness. She would have burst into tears
if at that moment I had taken her hands and told her how I loved her,
and would not have snatched them away. And as all this was as clear as
the day, it seemed to me that my torments were about to end, and that
from that moment the dawn of another life had begun. From time to time
I looked at her with eyes in which I concentrated all my power of
love, and she smiled at me. I noticed that she was without gloves
or mantle. She had evidently forgotten them in her haste and
perturbation. As it had grown rather chilly, I wanted to wrap her in
my overcoat. She resisted a little, but my aunt made her accept it.
When we arrived at the villa Pani Celina met me with as much
overflowing tenderness and delight as if Aniela in case of my death
had not been the next of kin, and heiress to the Ploszow estate. Such
noble, disinterested women are not often met with in this world. I
would not guarantee that Kromitzki when he comes to hear about it may
not utter a discreet sigh, and think that the world would go on quite
as well if there were no Ploszowskis.
Kromitzki returned very tired and cross. The Belgians he had met, and
with whom he had gone to Nassfeld, were capitalists from Antwerp. He
spoke of them as idiots who were satisfied to get three per cent. for
their capital. He said when parting for the night that he wished to
talk with me in the morning about some important matter. Formerly I
should have disliked the idea of this, for I suppose he will make some
financial proposition. Now I almost wished to get it over at once; but
I wanted to be alone with my thoughts, with my happiness, and with
Aniela in my heart and soul. I pressed her hand at good-night as a
lover might, and she returned a warm pressure.
"Are you really and truly mine?" I said inwardly.
I had scarcely finished dressing in the morning when my aunt came
into my room, and after wishing me good-morning said, without any
"While you were away Kromitzki made me a proposal to enter into
partnership with him."
"And what answer did you give him?"
"I refused point-blank. I said to him: 'My dear cousin, thank God, I
have as much as I want; and after my death Leon will be one of the
wealthiest men in the country. Why should we rush into adventures and
tempt Providence? If you make millions in your enterprises, it will be
a good thing for you; if you lose your money, why should we lose ours
with you? I do not know anything about these things, and am not in the
habit of undertaking what I know nothing about.' Was I right?"
"Very much so."
"That is just what I wanted to talk over with you, and I am glad you
look at it from the same point of view. You see, he was a little
offended that I called his enterprises adventures; he explained
everything to me, nevertheless, and told me what prospects he had for
the future. Then I asked him, straight out, why he wanted a partner,
since everything was going on so well. He replied that the more money
was put into the concern the greater would be the profit; that out
there everything was done on a great scale, and he would rather the
family shared the profits than strangers. I thanked him for his
family sympathies, but repeated my refusal. I saw that he was greatly
disappointed. He began to grumble that nobody in the country had any
brains for business; all they were capable of was to spend what they
had got. He said in plain words that it was a social crime not to use
one's capital to a better purpose. Thereupon I became very angry. 'My
good friend,' I said, 'I have managed my estate I dare say in woman
fashion, but I have not lost any money; rather I have increased my
property; and as to social crimes, if anybody has the right to speak
of that, it is certainly not you, who sold Gluchow. If you wanted to
hear the truth, you hear it now. If you had not sold Gluchow, I should
have trusted you more. As to your enterprises, it is not only I that
know nothing about them, but others too are equally in the dark; one
thing is quite clear to me, and that is that if your prospects were as
brilliant as you make them out, you would not be in search of partners
or feel hurt at my refusal. You want a partner because you cannot do
without; you have not dealt openly with me, and that I dislike more
than anything else.'"
"What did he say to that?"
"He said that he could not understand why he should be held
responsible for the sale of Gluchow. It was not he who had let the
estate slip through his fingers; it had been slipping gradually
through the hands of those that had administered it badly, and it
was their thoughtlessness and lavishness that had made the sale
indispensable. Aniela when she married him had nothing but debts. He
had saved out of the wreck more than anybody else could have done, and
now instead of gratitude he met with reproaches and--wait a bit, what
word did he use?--yes, and 'pathetic declamations.'"
