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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWithout Dogma - 14 October to 30 October
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Without Dogma - 14 October to 30 October Post by :chrisfuchs Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :May 2012 Read :2335

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Without Dogma - 14 October to 30 October

14 October.

I resume my writing after an interval of three weeks. Clara has left me. Seeing me on a fair way to recovery she went to Hanover and promised to come back in ten days. She nursed me during the whole time of my illness. It was she who brought a doctor to me. I should probably have died but for her. I do not remember whether it was the third or fourth day of my illness she came here. I was conscious, but at the same time as indifferent as if it were not to me that she had come, or as if her being there were an every-day occurrence. She came with the doctor, whose thick, curly, white hair attracted my attention and fascinated me. After examining me he asked me several questions, first in German, then in French; and though I understood what he said, I did not feel the slightest inclination to answer, could not make an effort,--as if my will-power had been struck down by the disease, as well as the body.

They worried me that day with cupping, and then I remained quiet without any sensations. Sometimes I thought that I was going to die, but this did not trouble me any more than what was going on around me. Perhaps in severe illness, even when conscious, we lose the sense of proportion between great and small matters, and for some reason or other our attention is mainly fixed upon small things. Thus, for instance, besides the doctor's curly hair, I was greatly interested in seeing them push back the upper and lower bolt of the door of the room adjoining mine, which Clara intended to occupy. I remember that I could not take my eyes off that door, as if something depended on whether it would open or not. Presently the surgeon came in who was to look after me under Clara's supervision. He began to say something to me, but Clara motioned him to be silent.

I am still very tired, and must leave off.

 

16 October.

My nerves have quieted down during that long illness. I have none of those terrors that haunted me before. I only wish Clara would come back as quickly as possible. It is not so much a longing for her presence, as the selfishness of the convalescent, who feels that nothing can replace her tender care and nursing. I know she will not dwell close to me any longer; but her presence soothes me. Weakness and helplessness cling to the protecting power as a child clings to its mother. I am convinced that no other woman would have done for me what Clara did; other women would have thought more of the proprieties than of saving a man's life. Thinking of this, bitterness rises in my throat, and there is one name on my lips--But those are things better left alone, as long as I have not strength enough to think about them. Clara used to sleep fully dressed on the sofa in the room next to mine, with the door open. Whenever I moved she was at once at my bedside: I saw her by night, leaning over my bed, her hair disarranged, and eyes winking with sleeplessness and fatigue. She herself measured out my physic, and raised my head from the pillow. When, in moments of consciousness, I wanted to thank her, she put a finger to her lips as a sign that the doctor had enjoined quietness. I do not know how many nights she spent at my bedside. She looked very tired in the daytime, and, when sitting near me in an armchair, sometimes dozed off in the middle of a sentence. Waking up she smiled at me, and dozed again. At nights she walked to and fro in her own room, in order to keep awake; but so softly that I could not have known it but for the shadow moving on the wall, which I saw through the open door. Once, when she was near me, not knowing how to express my gratitude, I raised her hand to my lips; she stooped down quickly, and, before I could prevent it, kissed my hand. But I must confess that I was not always so grateful. Sick people as a rule are fanciful and irritable; I felt irritated at her being so tall. I felt a kind of resentment that she was not like Aniela; for so long a time I had been in the habit of acknowledging grace and beauty only in so far as they approached the grace and beauty of that other one.

Sometimes, looking at Clara, I irritated myself inwardly by the most singular thought that she is beautiful, not because nature meant her to be beautiful,--not by right of her race,--but by a fortunate accident of birth. Sometimes other beautiful feminine heads made upon me the same impression. These are subtle shades which only very delicate and sensitive nerves can perceive.

There were moments, especially at night, when, looking at Clara's face grown thin and tired with watching me, I had a delusion that I saw the other one. This happened when she was sitting in the half-light, a certain distance from my bed. This delusion was fostered by fever and a sick brain, for which impossibilities do not exist. Sometimes my mind wandered and I called Clara by that other's name, spoke to her as if she were Aniela. I remember it as if in a dream.

