Part 8 out of 8
There is within me something that is keenly conscious and can
appreciate every word of this noble letter. Not a syllable is lost to
me, and I say to myself: "All the more reason for asking her again;
she is so honest, simple, and loving." But there is also that other
self, very tired, who had all the strength taken out of him, who can
give sympathy but no love; because he has staked his all upon one
feeling, and sees clearly that for him there is no return.
I am quite certain that Clara will not come back to Berlin; and what
is more, that when she went away it was with the intention of not
coming back again. She wanted to avoid my gratitude. I think of her
gratefully and sadly, and am sorry she did not meet a different man
from me. There is such an irony of fate in this! But what is the use
of deceiving myself? I am still yoked to my memories. I see before me
Aniela, as she appeared to me at Warsaw, as I saw her at Ploszow and
Gastein; and I cannot tear myself away from the past. Besides, it has
absorbed so much of my strength and life that I am not surprised at
it. The difficulty is, not to remember. Every instant I catch myself
in the act of thinking about Aniela, and I have to remind myself
that she is changed now, that her feelings will be going, have gone
already, into another direction, and that I am nothing to her now.
Formerly I preferred not to think of my wrecked condition, because my
brain could not stand the thought; now I do it sometimes on purpose,
if only to defend myself against the voice that calls out: "Is it her
fault? and how do you know what is passing in her heart? She would not
be a woman if she did not love her own child when it comes into the
world, but who told you that she is not as unhappy as you are?" At
times it seems to me that she is even more unhappy, and then I wish
for another inflammation of the lungs. Life with such a chaos of
thoughts is impossible.
With my returning health I am gradually drifting back into the magic
circle. The doctor says that in a few days I shall be able to travel.
I will go hence, for it is too near Warsaw and Ploszow. It may be one
of my nervous whims, but I feel I shall be better and more at rest in
Rome on the Babuino. I do not promise myself to forget the past; on
the contrary, I shall think of it from morning until night, but the
thoughts will be like unto meditations behind cloister walls. Besides,
what can I know of how it will be? All I know is that I cannot remain
here any longer. I shall call upon Angeli by the way; I must have her
portrait at Rome.
I leave Berlin, I renounce Rome, and go back to Ploszow. I wrote some
time ago that Aniela is not only the beloved woman, but the very
crown of my head. Yes, it is a fact; let it be called by any
name,--neurosis, or an old man's madness; I have got it in my blood
and in my soul.
I am going to Ploszow. I will serve her, take care of her, do for her
what I can; and for all reward let me be able to look at her. I wonder
at myself that I fancied I should be able to live without seeing her.
One letter from my aunt brought out all that was buried within me. My
"I did not write much about us, because I had nothing cheerful to tell
you; and as I am not clever at disguising things, I feared I should
make you uneasy, knowing that you were not well. I am in terrible
anxiety about Kromitzki, and should like to have your advice.
Chwastowski showed me his son's letter, in which he says that
Kromitzki's affairs are in a deplorable state, and that he is
threatened with legal prosecution. Everybody has deceived him. He
suddenly received orders to deliver a great quantity of goods, and as
the appointed term was very short, he had no time to look into things
and see whether everything was as it should be. It turned out that all
the goods were bad,--imitations, and second and third rate quality.
They were rejected; and in addition Kromitzki is threatened with a
trial for defrauding the agency. God grant that we may be able to
prevent this, especially as he is innocent. Ruin does not matter,
provided there be no disgrace. I am altogether at a loss what to do
and how to save him. I do not like to risk the money I intended Aniela
to have, and yet we must not let it come to a trial. Tell me what to
do, Leon; for you are wise and will know what is expedient in these
matters. I have not told Celina anything about it, nor Aniela,--and I
am very anxious about Aniela. I cannot understand what is the matter
with her. Celina is the worthiest of women, but she always had
exaggerated ideas about modesty, and has brought up Aniela in the same
way. I do not doubt that Aniela will be the best of mothers, but now
I am quite angry with her. A married woman ought to be prepared for
consequences, and Aniela seems to be in despair, as if it were a
disgrace. Nearly every day I see traces of tears in her eyes. It
torments me to see her looking so thin and pale, with those dark
rings under her eyes and ready to burst into tears at the slightest
provocation; and there is always an expression of pain and humiliation
in her face. I have never in my life seen a young woman so distressed
at her situation. I tried persuasion and I tried scolding,--all in
vain. Perhaps I love her too much, and in my old age am losing my
former energy; but then she is such an affectionate creature! If you
only knew how she asks after you day by day, whether a letter has
arrived and if you were well, when you will be going, and how long you
mean to stop at Berlin. She knows I like to speak about you, and
she makes me talk for hours. God give her strength to bear all the
troubles that are awaiting her. I am really so concerned about
her health that I positively dare not give her any hint about her
husband's position. But sooner or later it must come to her ears. I
have not said anything to Celina either, because she is troubled about
Aniela, and cannot understand why she should take her position so
Why? I alone in the world understand and could have answered that
question,--and that is the reason I go back to Ploszow. It is not her
position she takes tragically, but my desertion. My despair she is
aware of, the sundering of those ties that have grown dear to her from
the time when after so much suffering, so many efforts, she contrived
to change them into ideal relations. Only now I enter into her
thoughts, into her very soul. From the moment I came back to Ploszow
there arose a struggle between duty and feeling in that noble heart.