"It is not true," I said; "Gluchow could have been saved."
"I said the same to him, and also that upon Gluchow I would have lent
him the money. 'You might have sent me word through Aniela,' I said
to him, 'about the sale, or told her to talk it over with me, and God
knows, I would have made any sacrifice to save the property. But such
is your method,--not to let anybody know what you are doing. We all
believed in your millions, and that is the reason I never dreamed of
offering you any pecuniary help.' He laughed ironically. 'Aniela,'
he said, 'is too great a lady and far too lofty to stoop to interest
herself in the details of her husband's business. I asked her twice to
speak to you about the partnership, and both times she refused most
decidedly. It is very easy to speak about saving Gluchow when the
opportunity is gone. Judging by the reception I have met with to-day,
I am entitled to believe that it would have been the same about
I had begun to listen with the greatest interest, for now I saw
clearly what had led to the estrangement between Kromitzki and Aniela.
My aunt continued:--
"When I heard that I said: 'Now you see how little sincerity there
is in what you told me. At first you said that you proposed the
partnership in order that the family might derive the benefit of it,
in preference to strangers, and now it turns out that you want it for
your own sake.' He is not wanting in cleverness, and therefore replied
at once that in this kind of affairs the gain was on both sides, and
that naturally it was a matter of concern to him to have as much
capital at his disposition as he could get; for in this kind of
business the larger the basis it rested upon, the more certain the
profit. 'Besides that,' he said, 'taking Aniela without any money I
thought I might count upon the support of the family, at least in
a case like this, when the help would turn out a clear gain to the
family.' He was very cross, especially when I told him he had not
taken Aniela without anything, as it had always been my intention to
give her the life interest of a certain sum."
"You told him that?"
"Yes. I told him all that was uppermost in my mind. 'I love Aniela,' I
said, 'as if she were my own child; and for that very reason, to make
her safe, I will not leave her the principal, but a life interest. The
principal might be swallowed up in your speculations, which may turn
out God knows how; and an annual income will give Aniela the means
of a decent establishment. The principal,' I said, 'will go to your
children, if you have any, after Aniela's death; and that is all I
intend to do,--which of course does not exclude any smaller services I
may be able to render you.'"
"And that ended the conversation?"
"Almost. I saw he was very much upset. I fancy he was especially angry
because I promised a life interest to Aniela instead of a round sum
down, as it shows how little I trust him. When going away he said that
for the future he would look for partners among strangers, as he could
not meet with less good-will, and might find a better understanding of
business matters. I meekly accepted this reproach. Yesterday he went
for an excursion with the Belgians and came back discontented, I
suppose he tried it on with them and met with a disappointment. Do you
know what I think, Leon? His business is shaky, since he is so anxious
to get partners. And I may tell you that the thought troubles me; for
if such be the case common-sense tells us not to have anything to do
with his affairs; and yet the simplest family duty bids us to help
him, if only for Aniela's sake. That is one reason why I was so
anxious to talk it over with you."
"His affairs are not in such a desperate state as you think, aunty."
And I told her what I had heard from Chwastowski, and guessed long ago
from Kromitzki's manner, namely, that he was in want and looking about
for capital. I added that it was mainly to inquire about the state of
his affairs that I had gone to Vienna.
My aunt was delighted with my tactics and perspicacity; and walking up
and down the room according to her habit she muttered to herself, "He
is a genius in everything." She finally decided to leave everything in
my hands, and to act as I thought best. Upon this, she went below, and
I, after perusing yesterday's papers for half an hour, followed her.
I found the whole company gathered round the breakfast table, and one
glance was sufficient to tell me that something unusual had taken
place. Aniela looked frightened, Pani Celina troubled, and my aunt was
flushed with anger. Only Kromitzki was quietly reading the paper, but
he looked cross, and his face was as yellow as if he had been ill.
"Do you know," said my aunt, pointing at Aniela, "what news she has
brought me as a morning's greeting?"
"No, what is it?" I said, sitting down at the table.
