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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWithout Dogma - 2 April to 29 April
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Without Dogma - 2 April to 29 April Post by :Paul_Manuel Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :May 2012 Read :905

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Without Dogma - 2 April to 29 April

Paris, 2 April.

It is some ten months since I put down anything in my journal; it had become such a familiar friend that I missed it. But I said to myself: what is the use of it? If I put down on paper thoughts worthy of a Pascal; deeper than the ocean depth; loftier than the Alps,--it would not change the simple fact that she is married. With that fact staring at me, my hands dropped powerless. Sometimes life concentrates itself in one object, not necessarily an important one; but if that fails us we seem at a loss what to do with ourselves. It is strange,--almost laughable,--but for a long time I remained in a state of mind in which the most commonplace functions of life seemed irksome and useless, and it took me some time to remember that I used to go to clubs and theatres, shaved, dressed, and dined before I knew her. The first months I travelled a great deal, straying as far as Iceland. The sight of Swedish lakes, Norwegian fiords, and Icelandic geysers conveyed to me no direct impressions; I only tried to imagine what Aniela would have felt or said to such a view,--in short, I saw with her eyes, thought her thoughts, and felt with her heart. And when presently I remembered that she was Aniela no longer, but Pani Kromitzka, I went straight to the nearest railway station or ship to go somewhere else, as what I looked upon had ceased to interest me. It did not matter to me in the least that I played a part in one of the so commonly ridiculed dramas where thousands of fools have played the same parts before. And death is a drama; and those who are entering its gates think the world is coming to an end; and so it is,--for them.

I do not know, and will not enter into it now, whether my feeling the first few months was one of fathomless despair. Everything is relative. I know only that my whole being was absorbed by one woman, and I understood for the first time the void created by the death of a dearly loved being.

But gradually the habit--not the zest--of life recovered its vital power. This is a common enough fact. I have known people, inwardly intensely sad, without a grain of cheerfulness in their souls, yet keep up an appearance of cheerfulness because they had once been cheerful, and the habit clung to them. And time dulls the pain, and I found an antidote to the poison. I read once, in a book of travels by Farini, that the Caffres, when stung by a scorpion, cure themselves by letting the scorpion sting them in the same place. Such a scorpion,--such an antidote,--was for me, and is generally for most people, the word, "It is done; there is no help for it."

It is done, therefore I suffer; it is done, and I feel relieved. There is an anodyne in the consciousness that it cannot be helped. It reminds me of the Indian carried away by the Niagara: he struggled at first with all his strength against the current; but seeing the hopelessness of his efforts, threw away his oar, laid himself down in the bottom of the canoe, and began to sing. I am ready to sing now. The Niagara Falls have that advantage--they crush the life out of a man; there are others that throw him on a lonely barren shore without water. This has happened to me.

The evil genius bent upon wrecking my life had not taken in account one thing: a man crushed and utterly wretched cares less for himself than a happy one. In presence of that indifference fate becomes more or less powerless. I was and am still in that frame of mind that, if angry Fortuna came to me in person, and said: "Go to perdition," I should reply calmly: "Be it so,"--not out of sorrow for the loss of Aniela, but from mere indifference to everything within or without me.

This is a special kind of armor which not only protects the man himself, but also makes him dangerous to others. It is clear that he who does not spare himself will not spare others. Even God's commandment does not say: "Love thy neighbor more than thyself." It does not follow that I mean to cut somebody's throat one of these days. What I said has merely a theoretical bearing upon life in general; nobody will be any the worse for it; for if indifference diminishes altruism, it also lessens egoism. If I were to sleep with my neighbor under the, same cloak, I should not surrender it altogether; neither should I take it all to myself.

Dangerous, and even very dangerous, such a man as I am may become when at length he is aroused from his lethargy, drawn forth from the seclusion of his egotism, and forced into definite action. He then acquires the precision of motion, and also the merciless power, of an engine, I have gained that mechanical power. For some time I have noticed that I impress others by my way of thinking and my will more strongly than formerly, though I have not sought it in the least. The everlasting source of weakness is love of self, vanity, and coquetry in regard to others. Almost unconsciously everybody tries to please, to gain sympathy; and towards that end often sacrifices his own opinions and convictions. At present this coquetry, if not altogether gone, is greatly diminished; and the indifference as to whether I please or not gives me a kind of superiority over others. I have noticed that during my travels, and especially now at Paris. There are many here who at one time had an ascendency over me; now I have the ascendency, for the very reason that I care less for it.

In a general way I look upon myself as a man who could be energetic if he wished to exert himself; but the will acts in proportion to the passions, and mine are in the passive state.

As the habit of giving an account to myself for my thoughts and actions still remains with me, I explain in this way that in certain conditions of life we may as strongly desire not to live, as in others we should wish the contrary. Most likely my indifference springs from this dislike of life. It is this which renders it different from the apathy of such men as Davis.

It is quite certain that I have grown more independent than formerly, and might say with Hamlet that there is something dangerous in me. Fortunately nobody crosses my path. Everybody is as supremely indifferent and cool towards me as I am in regard to them. Only my aunt in far-away Ploszow loves me as of old; but I suppose even her love has lost its active character, and there will be no more match-making in my behalf.

 

3 April.

Alas! that indifference I compared to pure water without taste or color is only apparently colorless. Looking more closely I perceive tiny bubbles which dim its purity. They are my idiosyncrasies. Everything else has left me and they remained. I do not love anybody, have no active hatred towards any one, but am full of aversions in regard to various people. One of these is Kromitzki. I do not hate him because he has taken Aniela from me; I dislike him for his long, flat feet, his thick knees, lank figure, and that voice like a coffee-mill. He was always repulsive to me, and I mention the fact now because that aversion has such a strange vitality in me. I cannot help thinking of people who jar upon my nerves. If only Kromitzki and Pani Celina came under that category, I might think those antipathies were hatred in the disguise of aversion. But it is not so. There are others who have roused at some time or other an aversion in me that clings quite as perversely to my memory. As I cannot ascribe it to the state of my health,--I never felt better in my life,--I explain it in this way: The world has robbed me of my love, time has dried up hatred, and as the living individual must feel something, I live upon what remains to me. I must also say that he who feels and lives thus does not get a surfeit of happiness.

My former sympathies have cooled down very considerably. To Sniatynski I have taken a dislike which no reasoning on my part can overcome. Sniatynski has many grand qualities and is pleasantly conscious of them, which gives him, as painters express it, a certain mannerism. I suppose it is exceedingly rare that a man who sees that his individual characteristics impress people favorably does not fall in love with his own type, and end by exaggerating it. Sniatynski consequently has grown artificial, and for the sake of the pose sacrifices his innate delicacy; as in case of the abrupt telegram he sent to Cracow, after his mission with Aniela had failed,--his advice to travel, which I should have done without it,--and I received another letter from him at Christiania soon after Aniela's wedding, written in a friendly spirit, but very abrupt and artificial. I might give its substance as follows: "Panna Aniela is now Pani Kromitzka,--the thing is done; I am sorry for you; do not think the bottom is falling out of the universe; there are other things in the world of more importance, the deuce take it. Norway must be splendid just now. Come back soon and set to work. Good-by," and so forth. I do not repeat it word for word, but such was the gist of the letter. It impressed me unpleasantly, first because I had not asked Sniatynski to lend me his yard-measure to measure my sorrow with; secondly, I had thought him a sensible man, and supposed he understood that his "more important things" are merely empty words unless they imply feelings and inclinations that existed before. I wanted to write to him there and then and ask him to release me from his spiritual tutelage, but thinking better of it did not answer at all,--I fancy that is the easiest way of breaking off a correspondence. Entering more minutely into the matter, I find that neither his telegram nor his letter have caused my dislike. Properly speaking, I cannot forgive him that for which I ought to feel grateful,--his mediation between me and Aniela. I myself implored him to undertake it, but exactly because I implored him, entrusted him with my fate, confessed to him my weaknesses, and made him in a way my protector, and because the humiliation and sorrow which overwhelmed me passed through his hands,--this, perhaps, explains my dislike towards him. I felt angry with myself, and angry with Sniatynski as having a part in it. It is unjust, I know, but I cannot help it, and my friendship for him has burned out like a candle.

Besides, I have never been quick in forming ties of friendship. With Sniatynski my relations were closer than with anybody else, perhaps because we lived each of us in a different part of Europe. I had no other friends. I belong in general to the class of persons called singles. I remember there was a time when I considered this a sign of strength. In the animal world, for instance, the weak ones mostly cling together, and those whom nature has endowed with powerful claws and teeth go single, because they suffice unto themselves. This principle can be applied to human beings only in exceptional cases. Incapacity for friendship proves mostly dryness of heart, not strength of character. As to myself, the cause of it was a certain shyness and sensitiveness. My heart is like that plant which closes its leaves at the slightest touch. That I never formed ties of friendship with a woman is a different thing altogether. I had a desire for friendship in regard to those from whom I expected more. I feigned it sometimes, as the fox makes believe to be dead in order to secure the rooks. It does not follow that I disbelieve in friendship between man and woman. I am not a fool who measures the world according to his own standard, or a churl who is for ever suspecting evil; besides, various observations have proved to me that such a friendship is quite possible. As there exists the relation of brother and sister, the same feeling may exist between two persons who feel as brother and sister towards each other. Moreover, the capacity for that kind of friendship belongs to the choicer spirits who have a natural inclination for Platonic feasts, such as poets, artists, philosophers, and generally, people who cannot be measured by the common standard. If this be a proof that I was not made of the stuff artists, poets, and great men are made of,--the worse for me. Most likely it is so, since I am nothing but Leon Ploszowski. There was a time when I felt that if Aniela had become my wife, she would not only have been my love, but also my dearest friend. But I prefer not to think of it. Ghosts of this kind visit me far too often, and I shall never have any peace until I banish them altogether.