She wished to remain true to him to whom she had promised her faith,
because her spiritual nature abhors impurity and falsehood; and at the
same time she could not help being drawn to the man she had loved with
all the fresh feelings of her young heart,--all the more as the man
was near her, loved her, and was supremely unhappy. Whole months had
passed in that struggle. At last there came a moment of peace, when
the feeling had become a union of souls so pure and unearthly that
neither her modesty nor her loyalty could take exception to it. This
is the reason of her unhappiness; I am reading now her soul as an open
book,--therefore I go back.
I also now see clearly that I would not have left her if I had had a
complete certainty that her feelings would outlast all changes in her
life. The mere animal jealousy that fills my mind with rage because
another has rights over her which are denied to me would not have been
sufficient to drive me away from the one woman who is all the world to
me. But I thought that the child, even before it was born, would take
possession of her heart, draw her closer to her husband, and blot me
out of her heart and life forever.
I do not delude myself even now, for I know that I shall not be to
her what I have been, nor what I might have been but for the combined
forces of circumstances. I might have been the dearest and only one
for her, attaching her to life and happiness; now it will be quite
different. But as long as there is a glimmering spark of feeling for
me I will not leave her, because I cannot; I have nowhere to go.
Therefore I return; I shall nurse that spark, fan it into life again,
and get some warmth from it for myself. I am reading again my aunt's
words: "If you only knew how she asks after you day by day, whether a
letter has arrived, and if you were well, when you will be going, and
how long you mean to stop at Berlin," and I cannot fill myself enough
with these words. It is as if I had been starving, and somebody had
given me a piece of bread. I am eating it, and feel as if I could cry
from sheer gratitude. Perhaps God's mercy toward me is beginning to
appear at last. For I feel that I am changed; the former self has
died in me. I shall not revolt against her will any more; I will bear
everything, will soothe and comfort her; I will even save her husband.
After thinking it over, I remain two days more at Berlin. It is a
great sacrifice for me, because I can scarcely contain myself in my
impatience; but it is necessary to send a letter to prepare her for my
coming. A telegram might alarm her, as also my sudden arrival. I have
sent off a cheerful letter, winding up with a friendly message for
Aniela as if nothing ever had happened between us. I want her to
understand that I am reconciled to my fate, and that I come back the
same I was before I left her. My aunt must have counted upon my coming
on receipt of her letter.
Warsaw, 6 November.
I arrived this morning. My aunt awaited me at Warsaw. At Ploszow
things are a little better. Aniela is much calmer. There is no news
The poor old aunt met me with a horrified exclamation,--"Leon,
whatever has happened to you?" She did not know I had been so ill,
and protracted illness alters one's appearance; and my hair has
grown quite gray on the temples. I even thought of darkening it
artificially. I do not want to look old now. My aunt, too, had changed
very much, and although it is not so long since we parted, I found a
great difference in her appearance. Her face has lost its familiar
determined expression, though her features have grown more immovable.
I noticed that her head is trembling a little, especially when she
is listening with deep attention. When with some inward trouble I
inquired after her health, she said, with her usual frankness, "After
my return from Gastein I felt very well; but now everything seems to
go wrong, and I feel that my time is coming. We Ploszowskis all end
with paralysis; and I feel a numbness in my arm every morning. But it
is not worth talking about; it will be as God ordains."
She would not say anything more. Instead of that we took counsel
together how to help Kromitzki, and we resolved not to let it come to
a criminal prosecution if we could help it. We could not save him from
ruin, as this would have involved our own ruin, which, if only in
consideration for Aniela, we must avoid. I made a proposition to
settle Kromitzki here, by giving him one of the larger farms. God
knows how my mind recoiled from, the very thought of his being always
with Aniela, but to make my sacrifice complete I had made up my mind
to swallow the bitter draught.