"Nothing more nor less than that in two weeks, Celina's health
permitting, they are both going to Odessa or somewhere farther still."
If a thunderbolt had fallen in the middle of the table, I could not
have been more startled. My heart sank within me. I looked at Aniela,
who had grown very red, as if caught in the act of committing a wrong
deed, and at last asked, "Where are they going? why?"
"They give me a deal of trouble at Ploszow, you know," said my aunt,
imitating Aniela's voice. "They do not want to be a burden to me, the
charitable souls. They evidently think I yearn after solitude; and in
case you went away too, it would be ever so much better, more cheerful
for me, to be by myself in that big house. They have discussed this
all the night, instead of sleeping like other respectable people."
My aunt waxed angrier still, and turning upon Kromitzki asked: "Did
you preside at that debate?"
"Not at all," he replied; "I was never even consulted. But if my wife
has resolved to go, I suppose it is in order to be nearer me, for
which I ought to feel grateful."
"There is nothing settled yet," remarked Aniela.
I, forgetting all precautions, looked steadily at her, but she did not
lift her eyes; which convinced me all the more that I was the cause
of this sudden resolve. I cannot find words to express what I felt
at that moment, and what deadly bitterness suffused my heart. Aniela
knows perfectly that I live for her only, exist through her; that all
my thoughts belong to her, my actions have only her in view; that she
is to me an issue of life and death; and in spite of all that she
calmly decides to go away. Whether I should perish or beat my head
against the wall, she never so much as considered. She will be more at
ease when she ceases to see me writhing like a beetle stuck on a pin;
she will be no longer afraid of my kissing her feet furtively, or
startling that virtuous conscience. How can she hesitate when such
excellent peace can be got, at so small a price as cutting somebody's
throat! Thoughts like these spun across my brain by thousands. I felt
a bitter taste in my mouth. "You are virtuous," I said inwardly to
Aniela, "because you have no heart. If a dog attached himself to you
as I am attached, something would be due to him. You have never shown
me any indulgence, or any spark of pity; you have never confessed to
me any tender feeling, and you have taken from me what you could.
If you were able, you would deprive me of your presence
altogether,--although you had the certainty that if I could not see
you my eyes would perish forever. But I begin to understand you now,
begin to see that your inflexibility is so great because your heart is
so small. You are cold and unfeeling, and your virtue is nothing
but an enormous egoism, that wants above everything to be left
undisturbed, and for that peace is capable of sacrificing all else."
During the whole time of breakfast I did not say a word. When alone
in my own room I held my head with both hands and with a weary,
over-wrought brain, began to think again of what had happened. My
thoughts were still very bitter. Women of narrow hearts often remain
unyielding through a certain philistinism of virtue. The first thing
with them is to keep their accounts in order, like any tradesman. They
fear love, as the grocer fears street-risings, war, riots, exalted
ideas, and audacious flights of fancy. Peace at any price, because
peace is good for business. Everything that rises above the rational
and commonplace standard of life is bad, and deserves the contempt of
reasonable beings. Virtue has its heights and precipices, but also its
I now struggled with the exceedingly painful question whether Aniela
did not belong to that kind of commonplace virtuous women, who want to
keep their accounts in order, and reject love because it reaches above
the ordinary standard of their hearts and minds. I searched in the
past for proofs. "Who knows," I said to myself, "whether her simple
ethical code is not resting upon such a foundation?" I had believed
her to be one of those exceptional natures, different from all other
women, inaccessible as the snowy heights of the Alps that without any
slope soar straight heavenward. And now this lofty nature considers it
the most proper thing that a husband in slippers should trample on
those snows. What does it all mean? Whenever thoughts like these crowd
my brain I feel as if I were on the brink of madness; such a rage
seizes me that if I could I would throw down, trample, and spit upon
the forces of life, reduce the whole world to chaos and obliterate its
existence. On my journey back from Vienna I was searching for some
unearthly abode where I might love Aniela even as Dante loved
Beatrice. I built it of the sufferings from which as from fire my love
had risen purified, of my renunciations and sacrifices, and thought
that in a superhuman, simply angelic way she would be mine, and feel
that she belonged to me. And now it came into my thoughts that it was
not worth while to speak about it, as she would not understand me; not
worth while leading her on to those heights, as she would not be able
to breathe there. She might agree, in her soul, that I should go on
loving her, go on suffering, since that flatters her vanity; but no
compact, no union the most spiritual, no mutual belonging even in
the Dantesque meaning,--to none of these will she agree, because she
understands only one belonging and one right, which is expressed in a
man's dressing-gown, and her soul cannot rise above the narrow, mean,
matrimonial, book-keeping spirit.