 

4 April.

I meet Mrs. Davis here pretty often, and call upon her at her house. And nothing else! There is some dislike, a little contempt under a thick layer of ashes, and for the rest, the usual social intercourse. She is still too beautiful to be classified among my idiosyncrasies. I cannot love her, and do not take the trouble to hate her. She understood that at once, and adapted herself to circumstances. All the same she cannot always conceal her irritation at my self-possession and cool independence; but for that very reason shows me greater consideration. It is very strange, that easiness with which women from closest relations pass on to mere acquaintanceship. Laura and I treat each other as if there had never been anything between us,--not only before people, but even when we are alone together. It does not seem to cost her the slightest effort; she is polite, cool, and self-possessed, affable in her way, and her manners influence me to such a degree that I should never dream of calling her by her Christian name.

The Neapolitan cousin, Maleschi, used to roll his eyes so ferociously at me that I almost considered it my duty to ask him not to injure his optics; he has now calmed down, seeing how very distant our relations to each other are, and is very friendly towards me. He has already fought a duel about Laura, and in spite of the reputation of coward he had in Italy, showed a deal of pluck. Poor Davis has passed to Nirvana some months ago, and I suppose after a decent interval of widowhood, Laura will marry Maleschi. They will make a splendid couple. The Italian has the torso and head of an Antinous; in addition to that, a complexion like pale gold, raven black hair, and eyes as blue as the Mediterranean. It may be that Laura loves him, but for some reason known only to herself, she bullies him a great deal. Several times in my presence she treated him so uncivilly that I was surprised, as I had thought her aesthetic nature incapable of such an exhibition of temper. Aspasia and Xantippe in one.

I have often noticed that women, merely beautiful, without striking qualities of the soul, who are looked upon as stars, are something more than stars; they are a whole constellation, two in fact,--a Great Bear to their surroundings, a Cross to their husbands. Laura was a Cross to poor Davis, and is now a Bear in regard to Maleschi. She would treat me a little in that way, too, if it were not that she is not familiar with the ways of Parisian society, and considers it safer to have me for an ally than an enemy. It is very strange, but she does not create here the same sensation as in Italy, or on the Mediterranean. She is simply too classical, too beautiful for Parisians, whose taste is to a certain degree morbid, as appears in their literature and art; and characteristic ugliness more strongly excites their blunted nerves than simple beauty. It is a noted fact that the most celebrated stars of the _demi-monde are rather ugly than beautiful. In regard to Laura, there is another reason for her non-success with the Parisians. Her intelligence, though very uncommon, is upon too straight lines, wanting in that kind of dash so appreciated here. There are thinkers, and deep thinkers, too, in Paris, but in society those mostly win a reputation whose minds are nimble enough to cling to any subject, as a monkey to a branch by his tail or feet, turning head over heel. The more these jumps are sudden and unexpected, the surer the success. Laura understands this, and at the same time is conscious that to do this would be as easy for her as to dance on a rope. She considers me an adept in these kinds of gymnastics, and consequently wants me.

To increase the attraction of her salon, she has made it into a temple of music. She herself sings like a siren, and thereby attracts many people. I meet there often a pianiste, Clara Hilst, a young, good-looking German girl, very tall of figure, whom one of the painters here describes thus: "C'est beau, mais c'est deux fois grandeur naturelle." In spite of her German origin, she has met with a considerable success. As to myself, I evidently belong to the old school, for I do not understand the music of the present, which consists in a great deal of noise and confusion. Listening the last time to Miss Hilst's playing at Laura's, I thought to myself that if the piano were a man who had seduced her sister, she could not belabor him more mercilessly. She also plays on the harmonium. Her compositions are thought of a great deal here, and considered very deep; most likely because those who could not understand them, hearing them for the tenth time, hope the eleventh time will make them more intelligible. I must confess that these remarks sound malicious, perhaps bold in one who does not profess to be a judge. Yet it seems to me that music for the understanding of which one has to be a professor of the Conservatorium, and for which people intellectually developed, let alone simple folk, do not possess the key, is not what it ought to be. I am afraid that musicians following the same track will end by creating a separate caste, like the Egyptian priests, in order to keep knowledge and art exclusively to themselves.

I say this because I notice that since Wagner's time, music, compared, for instance, to painting, has taken a quite different direction. The newer school of painting is narrowing spontaneously the limit of its proportions, tries to divest itself from philosophical and literary ideas; does not attempt speeches, sermons, historical events that require a commentary, or allegory that does not explain itself at a glance; in fact confines itself with the full consciousness of doing so to the reproduction of shape and color. Music since Wagner's time goes in the opposite direction,--tries to be, not only a harmony of sound, but at the same time the philosophy of harmony. I sometimes think a great musical genius of the future will say, as Hegel did in his time:--

"There was only one who understood me, and he understood me wrongly."

Miss Hilst belongs to the category of musical philosophers, which is all the more strange, as her mind is full of simplicity. This caryatid has the limpid, innocent eyes of a child, and is unsophisticated and sincere like one. She is surrounded by a great throng of admirers, who are attracted by her beauty, and more still by the nimbus that makes a woman touched by the hand of the Muses always a centre of attraction; nevertheless, not a breath has touched her fair fame. Even the women speak well of her, for she disarms them by her invariable good humor and sincerity. She is as gay as any street urchin, and I have seen her laughing as schoolgirls laugh, the tears running down her face, which would be considered bad form in anybody but an artist, who is a privileged person. Hers, from a moral point of view, is a beautiful character, though beyond her art, she is not endowed with great intellectual gifts. Laura, who, in the main, does not like her, hinted to me several times that the caryatid is in love with me. I do not believe it; she might love me, perhaps, if I tried to make her. One thing is certain, she likes me very much, and felt sympathy for me the first time we met. I return the sentiment, and do not try to disturb her peace of mind. When I meet a woman for the first time I look upon her, from old habit I suppose, as a possible conquest; it is the first instinct. A second thought is quite different. Generally speaking, women interest me in the way precious stones interest a jeweller who has retired from business. Seeing a valuable gem, I say to myself it is worth having, and then I remember that I have sold out, and go on my way.

In spite of all that, I once, half in jest, urged her to go to Warsaw, and promised to escort her as honorary _impresario_. I do not say that such a journey would be without charm. I really intend going. My aunt has given me her town house, and wants me to come over in order to take the property. Besides, I always go to Warsaw for the races. Who would believe that my aunt, a grave, serious-minded lady, devoted to the management of the estate, to prayer and benevolent schemes, had such a worldly weakness as horse-racing. It is her one passion. Maybe the knightly instincts which women inherit as well as men, find an outlet in this noble sport. Our horses have been running for Heaven knows how many years,--and are always beaten. My aunt never fails to attend the races, and is an enthusiast about horses. While her own horses are running, she stands on the back seat of her carriage, leaning on a stick, her bonnet usually awry, and watches for the result,--then gets very angry, and for at least a month makes Chwastowski's life a burden to him. At present I hear she has reared a wonderful horse, and she bids me to come and witness the triumph of the black and orange colors. I shall go. There are other reasons too which make me inclined to go. As I have said, I am comparatively speaking calm, do not wish for anything, or expect anything, am resigned in fact to that kind of spiritual paralysis until the time comes when bodily paralysis carries me off, as it carried off my father. Nevertheless, I cannot forget altogether, therefore it is only a partial paralysis. The one being I ever loved presents herself before my mind in two shapes. The one is called Pani Kromitzka, the other Aniela. As far as Pani Kromitzka is concerned, I am indifferent and a stranger; but Aniela still haunts me and brings with her, as gifts, the consciousness of wrong, my foolishness, spiritual crookedness, pain, bitterness, disappointment, and loss. Verily a munificent spirit! I might be even now perfectly contented if somebody could take from my brain that particular part wherein memory dwells. I try to drive away the thoughts of what might have been if things had turned out differently, but cannot always manage it. My munificent, generous angel will come now and then, and from her cornucopia shower her gifts upon me. At times the idea comes into my mind that Pani Kromitzka will lay the ghost of Aniela,--and that is one reason I wish to go; to look upon her happiness, her married life, and all those changes which must have made her different from the old Aniela. Perhaps I may meet her at Ploszow, as she will want to see her mother, after so many months of separation.

I suppose that I do not delude myself, and that "ceci tuera cela." I count mostly upon my nerves, which are so easily worked upon. I remember that when I had made Aniela's acquaintance and her charm began to act upon me with such irresistible force, the very mention of Kromitzki in connection with her made her less desirable. This will be more so now, when she belongs to him body and soul. I am almost certain the remedy will prove efficacious, and that "ceci tuera cela." And if not, if it should turn out differently, what have I to lose? I do not wish to gain anything, but should not be sorry perhaps to know that the guilt was not on my side only, and that henceforth the burden would have to be divided between us two; this might give me a kind of satisfaction. I say, it _might_, because I am not sure that it would. Thoughts of revenge are very far from me. It is only on theatrical boards that disappointed lovers are thirsting for revenge; in real life they go away with distaste, that is all. Moreover, to make Pani Kromitzka believe that she had done wrong in rejecting my repentance I should have to believe firmly in it myself,--and strange to say, there are moments I am not sure of anything.