My aunt offers one of her farms, and I am furnishing the necessary
capital to establish him, which, taken together, will be Aniela's
dowry. Kromitzki will have to pass his word not to embark in further
speculation. But before that can be done we must get him free, and for
that purpose we are going to send out an able lawyer with instructions
and ample means.
When we had finished our consultation I began to inquire after Aniela.
My aunt told me, among other things, that she was very much changed,
and her former beauty almost gone. Hearing this, I felt the more pity
for her. Nothing will be able to turn my heart from her. She is the
very crown of my head. I wanted to start off at once for Ploszow, but
my aunt said she felt tired, and wanted to pass the night at Warsaw.
As I had told her about my having had inflammation of the lungs, I
suspect she remained on purpose so as not to let me travel in bad
weather. It has been raining since morning. Besides we should not have
been able to go, as Kromitzki's affairs must be dealt with at once.
We arrived in Ploszow at seven in the evening. It is now midnight, and
the whole house is asleep. Thank God, the meeting did not excite her
much. She came out to me with hesitating step, and there was fear and
shame in her eyes; but I had vowed to myself to meet her as if we had
parted yesterday, and take care to avoid anything in the nature of
reconciliation, anything to remind her that we had parted under
unusual circumstances. When I saw her coming, I put out my hand,
"How do you do, dear Aniela? I have been longing to see you all, and
it made me put off my sea voyage for another time."
She understood at once that such a greeting meant reconciliation,
peace, and the sacrifice of myself for her sake. For a moment there
passed across her face a wave of such emotion that I felt afraid she
would lose command over herself. She wanted to say something and could
not; she only pressed my hand. I thought she might burst into tears,
but I did not give her time, and continued quickly in the same tone:--
"What about the portrait? The head was finished when you left Vienna,
was it not? Angeli will not send it soon, because he said to me it
would be his masterpiece. He will want to exhibit it in Vienna,
Munich, and Paris. It is lucky I asked him to make a copy, otherwise
we might wait a year before we got it. I wanted a copy for myself."
She was obliged to fall in with my humor in spite of all the emotions
that worked in her breast, especially as my aunt and Pani Celina took
part in the conversation. In this way the first awkward moments were
tided over. Everything I said was intended to divert our attention
from the real state of feelings. I kept on in the same strain all the
evening, although at times I felt the perspiration breaking out on my
forehead from the effort. I was still weak after my recent illness,
and all this told upon me terribly.
During supper Aniela looked at my pale face and the gray hairs. I
saw she guessed what I must have suffered. I spoke about my Berlin
experiences almost gayly. I avoided looking at her changed appearance,
so as not to let her see that I had noticed it, and that the sight
moved me deeply. Towards the end of the evening I felt faint several
times, but I fought against it, and she did not see anything in my
face except calmness, serenity, and boundless affection. She is very
keen-sighted; she knows, perceives, understands things very quickly;
but I fairly surpassed myself,--I was so natural and so much at my
ease. Even if there be still any lingering doubt in her mind as to my
submission, she has none as to my affection and her being to me the
same worshipped Aniela.
I noticed that she seemed better and evidently began to revive in the
warmer atmosphere. I had indeed reason to be proud of myself, for
I brought at once an appearance of cheerfulness into a house where
dulness had reigned paramount. My aunt and Pani Celina appreciated it
keenly. The latter said frankly when I wished her good-night:--
"Thank Heaven, you have come. Everything looks different at once with
you in the house."
Aniela, pressing my hand, said shyly, "You will not go away soon, will
"No, Aniela," I replied; "I will not go away again." And I went, or
rather fled, to my room, because I felt that I could bear the strain
no longer. There had been such an accumulation of misery and tears in
my heart during that evening that I felt half choked. There are small
sacrifices that cost more than great ones.
Why do I repeat to myself so often that she is as the crown of my
head? Because one must love a woman more than life, consider her as
the crown of life, if he does not leave her under circumstances like
these. I am perfectly aware that mere physical repugnance would have
driven me from any other woman; and since I remain here the thought
occurs to me again that my love must be an aberration of the nerves,
which could not exist were I a normally healthy specimen of mankind.
The modern man, who explains to himself everything by the word
"neurosis," and is conscious of all that is going on within himself,
has not even the comfort which a conviction of his own faithfulness
might give him. For if he says to himself, "Your faithfulness
and perseverance are signs of disease, not virtues," it adds one
bitterness the more. If consciousness of all these things makes life
so much more difficult, why do we take so much care to cultivate it.