 

17 October.

The banker B. sent me some letters written by my aunt. She asks me about my plans for the future. She writes even about the crops, but nothing about the inmates of Ploszow. I do not even know whether they be alive or dead. What an irritating way of writing letters. What do I care about the crops, and about the whole estate? I replied at once, and could not disguise my displeasure.

 

18 October.

To-day I received a telegram from Kromitzki addressed to Warsaw. My aunt, instead of sending its contents in another telegram, put it into an envelope, and sent it by post. Kromitzki entreats me to save my own money and his whole future by sending him another twenty-five thousand roubles. Beading this I merely shrugged my shoulders. What do I care now for Kromitzki or my money? Let it go with the rest! If he only knew the reason I helped him the first time, he would not ask me now. Let him bear his losses as quietly as I bear mine. Moreover, there is awaiting him the "great news;" that ought to comfort him. Rejoice as much as you can; have as many children as you like; but if you think I am going to provide for their future, you ask a little too much.

If at least she had not sacrificed me with such inconsiderate egoism to her so-called "principles." But enough of this; my brain cannot stand it,--let me at least be ill in peace.

 

20 October.

They cannot let me alone,--found me even here. Again for two days I had no peace; again I press both hands against my head to stop that whirring sound in my brain. I think again of Ploszow and of her, and of the solitude that is awaiting me. It is a fearful thing when suddenly something goes out of our life for which we lived exclusively. I do not know whether illness has weakened my brain, but I simply cannot understand various phenomena that I perceive within myself. It seems as if jealousy had outlived my love.

It is a twofold jealousy,--a jealousy not only of facts, but of feelings. I am torn by the thought that the child which is to be born will take Aniela's heart from me, and what is more, and concerns me most, it will bring her closer to Kromitzki. I would not have her now if she were free; but I cannot bear the thought of her loving her husband. I would give all that remains of life if nobody would love her, and she not love anybody any more. Under such conditions life might be endurable still.

 

21 October.

If what is now in my mind does not save me, I shall again fall ill, or perhaps go mad. I am making up my accounts. Is there anything owing to me from life? Nothing. What is awaiting me in the future? Nothing. If so, there is no reason why I should not make a present of myself to somebody whom that present would make happy. For my life, my intellect, my abilities,--for the whole of my own self I would not give a stiver. Moreover, I do not love Clara; but if she loves me, and sees her happiness in me, it would be cruel to refuse her what I hold so very cheap. I should consider it my duty to tell her what she is taking; worse for her if it does not discourage her,--but that will be her concern.

This plan attracts me chiefly for one reason,--namely, it widens the gulf that separates me from the other one. I will prove to her that, as she has taken her own way, I am able to take mine. Then there will be an end of it. But I am thinking of her still! I notice it, and it puts me into a rage. Perhaps it is hatred now; but it is not indifference.

Pani Kromitzka probably fancied that I tore myself away forced by circumstances; she will see now that it was also my wish. And the thicker the wall I raise up between us, the sooner I shall be able to banish her from my mind. As to Clara, I repeat that I do not love her; but she loves me. Moreover, I owe her a debt of gratitude. During my illness there were moments when I considered Clara's devotedness a piece of German sentimentality, and yet the other one would not have found courage enough for such sentimentality. It would be more in accordance with her exalted virtue to let a man die than to see him without his necktie; this is a freedom reserved for the lawful husband. Clara did not care anything about such things; she gave up for me her music, exposed herself to trouble, sleepless nights, and possibly to the world's comments, and stood by me. I contracted towards her a debt, and am going to pay it. I pay it badly and in bad faith; for I offer to her what I do not value myself,--the mere remnants of what was once a man. But if she values it, let it be hers.