 

5 April.

I know for certain I shall meet Pani Kromitzka. Her husband has sold the estate, betaken himself to Baku on business speculation, and has sent his wife to join her mother at Ploszow; so my aunt tells me in her letter. I received the news if not indifferently, at least with perfect composure, but I notice that the impression gradually gained upon me. At present I cannot think of anything else, as the fact is of so great importance to the two women. After so short a space as ten months he sold the estate which over four hundred years had been in Aniela's family, and to the preservation of which Pani Celina had devoted her own life. Then comes a Pan Kromitzki and sells it with a light heart because he wants the money for his speculations. Suppose he does make millions--will that compensate the women for the loss of what they prized above money? What will they think of him now? My aunt writes that she is sitting by Pani Celina's bedside, who after receiving the news of the sale grew worse at once. I am quite certain that Aniela, when putting her signature to the deed which empowered her husband to dispose of the land, did not know what she was signing. She is even now defending her husband. My aunt quotes from Aniela's letter: "A great misfortune has happened, but it was not Charles's fault." Defend him, defend him, O loyal wife; but you cannot prevent my thinking that he has wounded you deeply, and that at the bottom of your heart you despise him. Neither kisses nor soft words will efface from your memory the one word "sold." And Pani Celina thought that after the marriage he would devote his money towards clearing off the debts and disincumbering the property! Dear ladies, I, a man who does not boast of civic virtues, would not have done it, if for no other reason than innate delicacy of feeling, affection for you, and fear to wound you. But for speculations, ready money is wanted. I hope it is not merely prejudice, but these millions I heard so much about appear to me like a great point of interrogation. Maybe he will get them; perhaps the capital realized from the sale will help him towards it; but if he had possessed the wealth he used to boast of, would he have dealt his wife and mother-in-law such a blow, and sold their ancestral seat? My aunt writes that he left immediately after the sale for Baku, and intends to go as far as Turkestan. Aniela being too young to live by herself must needs come to Ploszow, as her mother cannot leave it at present, because she is too ill to travel; and besides my aunt will not let her go, and she is afraid of crossing her in any way. I know Aniela too well to suspect her of any calculations. She is the very essence of disinterestedness. But the mother, who would grasp all the world for her only child, doubtless counts upon the chance of a legacy for Aniela. And she is not mistaken either. My aunt, who never quite believed in Kromitzki's millions, gave me to understand several times that she meant to do something for Aniela; she said it with a certain hesitation, almost humbly, as she considers everything ought to go to a Ploszowski, and that to leave anything to another would be a wrong to the family. How little she knows me! If Aniela were in want of a pair of shoes and I had to sell Ploszow and give all I possess, she should have them. I might be prompted by a less noble motive,--for instance, to appear different from a Kromitzki,--but from whatever motive, I should give it certainly. But there is no question of that now. I am thinking continually that she is living at Ploszow, and will remain there as long as Kromitzki's journeys last, which may be God only knows for how long. I shall see Pani Kromitzka every day. At the thought of this I feel a certain uneasiness, with a strong admixture of curiosity as to our future relations towards each other; and I clearly see what might happen if my disposition and feelings in regard to her were different. I never lie to myself; I repeat again that I am going there in order to cure myself, that I do not love Pani Kromitzka, and never will love her; that on the contrary, I am in hope that the sight of her will drive Aniela out of my heart far more successfully than all the fiords and geysers; but I would not be myself, the man who has lived much and thought much, if I did not see the danger which under other circumstances such a position might bring forth.

If I wanted to revenge myself, if the very name Pani Kromitzka did not excite my loathing, what could stand in my way or hinder me,--in quiet Ploszow, where would be we two only, and the elder ladies, as unsuspicious and unsophisticated in their stainless virtue as any babies? In regard to this I know my aunt and Pani Celina. In the higher spheres of society one meets sometimes women thoroughly corrupted; but there are many, especially among the older generation, who pass through life like angels, with no thought of evil ever coming near them. Neither my aunt nor Pani Celina would ever dream of any danger threatening Aniela now she is married. Aniela herself belongs to that kind. She would not have rejected my prayers had she not given her word to Kromitzki. But Polish women of this kind would rather break a heart than break their word. At the very thought of it a dull wrath seizes me. I crush down within me the desire every one has to prove the truth of his opinion. I do not want to argue at all with Pani Kromitzka, but if somebody else would do it,--point out to women like her that the laws of nature, laws of affection, cannot be broken with impunity, that they are stronger than any ethic laws, I should be glad of it. It is true I have sinned in regard to Aniela, but I wished to make amendment from the very depth of my heart, and she rejected me,--rejected me perhaps so as to be able to say to herself: "I am not a Leon Ploszowski; I have given a promise, and do not take it back." This is not virtue, it is want of heart; it is not heroism, but foolishness; not rectitude of conscience, but vanity. I cannot forget, I cannot; but Pani Kromitzka will help me. When I come to see her in her new matronly dignity, satisfied with her heroism, self-possessed, in love, or apparently so, with her husband, watching me furtively to see whether I have been punished, and punished sufficiently, full of happiness and her own virtues, the ghost of my old love will be laid, and I can go back to where the reindeer lives without Aniela's memory following me like the sea-gulls in the track of ships.

It is possible that Pani Kromitzka will put on the airs of an injured victim, and her whole manner to me may say: "It is your fault!" Very well. We have seen some of that in the world. As artificial flowers have one defect, the want of scent, artificial crowns of thorn have one advantage, they do not prick, and may be worn as a bonnet, very becoming to a pretty face. Whenever I met one of those victims who married out of despair I felt a desire to say: "It is not true! you were a victim maybe in good faith as long as the chosen one did not approach you in his slippers. From that moment you ceased to be pathetic, and are only ridiculous, and the more so if you pose as a victim."

 

6 April.

How beautiful and wise is the Greek word "ananke." It was fated that through a woman I should lose my peace of mind, though I had ceased to care for her. The news that her ancestral seat is sold, and she herself coming to live at Ploszow, moved me so deeply that I could not sleep. Various questions knocked at my brain, asking for admittance. I tried to solve the question whether I had any right to lead Pani Kromitzka from the path of virtue. I neither wish, nor will I endeavor to do so, because she has ceased to attract me; but would it be right? I fill my life with these questions of "to be, or not to be," because I have nothing else to do. Thoughts like mine are not reckoned among the delights of life. It is like the dog trying to catch his tail; he does not catch anything. I do not prove anything, only tire myself; but have the satisfaction that another day has passed, or another night gone by.

I observe at the same time, that with all my scepticism, I am still beset with scruples worthy of the vicar of Ploszow. The modern man is composed of so many threads that in trying to set himself right, he gets more and more entangled. It was in vain I repeated to myself, if only in theory, that I had the right. A voice, as from the parish church, seemed to say at intervals: "No! no! you have not the right!" But scruples like these ought to be kept down, as for me this is a question of keeping my mind evenly balanced. At this quiet evening time, I feel just in the humor for it. This afternoon, at a well-known painter's studio, I heard Mrs. Davis maintain, in discussion with two literary men, that a woman ought to be unapproachable all her life, if only "pour la nettete du plumage," and Maleschi repeated, "Oui, oui,--du plumaze." Oh, ye gods and fishes! I fancied all the crabs in the Mediterranean rolling on their backs in silent laughter, and raising their claws to heaven, imploring Jove for a thunderbolt! By the bye, Mrs. Davis borrowed that sentence from me, and I borrowed it from Feuillet. I kept my gravity, and did not permit myself the slightest smile, but it put me into a merry, cynical humor, the reflection of which still remains with me, and is for the moment the best weapon against scruples of conscience.

Now for the start. Would it be right for me to fall in love with Pani Kromitzka, and in case of success lead her from the path of duty? First, let us look at it from a point of honor, as people consider it who call themselves, and whom the world regards as, gentlemen. There is not a single paragraph there against it. It is one of the queerest codices ever invented under the sun. If, for instance, I steal somebody's money, the disgrace falls upon me, and not upon the man who is robbed, according to the world's rule of honor; but if I rob him of his wife, it is not I, but the robbed man who is disgraced. What does it mean? Is it a mere aberration of the moral sense, or is it that between stealing a man's purse and stealing his wife, there is such a vast difference that the two cases cannot be even compared? I have often thought over this, and have come to the conclusion that there is a great difference. A human being can never be as absolutely a property as a thing, and the taking away somebody's wife is an act of a double will. Why should I respect the rights of a husband if his own wife does not? What is he to me? I meet a woman who wants to be mine, and I take her. Her husband does not exist for me; her vows are no affair of mine. What should hold me back? Respect for the matrimonial institution? But if I loved Pani Kromitzka, I would cry out from the very depth of my soul: "I protest against this marriage; protest against her duties towards Kromitzki. I am the worm this marriage has crushed; and they tell me, writhing in anguish, to respect it,--me, who would sting it with my last breath." Why; for what reason? What do I care for a social institution that has wrung from me the last drop of blood, deprived me of my very existence? Man lives on fish. Go tell the fish to respect the order that it be skinned alive before being put on the fire. I protest and sting,--that is my answer. Spencer's ideal of a finally developed man, in whom the individual impulses will be in perfect harmony with social laws, is nothing but an assumption. I know perfectly that such as Sniatynski would demolish my theory with one question: "You are then for free-love?" No, nothing of the sort. I am for myself. I do not wish to hear anything about your theories. If you fall in love with another woman, or your wife with somebody else, we shall see what becomes of your rules, paragraphs, and respect for social institutions. At the worst, I might be called inconsequent. I was inconsequent, too, when I, a sceptic, had a mass offered up for Leon and Aniela, and prayed like a child, and swallowed my tears like any fool. In future I will always be inconsequent when it suits me and makes me happier. There is only one logic in the world,--the logic of passions. Reason holds the reins for a time, but when the horses tear along in mad career, she sits on the box and merely watches lest the vehicle should go to pieces. The human heart cannot be rendered love-proof, and love is an element strong as tidal waves. The very gates of hell cannot overcome a woman who loves her husband, for the marriage vows are only the sealing of love's compact; but if it be mere duty, the first tide will throw her on the sands like a dead fish. I cannot bind myself not to let my hair grow, or to remain always young; and as often as I did so, the laws of nature would take their course in spite of human bonds. It is strange, but all that I am writing is pure theory. I have no schemes I need justify before myself, and yet all these reflections have stirred my soul to such an extent that I had to leave off writing. My calmness is evidently artificial. I walked up and down the room for an hour, and at last found out what disturbed me.