To-day, by daylight, I noticed how much Aniela is changed, and my
heart was torn at the sight. Her mouth is swollen, and the once so
pure brow has lost its purity and clearness. My aunt was right,--her
beauty is almost gone. But the eyes are the same as those of the
former Aniela, and that is enough for me. That changed face only
increases my pity and tenderness, and she is dearer to me than ever.
If she were ten times more changed I should love her still. If this be
disease, I am sickening with it, and do not wish to get well again; I
would rather die of this disease than of any other.
A time will come when under changed circumstances she will recover her
beauty. I thought of it to-day and at once asked myself what would be
our relations towards each other in the future, and whether it would
make any change. I am certain it will not. I know already how it feels
to live without her, and shall not do anything which might make her
cast me off. She will always remain the same; I have now not the
slightest doubt that I am necessary to her life, but I know also that
she will never call the feeling she has for me by any other name than
great sisterly affection. What matters the name? it will be always the
ideal love of one soul towards another; and that is lawful, because
permitted to brother and sister. Were it otherwise, she would be in
arms against it at once.
In regard to this I have no illusion whatever. I have already said
that since she changed our mutual relations into ideal feelings, they
have become dear to her. Let it remain thus, provided they be dear to
It is an altogether wrong idea that the modern product of civilization
is less susceptible to love. I sometimes think it is the other way. He
who is deprived of one lung breathes all the harder with the remaining
one; we have lost much of what makes up the sum of life, and are
endowed instead with a nervous system more highly strung and more
sensitive than that of our ancestors. It is quite another matter that
a lack of red globules in our blood creates abnormal and unhealthy
feelings, and the tragedy of human life rather increases therefore
than grows less. It is increased for the very reason that, whereas the
former man in his disappointments found consolation in religion
and social duties, the modern man does not find it there. Formerly
character proved a strong curb for passions; in the present there is
not much strength in character, and it grows less and less because of
the prevailing scepticism, which is a decomposing element. It is like
a bacillus breeding in the human soul; it destroys the resistant power
against the physiological craving of the nerves, of nerves diseased.
The modern man is conscious of everything, and cannot find a remedy
There has been no news from Kromitzki for some time; even Aniela has
not heard from him. I sent him a telegram to inform him that a lawyer
was coming out to him to set his affairs straight; then I wrote to
him,--trusting to chance that he may get the letter; for we do not
know where he is at present. No doubt the telegram and letter will
find him in time, but where or when we do not know. The elder
Chwastowski has written to his son; perhaps he first will hear
something as to how matters stand.
I spend whole hours with Aniela, with nothing to disturb us. Pani
Celina, who knows now about Kromitzki's position, asked me to prepare
Aniela for any news she might be likely to receive. I have already
told Aniela what I think in regard to her husband's speculation, but
only from a personal point of view. I told her even that she ought not
to take it to heart if he lost all his money, which after all might be
the best thing that could happen to him, as then he might be able to
settle to a quiet, practical life. I set her mind at rest as to the
money I had lent him, and said that was all right; I also told her
something of my aunt's plans for their future. She listened with
comparative calmness and without showing signs of emotion. What most
gives her strength and comfort is the consciousness that so many
loving hearts are near her. I love her now beyond all words; she sees
it,--she reads it in my eyes, and in my whole manner towards her. When
I succeed in cheering her up, or call forth her smiles, I am beside
myself with delight. There is at present in my love something of the
attachment of the faithful servant who loves his mistress. I often
feel as if I ought to humble myself before her, as if my proper place
were at her feet. She never can grow ugly, changed, or old to me. I
accept everything, agree to everything, and worship her as she is.
Kromitzki is dead! The catastrophe has come upon us like a
thunderbolt. God keep Aniela from any harm in her present state.
To-day came a telegram to the effect that, accused of fraud and
threatened with imprisonment, he has taken his life. I should have
expected anything but that! Kromitzki is dead! Aniela is free! But how
will she bear it? I have been looking again and again at the telegram,
to make sure I am not dreaming. I cannot yet believe my own eyes; but
the signature, "Chwastowski," vouches for its truth. I knew it could
not end well, but I never supposed the end would be so speedy and so
tragic. No! the thought never crossed my mind.
