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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWithout Dogma - 1 May to 31 May
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Without Dogma - 1 May to 31 May Post by :primesca Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :May 2012 Read :2422

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Without Dogma - 1 May to 31 May

1 May.

During the night I thought, "Perhaps to-morrow I shall be more composed." Nothing of the kind. I am simply in a rage with Aniela, Aniela's mother, my aunt, and myself. The wind ought to be tempered for the shorn lamb, and they forget that my wool is deucedly thin. After all, I am comfortable where I am. Laura is like a marble statue. Near her nothing troubles me very much, because there is nothing except beauty. I am tired of over-strained, tender souls. Let Kromitski comfort her.

2 May.

I carried the letter to the post-office myself. It was not a long one: "I wish Pan Kromitzki every happiness with Panna Aniela, and Panna Aniela with Pan Kroinitzki. You wished for a decision, dear aunt, and I comply with your wish."

3 May.

I was thinking whether my aunt's allusion to Kromitzki was but a piece of female diplomacy in order to bring me to book. If so, she is to be congratulated upon her skill and knowledge of human nature.

10 May.

A week has passed. I have not written because I feel half suffocated, torn by doubts, sorrow, and anxiety. Aniela has never been, and is not indifferent to me. The words of Hamlet recur to me:--

"I loved Ophelia; forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love,
Make up my sum."


I should only have to change the outcry:--

"I loved Aniela; forty thousand Lauras could not make up my sum."

And needs must be that with my own hands I wrought the evil. There is a glimmer of comfort in the thought that to be united to a man like me might be a worse fate for her,--but it is not so. If she were mine I would be true to her. Then again it rankles in my mind that perhaps a Kromitzki is sufficient to her happiness. When I think of this everything seethes within me, and I feel ready to send off another such letter.

It is done with! that is the only comfort for people like me, for then they can fold their hands and idle away their time as before. Perhaps it is a sign of exceptional weakness, but I find some comfort in it. Now I can think in peace.

I put to myself the question, "How is it that a man who not only boasts of a thorough knowledge of self, but also possesses it, has for some time almost blindly followed his instinctive impulses?" Of what use is self-knowledge if at the first commotion of the nerves it hides in a remote nook of the brain and remains there, a passive witness to impulsive acts? To investigate things _post factum? I do not know of what use this can be to me, but as I have nothing else to do, let us investigate. Why did I act as I did? It must be because though I am an intelligent man, very intelligent even (the deuce take me if I intend to boast or flatter myself), I lack judgment. And chiefly it is the calm, masculine judgment that is wanting. I do not control my nerves, I am hypersensitive, and a crumpled roseleaf would irritate me. There is something feminine in my composition. Perhaps I am not an exception, and there are more of that type in my country, which is of small comfort. This kind of mind may have much understanding, but is a bad guide through life; it darts restlessly here and there, hesitates, sifts, and filters every intention, and at last loses itself among cross-roads. Consequently the capacity for acting gets impaired, and finally it degenerates into a weakness of character, an innate and not uncommon fault with us. Then I put to myself another question. Let us say my aunt had not made any allusion to Kromitzki, would the result have turned out differently? And truly I dare not say yes. It would not have come so swiftly,--that is certain; but who knows whether in the end it would have turned out more satisfactory. Weak characters want infinite accommodations; only powerful ones are spurred on by opposition. Laura, who in certain things is as subtle as musk, most likely understood this and therefore showed herself so--gracious.

Finally, what is the upshot of it? Am I a milksop? Not in the least. A man who looks straight at truth would not shrink from confessing it,--but no. I feel that I could go on an arctic expedition without a moment's hesitation, be a missionary in darkest Africa. I am possessed of a certain pluck, inherited courage, which would carry me through many bold adventures and risky enterprises. My temperament is lively; perhaps less nimble than Sniatynski, I am yet no laggard. But when it comes to solving any of life's problems my scepticism renders me powerless, my intellect loses itself in observations, reasonings, the will has nothing to rest upon, and my acts depend mainly upon external circumstances.