It is very late. From the windows of my room I see the cupola of the Invalides gleaming in the moonlight, as once I saw St. Peter's cupola, when, full of hope, I walked on the Pincio, thinking of Aniela. Unconsciously I had given myself up to those memories. Whatever there be or awaits us in the future, one thing is certain: I could have been happy, and she might be ten, nay, a hundred times happier than she is. Even now, if I had any hidden schemes, or if she were to me the greatest temptation, I would respect her unhappiness. I would not hurt her for anything. The very thought of it would take away my courage and decision, I had such an amount of tenderness for her.

But all that is in the past. The sceptic dwelling within me creeps up again with another question: Would she be really so unhappy? I have verified, not once, but several times, the fact that women are unhappy only while they struggle. The battle once over, regardless of the result, there follows a period of calm and happiness. I knew at one time a woman in Paris who resisted most persistently for three years. When at last her heart got the upper hand and she gave in, she only reproached herself for not having done so sooner.

But what is the use of putting all these questions or trying to solve problems? I know that every principle is open to argument, and every proof to scepticism. The good old times when people doubted everything except their intelligence to recognize the true from the false, have gone. At present there is nothing but labyrinths upon labyrinths. I had better not think of anything but the journey before me. And Kromitzki sold his wife's ancestral home and thus inflicted on her a cruel blow! I had to write it down black on white once more, otherwise I could not believe it.

 

10 April.

I went towards evening to say good-by to Mrs. Davis, and dropped in for a regular concert. Laura seems really very fond of music. Miss Hilst was playing on the harmonium. I always like to see her, but especially when she sits down to the harmonium, and playing the prelude, keeps her eyes on the keys. There is so much earnestness and intentness in her face, combined with calmness. She reminds me of Saint Cecilia, the most sympathetic of all saints, with whom I should have fallen in love had she lived in our times. A pity Clara is so tall; but one forgets it when she is playing. From time to time she lifts her eyes, as if recalling to memory a note heard somewhere in the spheres, or seeking inspiration, and she herself looks like one inspired. She rightly bears the name of Clara, for it would be difficult to find a more transparent soul. I said I liked to see her; as to her music, it is still the same; I do not understand it, or rather I follow her meaning with the greatest difficulty. Nevertheless, in spite of my satirical remarks, I think she has a remarkable talent.

When she had finished I approached her, and still half jestingly said the time had come and I was ready to escort her to Warsaw according to our agreement. I was surprised to see her take my proposition so seriously. She said that she had wanted to go there for some time, and was quite ready; it was all a question of informing an old relative who always went with her, and of taking a dumb piano, as she practised even on her journeys.

The prospect began to alarm me somewhat. If she goes, I shall have to help her in getting up a concert; and I would rather go straight on to Ploszow. As a last resource I could hand her over to Sniatynski, who would be more useful to her than I. Besides, Miss Hilst is the daughter of a rich mill-owner at Frankfurt, and it is not a question of material success with her. The eagerness with which she agreed to the journey made me thoughtful. I had half a mind to tell her that I did not object to the dumb piano so much as to the elderly relative. Men are so prone to lie in wait for women that few approach a young and pretty one without an after-thought. As to myself, though wholly absorbed by something else, the idea of the old relative travelling with us was unpleasant, the more so as my person evidently plays some part in this so quickly arranged journey. Paris presents a far wider scope for her musical talent, and she does not care for gain; why should she be so anxious to go to Warsaw? Laura, as I have said, has hinted more than once that Miss Hilst has more than a liking for me. A strange woman, Laura! Clara's innocence excites her envy, but only as it might be excited by a beautiful jewel, or by rare lace,--with her it is merely a question of adornment. Maybe for that reason she would like to push that big child into my arms. She does not care for me any longer; I am an ornament she has worn already.

That woman, though unconsciously, has wrought me such irreparable harm that I ought to hate her, but cannot,--first, because I am conscious that, had she never crossed my path, I should have probably found some other means to wreck my happiness; secondly, as Satan is a fallen angel, so hatred is degenerated love, and I never loved Laura. There is a little contempt for her, a little dislike, and she returns the feeling undoubtedly a hundredfold.

As to Clara's feelings, Laura may be right. To-day I saw it clearer than ever. If that be the case, I am grateful to her. For the first time in my life I long for the pure friendship of a woman. A soul so restless as mine will find solace and comfort in such a friendship.

We conversed together to-day, Clara and I, like old friends. Her intelligence is not large, but clear and discerning between bad and good, ugly and what she considers beautiful; consequently her judgment is not shifty, but calm and serene. She has that kind of spiritual healthiness often met with in Germans. Coming across them now and then I observe that the type I belong to is very rare among them. The Germans and the English are generally positive and know what they want. They too are sounding the fathomless depth of doubt, but they do it methodically as scientists, not as sensitive geniuses without portfolio like me; in consequence of which their recent transcendental philosophy, their present scientific pessimism, and their poetic _Weltschmerz have only a theoretical meaning. Their everyday practice consists in adapting themselves to the rules of life. According to Hartmann, the more humanity gains in intensity and consciousness. The more unhappy it grows. The same Hartmann, with the calmness of a German _Cultur-traeger_, becomes practical when he raises his voice in favor of suppressing the Polish element as detrimental to German supremacy. But, putting aside this incident, which belongs to the category of human villanies, Germans do not take theories seriously, and therefore are always calm and capable of action. This same calmness Clara possesses. Things which rend and trouble human souls must have come near her some time or other, but if so they left no trace and were not absorbed by her; thus she never lost faith in truth and in her art. If she has any deeper feeling for me than mere friendship, the feeling is unconscious and does not ask for anything in return. If it were otherwise, it would be the beginning of her tragedy, as I could not return her love and might make her unhappy. I am not so conceited as to think that no woman could resist me, but I am of the opinion that no woman can resist the man she truly loves. It is a trite saying that "a fortress besieged is a fortress surrendered," but there is some truth in it when adapted to woman, especially when behind the entrenchment of her virtues she harbors such a traitor as her own heart. But Clara may rest tranquil. We shall travel peacefully together: she, her old relative, myself, and the dumb piano.

 

16 April.

I arrived at Warsaw three days ago, but have not been able to go to Ploszow as, shortly after my arrival, I got a cold in my teeth and my face is swollen. I do not wish to show myself to the ladies in that state.

I have seen Sniatynski, and my aunt, who has welcomed me as the prodigal son. Aniela arrived at Ploszow a week ago. Her mother is very ill, so ill that the doctors who advised her to try Wiesbaden now declare she could not bear the journey. She will therefore remain at Ploszow until she recovers--or dies, and Aniela with her, until Kromitzki winds up his business or thinks it proper to give her a home. From what my aunt says this may take him some months. I tried to get from my aunt as much news about Aniela as I could, which is easy enough, as she speaks about her with perfect freedom. She simply cannot understand how a married woman could excite any feeling except in the way of relationship; or rather, she has never even considered the question. She spoke openly about the sale of Aniela's home, which she considers a great shame. She got so excited over it as to break her watch-chain and let the watch roll on the floor.

"I will tell him so to his face," she said. "I would rather have lent him the money had I known anything about it. Only what would have been the use? His speculations are a gulf. I do not know whether any good will come out of it, but in the meanwhile everything is swallowed up in it. Let him only come, and I will tell him that he makes Aniela unhappy, kills her mother, and will end in ruining them and himself." I asked my aunt whether she had said anything about this to Aniela.

"To Aniela?" she replied. "I am glad you have come; it relieves my mind and makes it easier to bear. I cannot speak about it with Aniela. I tried it once when I could not contain myself any longer. I made some remark and she grew very angry, then burst out crying and said, 'He was obliged, he was obliged, and could not help it.' She does not allow anybody to say a word against him, and would like to cover all his short-comings before the world; but she cannot deceive an old woman like me, and I know that at the bottom of her heart she must condemn him as I do."

"Do you mean she does not love him?"

My aunt looked at me in unfeigned surprise.