I felt an overwhelming regret that I had not been in the wrecked
train. The regret was as much the result of physical exhaustion as
of Aniela's cruelty. I was tired, as one who has watched night after
night at the sick bed of a very dear friend, and to whom death appears
as a desired rest. And then I thought that if they had brought my
mangled remains to Gastein something would perhaps have stirred in
her. Thinking of this I suddenly remembered yesterday's Aniela, who
went with my aunt in search of me. I recalled to my mind the sudden
terror and the joy close upon it, those eyes full of tears, the
disordered hair; and love immeasurable, love a hundred times more real
than all my thoughts and reasonings took possession of me. It was
like a great convulsive motion of the heart, which almost at once
got buried in a wave of doubts. All I had noticed that day might be
explained upon quite different grounds. Who knows whether it was I
or my aunt who played the principal part in this emotion? Besides
impressionable women have always a store of sympathy at command,
even for the merest stranger. What more natural than that she should
exhibit some feeling when he who was threatened by some danger was a
relative? She would naturally be horrified at the thought of my death,
and rejoice at seeing me alive. If, instead of her, Pani
Sniatynska had been staying with my aunt, she too would have been
terror-stricken, and I should have seen her without her gloves, and
her hair in disorder. No, in regard to that I cannot delude myself any
longer. Aniela knew very well that her departure would be to me a more
dangerous catastrophe than a wound on my head or the loss of an arm or
leg; and yet she did not hesitate a moment. I was perfectly aware that
it was all her doing. She wanted to be near her husband, and what
would become of me was not taken into account.
Again I felt myself growing pale with anger, hatred, and indignation,
and only one step removed from madness. "Stop a little," I said to
myself, pressing both hands against my temples; "perhaps she is
seeking safety in flight because she loves you, and feels she cannot
resist any longer." Ah me! and these thoughts sprung up, but they did
not find any congenial soil and perished like the seed sown on a rock;
they only roused a bitter, despairing irony. "Yes," something said
within me, "hers is a love resembling the compassion which makes
people remove the pillow from under the dying man's head, to shorten
his agony. I shall not suffer much longer, and Kromitzki will be able
to see her often and bring her such comfort as a wife expects from her
Aniela at that moment was hateful to me. For the first time in my
life I wished she really loved Kromitzki; she would have been less
repugnant to me. Anger and resentment almost deprived me of my senses,
and I saw clearly that if I did not do something, revenge myself upon
her in some way, something terrible would happen to me. I jumped up,
and under the influence of that thought, as if touched by a red-hot
iron, I took my hat and went forth in search of Kromitzki. I did
not find him either in the house or in the garden. I went to the
Wandelbahn, then to the reading-rooms; he was in neither of the two
places. I stopped for a moment on the bridge near the Cascades,
thinking what to do next. The wind coming from that direction blew a
cloud of spray into my face. This caused me a pleasant sensation and
relieved the tension of my nerves. I bared my head and exposed it to
the spray until my hair was quite wet. I felt a purely animal delight
in the coolness. I had regained all my self-possession. There remained
now only the distinct and decided wish to thwart Aniela. I said to
her, "You shall not be allowed to go away, and henceforth I will treat
you as a man who has paid for you with his money." I saw the way clear
before me, and was not afraid of making any mistakes in dealing with
Kromitzki. I found him outside Straubinger's hotel reading the paper.
When he saw me he dropped his eyeglass and said:--
"I was just thinking of going to look for you."