12 May.

I never liked Laura, though I was and am still under the spell of her physical charms. This at first sight looks like a paradox, but nevertheless is a common enough occurrence. One may love and not like the person in question. As often as I happened to meet a love full of thorns and apt to take easily offence, it was only because there was no real liking at the bottom. Now Sniatynski and his wife are not only in love, but they like each other immensely, and therefore are happy. Ah me! I feel I could have liked Aniela, and we might have been as happy! Better not think about it. As to Laura, she will meet many who may fall in love with her raven hair and statuesque beauty, but she will never inspire real liking. This singular woman attracts irresistibly, and at the same time repulses. I have said that beyond beauty there is nothing else; for even her uncommon intelligence is only the humble slave kneeling at the feet of her own beauty. Not more than a week ago I saw Laura giving money to a child whose father had been drowned recently, and I thought to myself: "She would put the child's eyes out in the same way, gracefully and sweetly, if she thought it would add to her beauty." One feels these things, and one may lose one's head over a woman like that, but it is impossible to like her. And she who understands so many things does not understand this.

Yet how beautiful she is! A few days ago, when she came down the steps leading into the garden, swaying lightly on those magnificent hips, "I thought I should drop," as the poet Slowacki says. Decidedly I am under the sway of two powers,--the one attracting, the other repelling. I want to go to Switzerland, and I want to go back to Rome. I do not know how it will end. Ribot rightly says that a desire to do a thing is only a consciousness, not an act of volition; still less is it an act of volition to have a twofold desire. I received a letter from my lawyer, who wants to see me about the affairs of the succession; these are mere formalities, and they could arrange things without me, did I feel disinclined to move. But it will serve as a pretext. For some time I have liked Laura even less than formerly. It is for no fault of hers, as she is always the same, but as it happens, I have transferred to her some of the dislike I have for myself. At the time of my inward struggles I turned to her not only for peace, but also for a kind of wilful degradation; now for that very reason I feel displeased with her. She did not even know of the storm raging in my breast; besides, what could it matter to her, as it was nothing which could serve her as an ornament? She only noticed that I was feverish and more impulsive than usual; she asked a little after the cause, but without insisting too much. Perhaps after all the attraction here will win and I shall not depart; in any case, I am going to tell her that I am obliged to go. I am curious to know how she will take it, still more curious as I can imagine it very well. I suspect that with all her love for me, which is very like my love for her, she does not really like me,--that is, if she ever takes the trouble to like or to dislike anybody. Our minds have certain points of resemblance, but thousands of contradictions.

I am terribly tired. I cannot help thinking of the sensation my letter has made at Ploszow. I think incessantly of this even when with Laura; I see before me continually Aniela and my aunt. How happy Laura is in her everlasting repose! I have such difficulty to bear with my own self.

I shall be glad of a change. Peli, though a seaside resort, is very empty. The heat is quite exceptional. The sea is calm; no waves wash against the shore; it seems exhausted and breathless from the heat. At times the wind rises, but it is a suffocating blast, that raises clouds of white dust which covers the palms, fig-trees, and myrtles, and penetrates through the blinds into the house. My eyes ache as the walls reflect a glaring sun, and in the daytime it is impossible to look at anything.

To Switzerland or to Rome, but away from here. It seems anywhere it would be better than here. We all prepare for the journey. I have not seen Mr. Davis for four or five days. I fancy his insanity will break out any day. The doctor tells me the poor man challenges him to fight. He considers this a bad sign.



It was evidently solitude I wanted. I feel as I felt after my arrival at Peli, sad, but at the same time peaceful. I feel even more peaceful here than in my first days at Peli, because there is none of that uneasiness Laura's presence used to give me. I walk about the still, gloomy house, and find thousands of details that remind me of my father, and the memory grows fresh again in my heart. He too had vanished into the distant haze, and now I meet him again as in his former, real life. There on the table in his studio are the lenses through which he looked at his specimens, the bronze implement he used in scraping the dry soil from the pottery; colors, brushes, manuscripts, and notes about the collections are lying about. At times I have a feeling as if he had gone out and would return presently to his work, and when the illusion disappears a great sorrow seizes me, and I love not only his memory, but love him who sleeps the eternal sleep on the Campo Santo.