"Not love him? Of course she loves him. Whom should she love if not him? That's just where the sting lies; she grieves because she loves him. But one may love and yet have one's eyes open to what is wrong."

I had my own opinion on that point, but preferred not to express it, and allowed my aunt to proceed.

"What I resent most in him are his lies. He assured Celina and Aniela that in a year or two he would be able to buy the estate back. Just tell me, is this possible? and those women believe he is in earnest!"

"According to my opinion it is quite impossible. Besides, he will go on speculating."

"He knows it even better than we do, and yet he goes on lying to the women."

"Perhaps he does it to relieve their anxiety."

My aunt grew angrier still.

"Relieve their anxiety! fiddlesticks! they would not have had any anxiety if he had not sold it. Do not defend him, it is of no use. Everybody blames him. Chwastowski was wild about it. He had looked into the affairs, and says that without any ready money he could have cleared the estate himself in a few years. I would have given the money and so would you, would you not? and now it is too late."

Presently I inquired about Aniela's health, with a strange, troubled foreboding I might hear something which, though perfectly natural and in the order of things, would give a shock to my nerves. My aunt caught the drift of my thoughts and replied with as much acerbity as before:--

"There is nothing whatever the matter with her. All he could do he did; that was to sell his wife's estate. No, there is nothing expected."

I turned the conversation to something else. I told my aunt I had arrived together with the celebrated pianist Miss Hilst, who, having considerable means of her own, wished to give a few concerts gratis. My aunt is a queer mixture of eccentricities. She began by abusing Miss Hilst for not coming in winter, when the time for concerts was more propitious; presently began considering that it was not too late yet, and wanted to go and call upon her at once. I could scarcely persuade her to put off her visit until I had told Miss Hilst about it. My aunt is a patroness of several charitable institutions, and it is with her a point of honor to get for them as much as she can at the expense of other institutions, consequently was afraid somebody else might forestall her with the artist.

When leaving me she asked, "When are you coming to stay at Ploszow?"

I replied that I was not going to stay there at all. I had thought of that during the journey and came to the conclusion that it would be better to have my headquarters at Warsaw. Ploszow is only six miles from here, and I can go there in the morning and stay as long as I like. It is indifferent to me where I live, and my living here will prevent people talking. Besides, I do not want Pani Kromitzka to think I am anxious to dwell under the same roof with her. I spoke of this to Sniatynski, and saw that he fully agreed with me; he seemed anxious to discuss Aniela with me. Sniatynski is a very intelligent man, but he does not seem to understand that changed circumstances mean changed relations, even between the best of friends. He came to me as if I were the same Leon Ploszowski who, shaking in every limb, asked for his help at Cracow; he approached me with the same abrupt sincerity, desiring to plunge his hand up to his elbow under my ribs. I pulled him up sharply, and he seemed surprised and somewhat angry. Presently he fell in with my humor, and we talked together as if the last meeting at Cracow had never taken place. I noticed, nevertheless, that he watched me furtively, and not being able to make me out tried indirect inquiry, with all the clumsiness of an author who is a deep psychologist and reader of the human mind at his desk, and as unsophisticated as any student in practical life. As Hamlet of yore, I might have handed him a pipe and said, "Do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me."

I had been reading Hamlet the night before, as I have read it many a time, and involuntarily these words came into my mind. It seems to me surpassing strange that a man of my time, in whatever position or complicated trouble of soul, should find so much analogy to himself as I find in this drama, based upon Holinshed's sanguinary and gross legend. Hamlet is the human soul as it was, as it is, and as it will be. In conceiving this drama, Shakspeare overstepped the limit fixed even for genius. I can understand Homer and Dante, studied by the light of their epoch. I can comprehend that they could do what they did; but how an Englishman of the seventeenth century could foreknow psychosis, a science of recent growth, will be to me, in spite of my study of Hamlet, an everlasting mystery.

Having mentally handed over to Sniatynski Hamlet's pipe, I recommended to his care Miss Hilst, and then began to discuss his pet theories. Upon his wanting to know what brought me back, I said it was the longing for the country, and consciousness of unfulfilled duties towards it. I said it in a careless, off-hand way, and Sniatynski looked puzzled, not knowing whether I spoke seriously or mockingly. And again the same phenomenon of which I spoke in Paris repeated itself here. The moral ascendency he had gained over me gradually disappeared. He did not know himself what to think, but he saw the old key would not serve any longer. When he said good-by I again recommended to him Miss Hilst. He looked at me keenly.

"Do you attach much importance to her success?"

"Yes, very much. She is a person I hold in great esteem, and have much friendship for."

In this way I centred all his attention on Miss Hilst. Most likely he thought I had fallen in love with her. He went away angry, and could not disguise his feelings. He shut the door sharply; and when I accompanied him as far as the staircase, and turned back to the anteroom, I heard him descending the staircase, taking four steps at once, and whistling,--which he always does when angry. Besides, it was quite true, what I said about Miss Hilst. I wrote to-day to Clara, explaining why I had not been to see her, and received a reply at once. She is delighted with Warsaw, and especially its inhabitants. All the musical world has called upon her, and they are vying with each other in politeness and offers of help. Whether they would be quite as enthusiastic had she come to settle here, is another question; but Clara has the gift to win friends wherever she goes. She has already seen something of the town, and was much charmed with the Sazienki Park and Palace. I am glad she likes it,--the more so as the country, soon after crossing the frontier, seemed to her rather depressing. Truly, only those born on the soil can find any charm in the vast solitary plains, where the eye finds very little to rest upon. Clara, looking through the carriage window, said more than once: "Ah! I can understand Chopin now!" She is utterly mistaken,--she does not understand Chopin and his feelings, any more than she is in touch with his native land. I, though a cosmopolitan by education, by atavism understand our nature, and am surprised myself at the spell a Polish spring casts upon me, and it seems as if I could never feel tired of it. Properly speaking, what does the view consist of? Sometimes, on purpose, I put myself into a stranger's place,--a painter's, having no preconceived ideas about it, and look at it with his eyes. The landscape then makes upon me the impression as if a child had drawn it, or a savage, who had no notion about drawing. Flat fallow-land, wet meadows, huts with their rectangular outline, the straight poplars around country-seats on the distant horizon, a broad, flat plain, finished off with a belt of woods,--that "ten miles of nothing," as the Germans call it; all this reminds me of a first attempt at drawing landscape. There is scarcely enough for a background. From the moment I cease looking upon it with a stranger's eyes, I begin to feel the simplicity of the view, incorporate myself with that immense breadth, where every outlined object melts into the far distance, as a soul in Nirvana; it has not only the artistic charm of primitiveness, but it acts soothingly upon me. I admire the Apennines; but my spirit is not in touch with them, and sooner or later they become wearisome. The human being finds a resting-place only where he is in harmony with his surroundings; and is reminded that his soul and the soul of nature are of the same organization. Homesickness springs from the isolation of the soul from its surroundings. It appears to me that the principle of psychical relationship could be applied in a still wider sense. It may seem strange that I, brought up in foreign lands, permeated by their culture, should harbor such views; but I go farther still, and say a foreign woman, even the most beautiful, appears to me more as a species of the female kind than a soul.

I remember what I wrote at one time concerning Polish women, but one statement does not contradict the other; I may perceive their faults, and yet feel myself nearer to them than to strangers. Besides, my old opinions--at least, the greater part of them--are now in tatters, like a worn-out garment.

But enough of this! I notice with a certain shame and surprise that all I have been writing has been done in order to distract my thoughts. Yes, that is true. I speak about landscapes, homesickness, and so forth, while all my thoughts are at Ploszow. I did not want to acknowledge it, even to myself. I feel restless, and something seems to weigh me down. It is very probable that my going there and the getting over the first meeting will be easier and far simpler than I imagine. Expectancy of anything is always oppressive. When a young lad, I had a duel; and on the eve of the day I felt troubled. Then, too, I tried to think of something else, and could not manage it. My thoughts are not at all tender, not even friendly, towards Pani Kromitzka; but they swarm around me like angry bees, and I cannot drive them away.

 

17 April.

I have been to Ploszow, and found things very different indeed from what I had pictured to myself. I left Warsaw at seven in the morning in a cab, counting I should be in Ploszow by eight. The oppressive feeling still remained with me. I had said to myself that I would not make any plans about that first meeting, or my future bearing towards her. Let chance be my guide. But I could not help speculating how it would be,--how she would greet me, what she would try to make me understand, and what our future relation to each other would be. Not having formed any plans of my own, I fancied, I do not know why that she would want to act according to a well-defined system. Trying to fathom this, I felt almost inimical towards her. Then again, at the thought that the meeting might cause her pain, I felt something akin to pity, and seemed to see her before me as she used to be. I saw distinctly the low brow with the wealth of auburn hair, the long eyelashes, and the small, delicate face. I tried to guess how she would be dressed. Memories came back of words she had said, expressions of the face, graceful motions, dresses. With strange pertinacity, the one memory remained with me,--her coming into the room after she had tried to disguise her emotion by applying powder to her face. At last these memories became so vivid as to equal a second-sight. "There she is again," I said to myself; and in order to pull myself together, I began talking to the driver, and asked him whether he were married; whereupon he replied that without the old woman at home, there would be no go, then said something I did not hear, as I had caught sight of the Ploszow poplars in the distance. I had not paid any heed to the time we had been on the road.