"Let us go on the Kaiserweg."
And we went. Not waiting for him to begin, I plunged at once into the
"My aunt told me about your conversation with her yesterday," I said.
"I am very sorry it took place at all," replied Kromitzki.
"As far as I can judge, you were both not as calm as one ought to be
in treating affairs of that kind. My dear fellow, I will be open with
you, and tell you at once that you do not know my aunt. She is the
dearest woman in the world, but she has one weakness. Possessed of a
great deal of common-sense and shrewdness, she likes to assert them;
therefore any new scheme or proposition is met by her with a certain
almost exaggerated suspicion. For that reason she invariably refuses
at first to have anything to do with it. Chwastowski, her manager,
might tell you something about that. In dealing with her it is always
best to suggest a thing and leave her time to digest it; and besides,
you rubbed her the wrong way, and that makes her always more
determined; a pity you could not have avoided that."
"But how could I have irritated her? If anybody it is I who should be
able to discuss matters of this kind."
"You made a mistake in saying that you had married Aniela without a
dowry; she is still very angry about that."
"I said it when she threw the sale of Gluchow in my teeth. Besides I
only spoke the truth; Gluchow was so encumbered that next to nothing
really belonged to Aniela."
"Plainly speaking, what induced you to sell that unfortunate estate?"
"Because by doing so I was able to do a good turn to somebody upon
whom my future career depends to a great extent; besides, he paid more
than I could have got from anybody else."
"Well, let that pass. My aunt felt all the more hurt as she has some
intentions in regard to Aniela."
"Yes, I know. She is going to leave her a yearly income."
"Between ourselves, I tell you that she thinks of no such thing. I
know she spoke to you about a life interest, because she was angry and
wanted to let you feel that she mistrusted your business capacities. I
as her heir ought to know something about her intentions, especially
as she does nothing without consulting me."
Kromitzki looked at me keenly. "Anything she is doing for Aniela," he
said, "would be against your interest as the heir."
"Yes, that is so; but I do not spend even my income, consequently I
can speak about it quite calmly. If you cannot explain it any other
way, consider it as a whim of mine. There are such people in the
world. I may tell you that I do not intend to put any limit to my
aunt's generosity, and also that she intends to give Aniela, not the
life interest she spoke about, but the capital. Of course my influence
might turn the scale either way, but I do not intend to exert it
Kromitzki squeezed my hand with effusion, and his shoulders moved
exactly like those of a wooden manikin. How repulsive the man is to
me! I suppose he considered me more of a fool than an oddity; but he
believed me, and that was all I wanted. He is quite right as to that,
for I was decided that Aniela should have the capital instead of only
a life interest. I saw that he was consumed with curiosity to know how
much and when; but he understood that it would not do to show his
hand so openly, and therefore remained silent as if from emotion. I
"You must remember one thing, my aunt wants careful handling. I know
for certain that she means to provide for Aniela; but it all depends
on her will, and even her humor. In the mean while, what is it you
both are doing? Yesterday you made her angry, and to-day Aniela
vexed her still more. As the future heir I ought to rejoice at your
blunders, and not warn you, and yet you see I am doing the opposite.
My aunt was deeply hurt by Aniela's plan, and in her anger turned upon
you, hoping, I fancy, that you would take her side; but you, on the
contrary, supported them!"
"My dear fellow," said Kromitzki, squeezing my hand again, "I will
tell you openly that I agreed to their plan because I was vexed with
your aunt, and that is the top and bottom of it. There is no sense in
it at all. I cannot stand exaltation, and both these women are full of
it. They always seem to think they ought not to take advantage of your
aunt's hospitality, that they cannot always remain at Ploszow, and so
on, _ad infinitum_. I am heartily sick of it. In the mean while it is
this way: I cannot take them with me to Turkestan, and when I am there
it is all the same to me whether they are at Odessa or at Warsaw. When
I wind up my affairs, with a more than considerable fortune, I hope I
shall give them, of course, an adequate home. That will take place in
a year at the latest. The sale of the business itself will bring in a
considerable sum. If they were not at Ploszow, I should have to look
out for some other place; but since your aunt offers her house and is
pleased to have them, it would be folly not to accept the offer. My
mother-in-law has only just recovered from her illness. Who knows what
might happen in the future? and if things went wrong, Aniela, young
and inexperienced as she is, would be alone with all these troubles.