I feel as if I had received a blow on the head. If my brain does not
give way now, it can bear anything. I once helped Kromitzki, and
latterly I have done what I could for him, consequently I have nothing
to reproach myself with. There was a time when from my whole soul I
wished him dead,--that is true; but it is all the more to my credit
that I helped him in spite of that. And death has overtaken him, not
in consequence of anything I did, but in spite of it. And Aniela is
free! Strange, though I know it, I cannot believe it altogether. I
am as if only half conscious. Kromitzki to me was a mere stranger,
moreover the greatest obstacle in my way. The obstacle is removed,
therefore I ought to feel a boundless joy; and yet I cannot, dare not
feel it,--possibly because a fear of the consequences for Aniela is
connected with it. My first thought when I received the telegram was:
"What will happen to Aniela? How will she bear the news?" God guard
her! She did not love the man, but in her present state a shock may
kill her. I am thinking of taking her away from here.
What a fortunate thing that I received the telegram in my own room,
and not in the dining-room. I do not know whether I should have been
able to control my features. For some time I could not recover myself
from the sudden shock. I then went to my aunt, but did not show her
the telegram. I said only:--
"I have had bad news about Kromitzki."
"What has happened?"
"You must not be shocked, aunty."
"They brought him up for trial,--is that it?"
"No, it is worse; he is brought up for trial, but before a higher
tribunal than ours."
My aunt winked with both eyes vigorously.
"What do you mean, Leon?"
I showed her the telegram. She read it, and without saying a word went
to her prie-Dieu and buried her face in her hands. After a short time
she rose from her knees and said:--
"Aniela may pay for it with her life. What is to be done?"
"She must not know anything until after the child is born."
"But how can we prevent it? It will be in everybody's mouth; the
papers will discuss it. How can we keep it from her?"
"Dearest aunt," I said, "there is only one way. We must have the
doctor here and ask him to prescribe for her a change of air. Then I
will take her and Pani Celina to Rome. There I can keep all news from
her. Here it would be difficult, especially when the servants come to
hear about it?"
"But will she be able to bear the journey?"
"I do not know; it all depends upon what the doctor says; I will send
for him at once."
My aunt agreed to my proposal. It was really the best thing to do
under the circumstances. We resolved to take Pani Celina into our
confidence, in order that she might further our plan of departure. I
saw all the servants, and gave strict orders that all letters, papers,
and telegrams should be brought direct to my room, and nobody approach
the young lady with any news or gossip whatever.
My aunt was terribly shocked. According to her views, suicide is one
of the greatest crimes anybody can commit; therefore with the pity for
the unfortunate man, there was a great deal of horror and
indignation. "He ought not to have done this," she said over and over
again,--"especially now when he expected to become a father." But I
suppose he might not have received news of that. During the last few
weeks he must have been in a state of feverish anxiety, travelling
from one place to another as the entangled position of his affairs
I dare not condemn him, and will confess openly that it has raised the
man in my esteem. There are some men who, justly accused of fraud and
wrong-dealing, and sentenced to imprisonment, take it easy, and pass
their time in prison gayly drinking champagne. He did not do that,--he
preferred death to disgrace. Maybe he remembered who he was. I should
have less sympathy with him if he had made away with himself merely
because he had failed; but I suppose even that would have been a
sufficient motive for him to do so. I remember what he said about
it at Gastein. If my love be a neurosis, then most undoubtedly his
feverish desire for gold is the same. When this one aim went out from
his life, this one basis slipped away from under his feet, he saw
before him, perhaps, a gulf and a desert such as I saw when alone at
Berlin. And what could hold him back? The thought of Aniela? He knew
we would take care of her; and besides,--who knows?--perhaps in a dim
way he felt that he was not necessary to her happiness. I did not
think he had it in him; I had not expected from him so much energy and
courage, and I confess that I judged him wrongly.
I had put down my pen, but take it up again because I cannot sleep;
and besides, while writing my thoughts flow more evenly, and I do not
feel my brain reeling. Aniela is free! Aniela is free! I repeat it to
myself and cannot encompass the whole meaning. I feel as if I could
go mad with joy, and at the same time I am seized with an undefined
dread. Is it really true that a new life is dawning for me? What is
it? Is it one of Nature's tricks, or is it God's mercy at last for all
I suffered, and for the great love I bear in my heart? Perhaps there
exists a mystic law which gives the woman to the man who loves her
most in order that a great, eternal commandment of the Creator should
be fulfilled. I do not know. I have a feeling as if I and all those
near me were carried away by an immense wave, beyond human will or
I interrupted my writing again, because the carriage I sent for the
doctor has come back without him. He has an operation on hand and
could not come, but promised to be here in the morning. He must remain
with us at Ploszow until our departure, and go with us to Rome. There
I shall find others to take his place.