At the sight of Ploszow I felt more troubled still, and my eagerness increased. I tried to pay attention to outward things, changes that had taken place during my absence, and look at the new buildings on the road. I repeated to myself mechanically that the weather was very fine, and the spring exceptionally early this year. And indeed, the weather was magnificent; the morning air was crisp and transparent; near the cottages the apple-trees, in full bloom, were scattering their petals like snowflakes on the grass; it was like a long line of pictures by the modern school of painters. Wherever the eye turned, there was that luminous _plein-air in the midst of which moved the figures of people working in the fields or near their cottages. I saw it all, observed every detail; but, strange to say, I was not able to take it in, or give myself up to it altogether. The impressions had lost their absorbing power, and remained only on the surface of the brain, the brain itself being full of other thoughts. In this state of divided attention I approached Ploszow.

Presently the cool air of the lime avenue fanned my face, and I saw at the other end, far off, the windows of the house. The scattered, futile thoughts hammered and knocked louder than ever at my brain. I stopped the driver from going straight to the house, and dismissed him, I do not know why, at the gate. Followed by his thanks, I went on foot straight towards the veranda. I cannot explain to myself why I felt so troubled, unless it was that within these well-known walls something unknown was awaiting me, which was in close connection with the tragic past. Crossing the courtyard, I felt such a weight upon my chest that it obstructed my breath. "What the deuce is the matter with me?" said I, inwardly. As I had dismissed the cab, nobody had heard me coming. The hall was empty; I went in to the dining-room to wait until the ladies came down.

I knew they would come soon, as the table was laid for breakfast, and the samovar, whispering and growling, was sending coils of steam aloft. Again not the slightest detail escaped my notice. I observed that the room was cool and comparatively dark, as the windows faced the north. For a moment my attention was fixed on the three luminous streaks the light from the windows made upon the polished floor. I looked at the carved sideboard I remembered since a child, and then recalled the conversation I had in this same room with Sniatynski, and we looked through the window at his wife and Aniela, in fur boots, coming from the hot-houses.

At last a feeling of great solitude and sadness overcame me, and I went close to the window to get more light and make further observations in the garden. But all this did not restore my balance of mind. The only real thought my mind was full of was that I should meet her in a few minutes. There are people who out of fear are capable of the most heroic deeds. With me it is different. Fear, uncertainty of what may come next, rouses me to anger. This happened now. The difference between the old Aniela and the present Pani Kromitzka impressed itself upon me more forcibly than ever. "If you borrowed the very moonbeams for your head-dress, if you were a hundred times more beautiful than my fancy can paint, you would be as nothing to me,--less than nothing, because an object of aversion." My anger rose still, for I fancied that she would come to me in order to point out my guilt, my wrong-doing; that she would be still desirable, but unapproachable. "We shall see," I replied inwardly, under the vivid impression that with this woman there was awaiting me a duel; a struggle in which I should lose and gain at the same time,--lose the haunting memories and regain peace. At that moment I felt the power to overcome any obstacles, repulse any attack.

Then the door opened quietly, and Aniela came in.

At the sight of her I felt my brain in a whirl, and my finger-tips grew icy cold. The being before me bore the name of Pani Kromitzka, but had the sweet, hundred times beloved features and inexpressible charm of the Aniela I had known. In the chaotic bewilderment of my brain there was only one sound I heard distinctly: "Aniela! Aniela! Aniela!" And she did not see me, or took me for somebody else as I stood against the light. But when I drew nearer, she raised her eyes and stood still as if turned into stone. I cannot even describe the expression of sudden terror, confusion, emotion, and humility which shone in her face. She had grown white to the lips, and I was afraid she might faint. When I took her hand it felt as cold as ice. I had expected anything but that. I thought she would let me know in some way or other that she was Pani Kromitzka, but there was nothing of the sort. She stood before me moved, frightened, my former little Aniela. It was I who had made her unhappy,--I who was guilty, a hundred times guilty; and at this moment she looked at me as if she herself asked to be forgiven. The old love, contrition for the past, and pity overwhelmed me to such a degree that I almost lost my head, and thought I must take her into my arms, and soothe her with endearing words, as one soothes a beloved being. I was so agitated by the unexpected meeting, not with Pani Kromitzka, but Aniela, that I could only press her hand in silence. And yet I felt obliged to say something; therefore, pulling myself together, I said, as if in somebody else's voice,--

"Did aunt not tell you I was coming?"

"Yes; she told me," said Aniela, with an evident effort.

And then we fell back into silence. I felt that I ought to ask after her mother, and about herself, but could not force myself to do so. I wished from my soul somebody would come and deliver us from this position. Presently my aunt came in with the young Doctor Chwastowski, the agent's son, who for a month past has had the care of Pani Celina. Aniela slipped away to pour out the tea, and I began to talk with my aunt. I had recovered my presence of mind entirely when we sat down to breakfast. I began now to inquire after Pani Celina's health. My aunt, telling me about her, appealed every moment to the doctor, who turned to me with that peculiar shade of superciliousness with which a newly patented scientist treats outsiders, and at the same time with the watchfulness of a democrat who is afraid of slights where none are intended. He appeared to me very conceited; and after all, I treated him with far greater politeness than he exhibited towards me. This amused me a little, and helped to keep my thoughts, which the sight of Aniela confused, under control. From time to time I looked at her across the table, and repeated to myself: "The same features, the same little face, the same low brow shaded by a wealth of hair; it is the same Aniela, almost a little girl, my love, my happiness; and now lost to me forever." There was inexpressible sweetness in the sensation, mingled with exquisite pain. Aniela, too, had recovered from her emotion, but looked still frightened. I tried to draw her into conversation, speaking about her mother. I was partly successful; she seemed a little more at ease, and said,--

"Mamma will be very glad to see you."

I permitted myself a doubt as far as her mother was concerned, but listened to her voice with half-closed eyes; it was sweeter to me than any music.

We were conversing more freely every moment. My aunt was in excellent spirits,--first, because of seeing me once more at Ploszow, and also because she had seen Clara and got from her the promise of a concert. When leaving the artist she had met two other ladies, patronesses of charitable institutions, ascending the staircase bent on the same errand. They were too late, and that had put her in a high good-humor. She asked me a great many questions about Clara, who had made an excellent impression upon her. Towards the end of breakfast, to satisfy my aunt's curiosity, I had to say something about my travels. She was amazed to hear I had been as far as Iceland, and asked what it looked like; she then remarked,--

"One must be desperate to go to such places as that."

"Yes; I did not feel very cheerful when I went."

Aniela looked at me for a moment, and there was that hunted, half-frightened expression in her eyes again. If she had put her hand upon my naked heart she could not have given it a sharper pull. The more I had prepared myself for an exhibition of triumphant coldness and satisfaction at my disappointment, the more I felt crushed now by that angelic compassion. All my calculations and foresight had been put to naught. I supposed she could not help showing herself off as a married woman. And now I had to remind myself that she was married; but in the recollection there was no loathing, nothing but inexpressible sorrow.

It is in my nature that in every moral suffering I try to reopen my wounds. I wanted to do that even now by speaking about her husband; but I could not do it. It seemed to me cruel, almost a profanation. Instead of that I said that I should like to see her mother, if she were able to receive me. Aniela went to see, and presently came back and said,--

"Mamma will be pleased to see you."

We crossed to the other side of the house, my aunt going with us. I wanted to say a kind word to Aniela so as to put her more at ease; but my aunt was in the way; presently I thought it would be even better if I said it within my aunt's hearing. Near the door, leading into Pani Celina's rooms, I stopped and, turning to Aniela, said,--

"Give me your hand, my dear little sister."

Aniela put her hand into mine; I saw her eyes lighting up with gratitude for the words "little sister," and the pressure of her hand seemed to say:--

"Oh! let us be friends! let us forgive each other!"

"I hope you two will agree together," muttered my aunt.

"We shall, we shall; he is so good!" replied Aniela.

And truly, my heart was very full of good-will at that moment.

Entering Pani Celina's room, I greeted her very cordially, but she replied with a certain constraint, and I am sure she would have received me with still greater coldness had she not feared to offend my aunt. But I was not hurt by this; her resentment is quite justifiable. Maybe, in her mind, she connects me with the loss of her estate, and thinks all this would not have happened if I had acted differently. I found her much changed. For some time she has been confined to her invalid chair, on which they wheel her on fine days into the garden. Her face, always delicate, looked as if moulded in wax. There are still traces that show how beautiful she must have been, and at the same time so unhappy.

I asked after her health, and expressed the hope that, with the return of the fine weather, she would soon recover her strength. She listened with a sad smile, and shook her head; two tears rolled silently down her face.

Then, fixing her sad eyes upon me, she said,--

"You know Gluchow has been sold?"

This evidently is the thought ever present,--her continual sorrow and gnawing trouble.

When Aniela heard the question she grew very red. It was a painful blush, because a blush of shame and sorrow.

"Yes, I have heard," I said quickly. "Perhaps it can be recovered; if so, nothing is lost; and if not, you must submit to God's will."

Aniela cast a grateful glance at me, and Pani Celina said,--

"I have lost all hope."

It was not true; she still clung to the delusion that the estate might be recovered. Her eyes looked hungrily at me, waiting for the words which might confirm her secret hopes. I resolved to gratify her wish, and said,--

"It seems to have been a case of necessity, and I do not see how any one can be blamed for it. Yet there are no obstacles which cannot be overcome where there is a will and adequate means. Sometimes it has happened that a sale has been invalidated in law from some omission of formality."