I simply cannot remain with them; even now I am in a fever to be off,
and only delayed my departure in the hope that I might persuade you or
your aunt into a partnership. Now I have told you all that is in my
mind; and it is your turn to tell me whether I may count upon your
I breathed again. Aniela's scheme was reduced to nothing. I was
delighted because I had got what I wanted. Although my love for Aniela
was akin to deep hatred, it was all I had to live for, and it wanted
food; and this it would get only from Aniela's presence. From
Kromitzki's words I concluded that by one stroke I could gain the most
wished for end,--Kromitzki's departure for an almost unlimited time.
I remained impassive, and thought it more advisable to show myself a
"I cannot," I said, "give you any promise beforehand. Tell me first
exactly how you stand."
He began to talk, and talked with great volubility, showing that once
embarked upon this theme, he felt himself in his proper element. Now
and then he paused to buttonhole me or press me against the rocks.
When he had said something he thought very convincing, he swiftly
screwed his eyeglass into his eye and scrutinized my face to see what
impression he had made upon me. This, added to his voice, which was
like the sound of creaking hinges, and the reiteration of his "what,
what," was very trying to my nerves, but I must render him justice; he
did not try to deceive me. He told me substantially the same things
that I had heard from Chwastowski. The affair stood thus: Great
capital had already been invested in material, the purveying of which
was solely in Kromitzki's hands. The danger of the business consisted
in the fact that the capital already sunk came back to him only after
passing through various official forms, therefore very slowly; and
also in the fact that Kromitzki had to deal with purveyors whose
interest it was to supply him with the very worst materials, for which
he was held responsible. This last point put him more or less at the
mercy of the agency, which besides had the most complete right to
accept only good material. Who knows what complications might arise
from that? After having listened to his statement, which lasted an
hour, I replied:--
"My good fellow, considering all you have told me, neither my aunt nor
I can have anything to do with the partnership."
His countenance fell, and he turned very yellow. "Tell me why," he
"If you, in spite of cautiousness and care, are in danger of lawsuits,
we will not be mixed up in your affairs."
"Looking at things in that way, nobody would embark in any business at
"There is no necessity for us to do so. But supposing we entered into
any partnership, how much would you want us to put into the business?"
"It is of no use to speak of that now; but if you could have come into
it, let us say with seventy-five thousand roubles--"
"No, we will not put anything into the business; we do not think it
advisable to do so. But as you are connected with our family, we
will help you in another way. In brief, I will lend you the sum you
mentioned upon a note of hand."
Kromitzki stopped, looked at me, and blinked as one who is not fully
awake. But this lasted only a moment. He evidently thought it would
not be wise to show too great a delight,--a mercantile caution not at
all necessary, and ridiculous under present circumstances. He only
pressed my hand and said: "Thank you,--at what rate of interest?"
"We will talk of that later on. I must go back now and talk with my
I said good-by at once. On the way I reflected whether Kromitzki would
not think my acting thus a little curious and open to suspicion. But
it was a vain fear. Husbands are proverbially blind, not because they
love and trust their wives, but because they love themselves. Besides,
Kromitzki, looking at us from his business point of view, considers
me and my aunt as two fantastic beings, who, with little knowledge of
practical matters, stick to antiquated notions about family ties
and duties. He is, indeed, in many respects of such an altogether
different type from us, that we cannot help looking upon him as an
When I came back to the villa I saw Aniela at the gate buying wild
strawberries from a peasant woman. Passing close by, I said roughly,
"You will not go away, because I do not wish it," and then went up
into my room.
During dinner the conversation again turned upon the departure of the
ladies. This time Kromitzki spoke up and treated the whole thing as a
childish whim, to be laughed at by sensible people. He was not very
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