It is late in the night. Aniela is asleep, and has no foreboding of
what is hanging over her, what a complete change in her life has taken
place. May it bring peace and happiness to her! She deserves it all.
Perhaps it is for her sake God's mercy is showing.
My nerves are so overstrung that I start when I hear a dog barking in
the distance, or the watchman's rattle; it seems to me as if somebody
were bringing news and trying to get to Aniela. I make an effort to
calm myself, and explain away the strange fear that haunts me, by the
state of Aniela's health; I try to be convinced that but for this I
should not feel so uneasy. I repeat to myself that my fear will pass,
as everything passes, and afterwards there will be the beginning of a
I have to familiarize myself with the thought that Kromitzki is no
more. Out of this catastrophe springs my happiness, such happiness as
I dared not hope for; but there is within us a moral instinct which
forbids us to rejoice at the death of even an enemy. And moreover in
death itself there is an awful solemnity,--those who speak in presence
of it speak in hushed voices; that is the reason I dare not rejoice.
All my plans are shattered. The doctor came this morning, and after
examining Aniela, announced that there could be no question of any
long journey for her, as it would be positively dangerous. There seem
to be some irregularities in her state. What a torture to hear his
professional jargon, when every word he utters seems to threaten the
life of the beloved woman. I told the doctor the position we are in,
and he said that between two dangers he preferred the lesser one.
What troubled and angered me most was his advice to tell Aniela, after
due preparation, about her husband's death. Alas! I cannot deny that
from his point of view he is right. "If you are quite sure," he said,
"that you can keep it from Pani Kromitzka for some months to come, it
would certainly be better to do so; but if not, it would be advisable
to prepare her mind and then tell her; for if she receives the news
suddenly there may be another catastrophe."
What is to be done? I must establish a quarantine around Ploszow, not
let a paper or letter come in unknown to me, instruct the servants
what to say, and to keep even their features under command.
What an impression news like this makes upon every one; I had an
illustration in Pani Celina, to whom we had to tell the truth. She
fainted twice, and then went off into hysterics; which almost drove me
frantic, because I thought she would be heard all over the house. And
yet she was not fond of her son-in-law; but she too, I suppose, was
mostly afraid for Aniela. I am strenuously opposed to the doctor's
advice, and do not think I shall ever agree to it. I cannot tell them
one thing,--that Aniela did not love her husband, and that for that
very reason the shock will be more terrible to her.
It is not merely a question of sorrow after the death of a beloved
being, but of the reproaches she will apply to herself, thinking that
if she had loved him more he might have clung more to his life. Empty,
trivial, and unjust reproaches, for she did everything that force
of will could command,--she spurned my love and remained pure and
faithful to him. But one must know that soul full of scruples as I
know it, to gauge the depth of misery into which the news would plunge
her, and how she would suspect herself,--asking whether his death did
not correspond to some deeply hidden desire on her part for freedom
and happiness; whether it did not gratify those wishes she had
scarcely dared to form. My hair seems to rise at the very thought,
because it is his death that opens a new life for her; consequently it
will be a twofold shock,--two blows to fall upon the dear head. This,
neither the doctor, my aunt, nor Pani Celina can understand. No! she
ought not to be told until after the event.
What a misfortune that she cannot go away! Here it is difficult,
almost impossible, to guard her. She will read in our faces what has
happened. The least word, the least glance will rouse her suspicion,
and she will fancy all sorts of things. To-day she was surprised by
the sudden arrival of the doctor. Pani Celina told me she had inquired
why he was sent for and whether she was in any danger. Fortunately, my
aunt, always ready for any emergency, said that it was the usual thing
in such a case to call in the doctor from time to time. Aniela has no
experience, and believed her at once. How shall I be able to persuade
the servants not to look so mysterious? They already guess that
something is the matter, from my warnings and cautionings, and they
will know all about it in time. I cannot dismiss them all. The
frequent telegrams are enough to excite their curiosity. To-day I had
another telegram from Chwastowski at Baku, with the inquiry what he is
to do with the body. I replied that he should bury it there for the
present. I asked the elder Chwastowski to take it to Warsaw, and sent
a money order by telegraph. I do not know even whether such an order
can be sent from Warsaw to Baku.
To-day I looked through the papers. In two of them there was a
paragraph about Kromitzki's death. If that is young Chwastowski's
doing, he must be mad. The servants know everything. Their faces are
such that I am surprised Aniela does not suspect something. During
dinner she was cheerful and unusually lively. The doctor's presence is
a great relief to me. Kromitzki is nothing to him. He engages Aniela's
attention, makes jokes, and teaches her to play chess. Pani Celina,
on the contrary, reduces me to despair. The merrier Aniela grew, the
longer and more funereal became her mother's countenance. I spoke to
her about it rather sharply.