By the bye, this was not strictly true; but I saw it was balm to Pani Celina's sore heart. I had also stood up for Kromitzki, without mentioning his name, which neither of the others had done in my presence.

To say the truth it was not generosity which prompted me, but rather a desire to conciliate Aniela, and show myself before her in the light of goodness and nobility.

And Aniela was grateful; for, when we had left the room, she came out to me, and, stretching out her hand, said,--

"Thank you for being so good to mamma."

For all answer I raised her hand to my lips.

My aunt too seemed touched by my goodness. I left her and, lighting a cigar, went into the park for a quiet stroll to collect my thoughts and impressions; but I met there the young doctor who was taking his morning constitutional. As I wished to conciliate every one at Ploszow, I went up to him, and asked him, with the special regard due to science and authority, what he thought about Pani Celina's chances of regaining her health. I saw that this flattered him a little, and gradually he began to lose some of his democratic stiffness, and enlarged upon the theme of Pani Celina's illness with the ready eagerness of a young scientist who has had no time yet to doubt his powers. In speaking, he used every now and then Latin expressions, as if addressing a colleague. His strong, healthy frame, a certain power of speech and eye impressed me favorably. I saw in him a type of that new generation Sniatynski at one time had spoken of to me. Walking along the avenues, we had one of the so-called intellectual conversations, which consist a great deal in quoting names of books and authors. Chwastowski is thoroughly acquainted with certain subjects; but I have read more, and this seemed to astonish him not a little. At moments he looked almost vexed, as if he considered it an encroachment upon his own territory that I, an aristocrat, should know so much about certain books and authors. But then again I won his approbation by the liberality of my opinions. My liberality consists merely in a kind of tolerance for other people's views, and looking upon them without party feeling; and that from a man of my position and wealth was sufficient to win over the young radical. At the end of our conversation we felt towards each other as men do who have understood each other, and agreed on many points.

Most likely I shall be the exception of the rule as regards Doctor Chwastowski. As in my country every nobleman has his particular Jew in whom he believes,--though he dislikes the race in general,--so every democrat has his aristocrat for whom he feels a special weakness.

When going away I asked Doctor Chwastowski about his brothers. He said that one of them had a brewery at Ploszow, which I knew already from my aunt's letter; a second had a bookshop at Warsaw; and a third, who had been at a mercantile school, had gone as assistant with Pan Kromitzki to the East.

"It is the brewer who has the best of it just now," he said; "but we all work, and in time shall win good positions. It was lucky our father lost his fortune; otherwise every one of us would sit on his bit of land 'glebae adscripti,' and in the end lose it as my father did."

In spite of the preoccupation of my mind I listened with a certain interest. "There are, then," I said to myself, "people that are neither over-civilized nor steeped in ignorance. There are those that can do something and thus form the intermediate, healthy link between decay and barbarism." It is possible that this social strata mostly exists in bigger towns, where it is continually recruited by the influx of the sons of bankrupt noblemen, who adapt themselves to burgher traditions of work, and bring to it strong nerves and muscles. I then recalled what Sniatynski once said when I left him: "From such as you nothing good can come; your fathers must first lose all they have, else even your grandsons will not work." And here are Chwastowski's sons who take to it, and push on in the world by help of their own strong shoulders. I, too, perhaps, had I no fortune, should have to do something, and should acquire that energy of decision in which I have been wanting all my life.

The doctor left me presently as he had another patient at Ploszow, a young cleric from the Warsaw seminary, the son of one of the Ploszow peasants. He is in the last stage of consumption. My aunt has given him a room in one of the out-buildings, where she and Aniela look after him. When I heard of this I went to pay him a visit, and instead of the dying man I expected to see, I found a young, rather thin-looking lad, but bright and full of life. The doctor says it is the last flicker of the lamp. The young cleric was nursed by his mother, who, upon seeing me, overwhelmed me with a shower of gratitude copious enough to drown myself in.

Aniela did not visit the sick man that day, but remained with her mother. I saw her only at dinner, at which also the mother was present in her invalid's chair. It is only natural that Aniela should devote her time to her mother, and yet I fancy she does it partly to avoid being alone with me. In time our mutual relations will establish themselves upon an easier footing, but I quite understand that at first it will be a little awkward. Aniela has so much intelligence of heart, so much goodness and sensibility, that she cannot look upon our present position with indifference, and has not worldly experience enough to preserve an appearance of ease. This practice comes with later years, when the live spring of feelings begins to dry up and the mind acquires a certain conventionality.

I had let Aniela see there was no resentment in my heart towards her, and I shall not allude even to the past, and for that reason did not try to see her alone. In the evening during tea we discussed general topics. My aunt questioned me about Clara, who interests her very much. I told her all I knew about her, and from that we drifted into conversation about artists generally. My aunt looks upon them as people sent into the world by kind Providence to give performances for the benefit of charitable institutions. I maintained that artists, provided their hearts were pure and not filled with vanity and love of self, might be the happiest creatures in the world, as they are always in contact with something infinite and absolutely perfect. From life comes all evil, from art only happiness. This was, indeed, my point of view, supported by observation. Aniela agreed with me, and if I took note of the conversation it is because I was struck by a remark of Aniela's, simple in itself, but to me full of meaning. When we spoke about the contentment arising from art she said: "Music is a great consoler."

I saw in this involuntary confession that she is unhappy, and is conscious of it. Besides, in regard to that, I never had any doubts. Even the face is not the face of a happy woman. If anything, it is more beautiful than before,--apparently calm, even serene; but there is none of that light which springs from inward happiness, and there is a certain preoccupation that was not there formerly. In the course of the day I noticed that her temples have a slight yellow tint like that of ivory. I looked at her with an ever renewed delight, comparing her to the Aniela of the past. I could not get enough of this exchange of memories with reality. There is something so irresistibly attractive in Aniela that had I never seen her before, if she were among thousands of beautiful women and I were told to choose, I should go straight to her and say: "This one and no other." She answers so exactly to the feminine prototype every man carries in his imagination. I fancy she must have noticed that I watched and admired her.

I left at dusk. I was so shaken by the sensations of the day, so utterly different from all my preconceived ideas, that I had lost the power of dissecting my thoughts. I expected to find Pani Kromitska, and found Aniela; I put it down once more. God only knows what will be the consequence of this for us both. When I think of it I have the sensation of a great happiness, and also a slight disappointment. And yet I was right, theoretically, in expecting those psychical changes which necessarily take place in a woman after she is married, and I might easily be led to think she would show in some way that she was glad she had not chosen me. There is not another woman who would have denied herself that satisfaction of vanity. And as I know myself, my sensitiveness and my nerves, I could take my oath on it, that if such had been the case I should have been now full of bitterness, anger, and sarcasm,--but cured. In the mean while, things have fallen out differently,--altogether differently. She is a being of such unfathomable goodness and simplicity that the measure I have for goodness is not large enough for her.

What will happen next, what will happen to me or to her, I cannot say. My life might have run on quietly towards that ocean where all life is absorbed,--now it may run like a cataract down to a precipice. Let it be so. At the worst I can only be a little more unhappy, that is all. Until now I have not been lying on a bed of roses, with that consciousness of my useless life continually before me.

I do not remember; somebody, was it my father? said that there must always be something growing within us, that such is the law of nature. It is true. Even in the desert the forces of life hidden in the depth bring forth palms in the oasis.

 

21 April.

I live nominally at Warsaw, but have spent four consecutive days at Ploszow. Pani Celina is better, but the cleric Latyzs died the day before yesterday. Doctor Chwastowski says it was a splendid case of pulmonary consumption, and with difficulty conceals his satisfaction that he foretold the exact course of the disease up to the last hour. We had been to see the young man twelve hours before he died. He was quite merry with us, and full of hope because the fever had left him, which was only a sign of weakness. Yesterday, when sitting with Aniela on the veranda, the cleric's mother came up to tell us about his death, in her own quaint way, in which sorrow blended with quiet submission to the inevitable. In my pity for her, there was a great deal of curiosity, for up to now I had not much occasion to see anything of the inner life of the peasants. What quaint expressions they use! I tried to remember her words in order to note them down.

She embraced my knees, then Aniela's, after which she put the outside of her hands over her eyes, and began to wail: "O little Jesus, dear--O Maria, holiest of Virgins! He is dead, my poor lamb, dead! He was eager to see the Lord face to face; more eager than to stop with his little father and mother! Nothing could hold him back, not even the ladies' cares! Wine he had in plenty, and good food, and that could not save him; O little Jesus, dear! O holiest of Virgins! O Jesus mine!"

In her voice there was certainly a mother's sorrow! but what struck me most was the modulation of the voice, as if set to some local music. I never heard before the peasants lament their dead, but I am quite sure they all do it in more or less the same way, as if according to certain rules.

Tears were trembling on Aniela's eyelashes, and with that peculiar goodness only women are capable of, she began to inquire into the details of his death, guessing that it would soothe the poor woman to speak about it.

And in fact she began at once most eagerly:--

"When the priest had left him I said thus: 'Whether you die or not is in God's hands! You are nicely prepared now, so lay ye down and go to sleep.' Says he: 'Very well, little mother,' and fell in a doze, and I too; as, not reproaching the Lord with it, I had not had a proper sleep for three nights. At the first crow my old man comes in and wakes me; thus we were both sitting there, and he still asleep. I says to the old man: 'Is he gone?' and he says, 'Happen and he is gone.' I pulled him by the hand; he opened his eyes and said: 'I feel better now.' Then he remained quite still for about five _paters and _aves_, and smiled toward the ceiling. This made me angry, and I says: 'Oh, you good-for-nothing, how can you laugh at my misery? But he only smiled at death, not at my misery, for he began breathing very hard, and that was all he did until the sun rose."