And I feel sad; but the feeling is so infinitely purer than those which had such absolute sway over my mind those last weeks that I feel more at ease,--a better man, or, at least, not so corrupt as I had seemed to myself. I notice also that no reasoning, nor the most desperate argumentation can deprive us of a certain feeling of satisfaction, when we come in contact with nobler elements. Whence comes that irresistible, irrepressible tendency towards the good? Spinning out this thread I go very far. Since our reason is considered a reflection of the logical principle of all life, may not our conception of good be a similar reflection from an absolute good. Were it so, one might throw at once all doubts to the wind, and shout, not only, "Eureka!" but also, "Alleluia!" Nevertheless, I am afraid lest the foundation fall to pieces, like many others, and I dare not build on it. Besides the reasoning is but vague; I shall go back to it undoubtedly, because this means the extraction of a thorn, not from the feet, but from the soul. Now I am too tired, too sad and restful at the same time.

It seems to me that of all creatures upon earth it is only the human being that can act sometimes against his volition. I wanted to leave Peli for some time, and yet day after day passed, and I remained. The day previous to my departure I was almost certain I should stop, when unexpectedly Laura herself helped me to a decision.

I told her about the lawyer's letter and my going away, only to see how she would receive the news. We were alone. I expected some exclamation from her part, some emotion, and lastly a "veto." Nothing of the kind took place.

Hearing the news, she turned to me, passing her hand gently over my hair; she brought her face close to mine, and said:--

"You will come back, will you not?"

By Jove! it is still an enigma to me what she meant. Did she suppose I was really obliged to go? or, trusting to the power of her beauty, had she no doubt whatever that I would come back? or, finally, did she grasp at the chance to get rid of me?--because after such a question there remained nothing for me but to go. The caressing touch and accompanying question are a little against the last supposition, which after all seems to me the likeliest. At odd moments I am almost certain she wanted to say by it:--

"It is not you who dismiss me; it is I who dismiss you."

I confess that, if it was a dismission, Laura's cleverness is simply amazing; all the more so, as the manner was so sweet and caressing, and left me in uncertainty whether she was mocking me or not. But why delude myself? By that simple question she had won the game. Perhaps at other times my vanity would have suffered; but now it leaves me indifferent. That same evening, instead of coolness, there was perfect harmony between us. We separated very late. I see her still, walking with me, her eyes lowered, as far as my room. She was simply so beautiful that I felt sorry I was going. The next morning she said good-by to me at the station. The bunch of tea-roses I lost only in Genoa. Strange woman! As I went further on my journey, I felt side by side a physical longing and a great relief. I went on to Rome without stopping, and now feel as a bird released from his cage.


22 May.

There is scarcely anybody I know in Rome. The heat has driven them to their villas, or up into the mountains. In the daytime there are few people in the streets except tourists, mostly Englishmen in pith-helmets, puggarees, red Baedekers, with their everlasting "Very interesting!" on their lips. At noon our Babuino is so deserted that the footstep of a solitary passer-by re-echoes on the pavement. But in the evening the street swarms with people. At that time I feel usually very depressed, nervous, and restless. I go out, and walk about until I am tired; and that gives me relief. I walk mostly on the Pincio, three or four times along that magnificent terrace. At this time lovers stroll about. Some couples walk arm in arm, their heads close together, their eyes uplifted, as if overflowing with happiness; others sit in the deep shadows of the trees. The flickering light of the lamp reveals now and then half-concealed under his plumes the profile of a Bersagliere, sometimes the light dress of a girl, or the face of a laborer or student. Whispers reach my ear; love-vows and low snatches of song. All this gives me the impression of a carnival of spring. I find a singular charm in thus losing myself among the crowd, and breathe their gayety and health. There is so much happiness and simplicity! This simplicity seems to penetrate into my whole being, and acts more soothingly upon my nerves than a sleeping draught. The evenings are clear and warm, but full of cool breezes. The moon rises beyond Trinita dei Monti, and sails above that human beehive like a great silver bark, illuminating the tops of trees, roofs, and towers. At the foot of the terrace glimmers and surges the city, and somewhere in the distance, on a silvery background, appears the dark outline of St. Peter's, with a shining cupola like a second moon. Never did Rome seem more beautiful to me, and I discover new charms every day. I return home late, and go to bed almost happy in the thought that to-morrow I shall wake up again in Rome. And I do sleep. I do not know whether it is the exercise I take, but I sleep so heavily that it leaves a kind of dizziness when I wake up in the morning.