We are all at Warsaw. They told Aniela that hot-water pipes were to be
laid in all the rooms at Ploszow, and so, to avoid the general upset
and discomfort, we all intended to go to Warsaw. The drive tired her
very much; but I am glad we are here, for I can rely upon my servants.
The house is a little in disorder. A great many pictures are already
unpacked. Aniela, in spite of being tired, wanted to see them, and I
acted as cicerone. I told her that it was my greatest wish to be at
some time her cicerone at Rome, and she replied, with a shade of
"I, too, often dream of seeing Rome, but sometimes I think that I
shall never go there."
Her words caused me a twinge of anguish, for I am afraid of
everything, even presentiments, and am ready to see in every word a
forecast of evil.
"I promise you shall go to Rome and stop there as long as you like," I
It is strange how easily human nature adapts itself to a new position
and exercises its rights. Involuntarily I look upon Aniela as my own,
and guard her as my property.
The doctor was right. We did well to come to Warsaw,--firstly, because
in case of any sudden emergency there is help at hand; secondly, we
are not obliged to receive visitors. At Ploszow we could not have
avoided that, as it is impossible to turn away a visitor from one's
own gates; and probably a great many would have come with condolences.
Finally, at Ploszow there existed already a mysterious, heavy
atmosphere, in which my efforts to give the conversation a light and
cheerful turn appeared unnatural. I suppose this cannot be avoided
even here, but Aniela's mind will be occupied with hundreds of little
sensations, and be less observant of any slight changes in her
surroundings than she would be at Ploszow. She will not go out often,
and never alone. The doctor orders exercise, but I have found means
for that. Beyond the stables there is a good-sized garden with a
wooden gallery near the wall. I will have it glazed, and in bad
weather Aniela can walk there. It is a terrible strain, this continual
anxiety hanging over our heads.
How did it happen? How the slightest suspicion could have entered
her head I cannot understand. And yet it is there. To-day, during
breakfast, she suddenly raised her eyes, looked inquiringly at all of
us in turn and said:--
"I cannot quite make it out, but I am under the impression that you
are concealing something from me."
I felt myself growing pale,--Pani Celina behaved most fatally; only
the dear old aunt did not lose her presence of mind and at once began
to scold Aniela:--
"Of course we are hiding something, and did not like to tell you
that we consider that little head of yours a foolish one. Leon said
yesterday that you would never learn to play chess, as you had no idea
I breathed more easily, and getting hold of the clue began to make fun
of her. Aniela seemed satisfied for the moment, but I am quite
certain that we have not dispersed her suspicion, and that even my
cheerfulness may have seemed artificial to her. My aunt and Pani
Celina were thoroughly frightened, and I was in despair; for I saw
how fruitless would be our endeavors so keep the thing from her
altogether. I fancy that Aniela suspects we are keeping from her some
bad news about her husband's financial affairs; but what will she
think if week after week passes and she does not get any letters from
him? What can we tell her; how explain the silence?
Towards noon the doctor came. We told him what had happened, and he
repeated what he had said before, that it would be better to let her
know the truth.
"Naturally Pani Kromitzka will be getting anxious at not receiving any
letters, and thence will draw the worst conclusions."
I still tried to avoid extreme measures and said that this anxiety
would prepare her mind for the news.
"Yes," replied the doctor, "but anxiety prepares the organism badly
for an ordeal which even under more favorable circumstances would not
be an easy thing to bear."
Perhaps he is right, but my heart quakes with terror. Everything has
its limits, and so has human courage There is something within me that
protests desperately against this, and I am afraid of the voice which
The ladies have almost made up their minds to tell her to-morrow. I
will have nothing to do with it. I had no idea one could be afraid to
such an extent. But it is a question concerning her.
All was well until evening, when suddenly hemorrhage set in. And I
had said no! It is three o'clock at night. She has fallen asleep. The
doctor is with her. I must be calm--I must. It is necessary for her
that somebody in the house should preserve his presence of mind--I
The doctor says that the first phase of illness is progressing
according to rules. What does that mean? Does it mean that she will
die? The fever is not very great. This seems to be always so the first
two days. She is quite conscious, feels out of sorts and very weak,
but suffers little. The doctor prepared us to expect that the fever
would increase gradually up to forty degrees; there will be great
pains, sickness, and swelling of the feet--that is what he promises!