To my aunt it will be a disappointment; it will hurt her family pride and patriotic feelings. Yet, if my aunt could but know what has been lately going on in my heart, she would prefer this matrimonial scheme to that other love; I have not the slightest doubt as to that. What does it matter that Clara's ancestors were most probably weavers? I have no prejudices; I have only nerves. Any casual view I take tends rather towards liberalism. Sometimes I fancy that people professing to be liberals are more narrow in their views than conservatives; but, on the other hand, liberalism itself is resting on a larger basis than conservatism, and more in accord with Christ's teachings; but I am wholly indifferent to both parties. It is scarcely worth speaking or reasoning about them. Real unhappiness shows us the emptiness of mere partisan hair-splittings. Involuntarily I fall to thinking, "How will Aniela receive the news of my resolve?" I have been so accustomed to feel through her that the painful habit still clings to me.

 

22 October.

This morning I sent the letter to Clara. To-morrow I shall have a reply, or perhaps Clara herself will come tonight. In the afternoon they sent me a second despatch from Kromitzki. It expresses as much despair as a few words can contain. Things seem to have turned out very badly, indeed; even I did not think ruin would come so quickly. Some unexpected circumstances must have intervened that even Kromitzki could not have foreseen. The loss I incur does not make a great difference to me; I shall always be what I was,--but Kromitzki? Why should I deceive myself? There lurks somewhere in a corner of my heart a certain satisfaction at his ruin,--if only for the reason that these two will be now entirely dependent on us; that is, upon my aunt, who is the administrator of the Ploszow estate, and myself. In the mean while I do not intend to reply at all. If I changed my intention it would be to send him my congratulation at the expected family increase. Later on it will be different. I will secure their future; they shall have enough to live upon and more.

 

23 October.

Clara has not arrived, and up to this moment there is no answer. This is the more strange as she used to write every day, inquiring after my health. Her silence would not surprise me if I thought she wanted even ten minutes to make up her mind. I shall wait patiently; but it would be better if she did not put it off. I feel that if I had not sent off that letter, I should send now another like it; but if I could take it back I should probably do so.

 

24 October.

This is what Clara writes:--

Dear Monsieur Leon,--Upon receiving your letter I felt so foolishly happy that I wanted to start for Berlin at once. But it is because I love you sincerely that I listened to the voice which said to me that the greatest love ought not to be the greatest egoism, and that I had no right to sacrifice you for myself.

You do not love me, Monsieur Leon. I would give my life were it otherwise; but you do not love me. Your letter has been written in a moment of impulse and despair. From the first instant of meeting you in Berlin I noticed that you were neither well in body nor easy in your mind, and it troubled me; the best proof of this is that although you had wished me good-by, I sent every day to the hotel inquiring whether you had gone, until I was told you were ill. Afterwards, nursing you in your illness, I became convinced that my second fear had been also right, and that you had some hidden sorrow, one of those painful disappointments, after which it is difficult to be reconciled to life.

Now I have a conviction--and God knows how heavily it weighs upon my heart--that you want to bind your life to mine in order to drown certain memories, to forget and put a barrier between you and the past. In the face of that is it possible that I could agree to what you ask? In refusing your hand, the worst that can happen to me is that I shall feel very unhappy, but I shall not have to reproach myself with having become a burden and a dead weight upon you. I have loved you from the first time we met, therefore it is nothing new to me; and I have got used to the sorrow which is the inevitable consequence of separation and the hopeless certainty that my love will never be returned. But even if my life be sad, I can weep either with tears in the usual woman-fashion, or through my music as an artist. I shall always have that comfort at least, that when you think of me it will be as a dear friend or sister. With this I can live. But if I were your wife and came to see that you regretted your impulsiveness, were not happy, perhaps learned to hate me, I should certainly die. Besides, I say to myself: "What have you done to deserve such happiness?" It is almost impossible to imagine perfect happiness. Can you understand that one may love somebody with all one's heart in a humble spirit? I can understand it, for I love thus.

What I am going to say seems to me overbold, yet I do not feel it in my heart to give up hope altogether. Do not be angry with me; God is merciful, and the human soul is so athirst for happiness that it would fain leave a door open for it to enter. If you ask me again in half a year, a year, or any time in life the same question, I shall consider myself rewarded for all I have suffered, and for the tears I am shedding even at this moment.

Clara.

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.

 

28 October.

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.

 

30 October.

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.

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