Part of the morning I spend with the lawyer. Sometimes I work at compiling a catalogue of the collections for my own use. My father did not leave any instructions as to his collections; consequently they are my property. I would hand them over to the city, in fulfilment of his wishes, if I were quite sure he did wish it. As he did not will them away, he, moved by my aunt's remonstrances, may have left it to me to bring them sometime or other over to Poland. That my father thought of this in later times is proved by the numerous bequests and codicils in his will. Among others there is one that touched me more deeply than I can tell: "The head of the Madonna by Sassoferrato I leave to my future daughter-in-law."


25 May.

The sculptor Lukomski began a month ago a full-length statue of my father, from a bust done by himself some years ago. I call upon him often in the middle of the day to watch the progress of the work. The studio is a barn-like building, with a huge skylight on the north side; consequently no sun comes in, and the light is cold. When I sit there I seem to be out of Rome altogether. To heighten the illusion, there is Lukomski, with his Northern features, light beard, and the dreamy blue eyes of a mystic. His two assistants are Poles, and the two dogs in the yard are called Kruk and Kurta,--in short, the place has the appearance of a northern isle in a southern sea. I like to go there for the quaintness of the thing, and I like to watch Lukomski at his work. There is in him at the same time so much power and simplicity. He is especially interesting when he stands back a short distance so as to get a better view of his work, and then suddenly goes back as to an attack. He is a very talented sculptor. The shape of my father seems to grow under his hand, and assume a wonderful likeness. It will be not only a portrait, but a work of art.

If anybody, it is he who is altogether absorbed in the beauty of form. It seems to me that he works out his thoughts by the help of Greek noses, heads, arms, and torsos, more than by help of ideas. He has lived fifteen years at Rome, and still goes to galleries and museums, as if he had arrived yesterday. This proves that worship of form may fill a man's life, and become his religion, provided he is its high priest. Lukomski has as much veneration for beauty in human shape as devotees for holy shrines. I asked him which he considered the most beautiful woman in Rome. He answered, without hesitation, "Mrs. Davis;" and there and then, with his plastic thumbs, with the expressive motion common to artists, he began to draw her outline in the air. Lukomski, as a rule, is self-contained and melancholy; but at this moment he was so animated that his eyes lost their mystic expression. "Like this, for instance," he said, drawing a new line, "or like that. She is the most beautiful woman not only in Rome, but in the whole world." He says that when she lifts her head, the neck is as the continuation of the face,--the same breadth, which is very rare; sometime on the Transtevere one might see women with similar necks; but never in that perfection. Really, who seeks to find a flaw in Laura's beauty, must seek in vain. Lukomski goes so far as to maintain that statues ought to be raised to women like her in their lifetime. Of course, I did not contradict him.


29 May.

The Italian law procedure begins to bore me. How slow they are, in spite of their vivacity! and how they talk! I am literally talked to shreds. I sent for some of the newest French novels, and read for whole days. The writers make upon me the impression of clever draughts-men. How quickly and skilfully each character is outlined! and what character and power in those sketches! The technical part can go no farther. As to the characters thus drawn, I can only say what I said before,--their love is only skin deep. This may be the case now and then; but that in the whole of France nobody should be capable of deeper feelings, let them tell this to somebody else. I know France too well, and say that she is better than her literature. That running after glaring, realistic truth makes the novel untrue to life. It is the individual we love; and the individual is composed not only of face, voice, shape, and expression, but also of intelligence, character, a way of thinking,--in brief, of various intellectual and moral elements. My relation to Laura is the best proof that a feeling founded upon outward admiration does not deserve the name of love. Besides, Laura is an exceptional case.


31 May.

Yesterday I lunched with Lukomski; in the evening I loitered as usual on the Pincio. My imagination sometimes plays me strange tricks. I fancied that Aniela was leaning on my arm. We walked together, and talked like people who are very fond of each other. I felt so happy,--so different from what I had felt near Laura! When the illusion vanished I felt very lonely; I did not want to go home. That night I could not sleep at all.

How utterly unprofitable my life is! These continual searchings of my mind are leading me into the desert. And it might have been so different! I am surprised that the memory of Aniela should be still so fresh and green. Why is it that I never dream of walking arm-in-arm with Laura? And since I come to mention her name, I add inwardly, "Perdition upon the memory!" I often think I have been holding happiness by both wings, and let it escape.

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