Let there be at once also the end of the world! O God! if that is to
be my punishment, I swear I will go away, never to see her again in
life,--only save her!
I have not seen her. I sit at her door almost bereft of my senses; but
I do not go in, because I am afraid that the sight of me will make her
worse and increase the fever. At times a horrible idea crosses my mind
that I am going mad and might kill Aniela in a fit of insanity. That
is the reason I force myself to write, for it seems to me that it is
the best way of keeping my senses under control.
I heard her voice and her moans through the door. In that illness the
suffering is terrible. According to the doctor it is the usual sign,
but to me it seems blind cruelty! My aunt says she clings round her
neck and her mother's and asks them for help. And nothing can be done,
nothing! Continual sickness, the pains are increasing, the feet are
quite swollen. The doctor says nothing, but that it may turn out all
right, or may end badly. I know that without him! The fever is at
forty degrees. She is always conscious.
I know it now. Nobody told me, but I know for certain that she is
going to die. I have all my senses under control, I am even calm.
Aniela will die! Last night, sitting at her door, I saw it as clearly
as I now see the sunlight. A man in a certain condition of mind sees
things which other people with less concentrated minds cannot see.
Towards morning something passed within me which made me see how it
would end; it was as if a veil had been torn from my eyes and brain.
Nothing now can save Aniela. I know it better than all the doctors.
And that is the reason why I do not resist any longer. What good can
it do either to her or to me? The sentence has been pronounced. I
should be blind if I did not perceive that some power as strong as the
universe is parting us. What this power is, what it is called, I do
not know. I know only that if I knelt down, beat my head on the floor,
prayed, and cried out for mercy, I might move a mountain sooner than
move that power. As nothing now could part me from Aniela but death,
she must die. This may be very logical, but I do not consent to part
Aniela wished to see me. My aunt took everybody out of the room,
thinking she wanted to recommend her mother to my care, and this was
really the case. I saw my beloved, the soul of my life. She is always
conscious her eyes are very bright and her mental faculties excited.
The pain has almost ceased. All traces of her former state have
disappeared, and her face is like an angel's. She smiled at me, and I
smiled back. Since yesterday I know what is awaiting me, and it seems
to me as if I were dead already; therefore I am calm. Taking my hand
in hers, she began to speak about her mother, then looked at me as if
she wished to see as much as she could of me before her eyes closed
forever, and said:--
"Do not be afraid, Leon,--I feel much better; but in case anything
should happen to me I wanted to leave you something to remember me by.
Perhaps I ought not to say it so soon after my husband's death; but
as I might die, I wanted to tell you now that I loved you very, very
I replied to her: "I know it, dearest;" and I held her hand and we
looked into each other's eyes. For the first time in her life she
smiled at me as my betrothed wife. And I wedded her by vows stronger
and more lasting than earthly vows. We were happy at this moment
though overshadowed by a sadness as strong as death left her only when
we were told the priest had come. She had prepared me for his coming,
and asked me not to grieve at it; she had sent for him, not because
she thought she was dying, but that it might do her good and set her
mind at rest.
When the priest had left I went back to her. After so many sleepless
nights she was tired and fell asleep she is sleeping now. When she
wakes up I will not leave her again until she falls asleep again.
She is very much better. Pani Celina is beside herself with joy. I am
the only one who knows what it is. There was no need for the doctor to
tell me that it means paralysis of the bowels.
Aniela died this morning.
ROME, 5 December.
I might have been your happiness, and became your misfortune. I am the
cause of your death, for if I had been a different man, if I had not
been wanting in all principles, all foundations of life, there would
not have come upon you the shocks that killed you. I understood that
in the last moments of your life, and I promised myself I would follow
you. I vowed it at your dying bed, and my only duty is now near you.
To your mother I leave my fortune; my aunt I leave to Christ, in whose
love she will find consolation in her declining years, and I follow
you--because I must. Do you think I am not afraid of death? I am
afraid because I do not know what there is, and see only darkness
without end; which makes me recoil. I do not know whether there
be nothingness, or existence without space and time; perhaps some
midplanetary wind carries the spiritual monad from star to star to
implant it in an ever-renewing existence. I do not know whether there
be immense restlessness, or a peace so perfect as only Omnipotence and
Love can bestow on us. But since you have died through my "I do not
know," how could I remain here--and live?
The more I fear, the more I do not know,--the more I cannot let you go
alone; I cannot, Aniela mine,--and I follow. Together we shall sink
into nothingness, or together begin a new life; and here below where
we have suffered let us be buried in oblivion.
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