She began moaning again, and then invited us to come and see the body, as he was dressed already, and looked as beautiful as a picture. Aniela wanted to go at once, but I held her back; besides, the woman had already forgotten all about it, and began now lamenting her poverty. Her husband, it seems, had been a well-to-do peasant proprietor, but they had spent every bit of money upon their son's education. Acre after acre had been bought by the neighbors, and at present they had nothing but the hut,--no land whatever. One thousand two hundred roubles he had cost them. They had hoped to find a shelter for their old age with him at a parsonage, and now God had taken him. The old woman declared, with all the stoicism of the peasant, that they had already made their plans, and would go a begging. She seemed not afraid of it, and spoke of it with a kind of half-concealed satisfaction. She was only afraid the community might raise difficulties about the certificate, which, for some reason unknown to me, seemed to be necessary for the new profession. Hundreds of realistic details mingled with the calling upon the Lord Jesus, the Holy Virgin, and laments over the dead son. Aniela went into the house, and returned presently with some money for the woman. I arrested her hand; another idea, I thought good at the time, had crossed my mind.

"So you spent a thousand two hundred roubles on your son?" I said to the woman.

"That's so, please the gracious Pan. We thought when he got his church we would go and live with him. The Almighty willed it otherwise; no church for us now, but the church door" (place where beggars sit).

"I will give you the thousand two hundred roubles; you can buy some land if you like, and start fresh again."

I should have given it at once, but had not enough money by me; I intended to take it from my aunt, and told the woman to come back for it in an hour. She stared at me with wide-open eyes, without saying a word, and then with a cry fell down at my feet. But I got rid of her and her gratitude very soon, as she was in a hurry to be off to tell her husband the good news.

I remained alone with Aniela, who seemed moved deeply, and who repeated:--

"How good you are! how good you are!"

"There is not much goodness in it," I said in a careless manner. "I did not do it for these people I have seen for the first time in my life. I did it because you care for them,--to please you." It was true; they did not interest me more than any other people would in the same position, but I would have given ten times as much to please Aniela. I said it on purpose, as words like these said to a woman carry a deep meaning. It is almost the same as if I told her, "I would do anything for you, because you are everything to me." And, moreover, no woman can defend herself against a tacit confession such as this, or has any right to be offended. I had disguised the meaning, treating it as the most natural thing in the world; but Aniela perceived the drift, and lowering her eyes in evident confusion, said: "I must go back now to mamma," and left me alone.

I am quite aware that in acting thus I introduce a disturbing element into Aniela's soul. I perceive, too, with surprise, that if, on the one hand, my conscience cries out against this wilful destroying of the peace of the one being for whom I would give my life, on the other hand, it causes me a savage delight, as if thereby I satisfied man's innate instinct of destruction. I have also the conviction that no consciousness of evil, or sting of conscience, will stop me. I am too headstrong to let anything stand in my way, especially in presence of that powerful, inexpressible spell she has cast upon me. I am now as that Indian who threw away his oar, and gave himself up to fate. I do not reflect now that it was my fault, that all might have been so different, and that I had only to stretch out my hand to secure the happiness I am now yearning for in vain. But it could not be otherwise. I have come to the conclusion that generations which had lost all vital power, have made me what I am; that nothing remains but to cast away the oars and let myself drift with the current.

This morning we three--my aunt, Aniela, and I--went to the funeral of the young cleric.

It was a strange sight, this village procession headed by the priest, the coffin on a cart, followed by a crowd of peasants, men and women who were singing a tune sad and weird as if set to some Chaldean music. At the furthest end, the men and women were talking to each other in a drawling, half-sleepy way. Going along, among the rowan trees, the procession came now and then into the glare of the sun, and then the kerchiefs flashed into flames of blue, and red, and yellow, which but for the coffin and the incense of juniper berries, made the procession rather look like a wedding than a funeral. Death does not seem to make much impression upon the rustic mind; perhaps they regard it in the light of an everlasting holiday. As we stood by the open grave, I noticed their faces following the ceremony with concentrated attention and curiosity; but I saw no trace of thoughtfulness or reflection at the inexorable end, after which begins the great, terrible Unknown.

I looked at Aniela as she stooped for a handful of soil to throw upon the lowered coffin. She was paler than usual, and with the sun shining upon her I could read the transparent features as an open book. I was certain she was thinking of her own death. To me it seemed simply monstrous, a horrible improbability, that this face so full of expression, so full of life and charming individuality, should at some time be stony white and remain in eternal darkness.

And as if a sudden frost had nipped all my thoughts, I grew suddenly conscious that the first ceremony I assisted at with Aniela was a funeral. As a person in long sickness, having lost faith in medicine, turns to quack doctors and wise women, so the sick soul, doubting everything, still clings to certain superstitions.

Probably no one is so near the gulf of mysticism as the absolute sceptic. Those who have lost faith in religious and sociological ideals, those whose belief in the power of science and the human intellect is shaken, that whole mass of highly cultured people, uncertain of their way, deprived of all dogmas, hopelessly struggling in the dark, drift more and more towards mysticism. It seems to spring up everywhere,--the usual reaction of a society whose life is based upon positivism, the overthrow of ideals, empty pleasures, and soulless striving after gain. The human spirit begins to burst its shell, which is too narrow, too much like a stock exchange. One epoch draws to an end, and then appears a simultaneous evolution in all directions. It has struck me often with amazement that, for instance, the more recent great writers seem not to know how very close upon mysticism they are. Some of them are conscious of it, and confess so openly. In every book I opened lately, I found, not the human soul, will, and personal passions, but merely fatal forces with all the characteristics of terrible beings, independent of personal manifestations, living alone within themselves, like Goethe's "Mother."

As regards myself, I too come near the brink. I see it and am not afraid. The abyss attracts; personally it attracts me so much that if I could I would go to the very bottom, and will some time when I am able.

 

28 April.

I intoxicate myself with the life at Ploszow, the daily sight of Aniela, and forget that she belongs to somebody else. Kromitzki, who is somewhere at Baku, or further still, appears to me as something unreal, a being deprived of real existence, something bad that might come down upon us, as for instance, death, but of which one does not think continually. But yesterday something happened to bring him before my mind. It was a small and apparently most natural incident. Aniela received at breakfast two letters. My aunt asked whether they were from her husband, and she replied, "Yes." Hearing that, I felt the sensation a condemned man may feel when they rouse him from a sweet dream in order to tell him to have his hair cut for the guillotine. I saw my whole misfortune more distinctly than ever before, and the sensation remained with me the whole day, especially as my aunt, quite unconsciously, of course, was bent upon torturing me further. Aniela wanted to put off the reading of the letters, but my aunt insisted upon her opening them, and presently inquired how Kromitzki was.

"Thank you, aunty, he is very well."

"And how are his affairs going on?"

"Thank God! he writes that everything prospers beyond expectation."

"When does he think of coming back?"

"He says as soon as he can possibly manage."

And I, with my sensitiveness, had to listen to these questions and answers. If my aunt and Aniela had started unexpectedly a quite improbable cynical conversation it could not have shocked me more. The first time since my arrival at Ploszow I felt something like resentment towards Aniela. "Have a little mercy at least, and do not speak of that man in my presence; do not return thanks for being asked after him, and say 'Thank God!' because he is prosperous," I thought. In the mean time she had opened the second letter, and looking at the date, said: "It has been written at an earlier date;" then began to read. I looked at the bowed head, the parting of the hair, the drooping lashes--and it seemed to me that the reading lasted very long. I thought what a world of mutual interests and aims bound these two together, and that for some indispensable reason they must feel that they belonged to each other. I felt that I had no part in it, and that by force of circumstances I should always be outside her life even if I won her love. Up to now I had felt the depth of my misery as one sees the depth of a precipice veiled by clouds. Now the mist lifted, I looked down and comprehended its whole extent.

My nature is so constituted that under great pressure it resists. Up to the present my love had not dared to ask for anything, but at this moment hatred began to clamor loudly for the abolition of merciless laws, those ties and bondages. Aniela did not read many minutes, but during that time I ran through a whole gamut of tortures, because other thoughts relating to my self-analysis and criticism were haunting me. I said to myself that the agitation, the very bitterness I felt, were nothing but the ridiculous characteristics of female ill-humor. How is it possible to live with nerves such as mine? If such a simple thing as a letter from the husband to his wife makes you lose your balance, what will happen when he himself comes to claim her?

I said to myself: "I will kill him!" and at the same time I felt the ridiculousness and folly of the answer.

Aniela having finished her letters noticed at once that something was amiss, and looked at me with troubled eyes. Hers is one of those sweet dispositions that cannot bear to see unfriendly faces, or live in an atmosphere of cold displeasure. This springs from a great tenderness of heart. I remember how uneasy she used to be when first she witnessed the disputes between my aunt and Chwastowzki. Now she was evidently ill at ease. She began to speak about the concert and Clara, but her eyes seemed to say: "What have I done, what is the matter with you?" I merely replied by a cold glance, not being able to forgive her either the letters or her conversation with my aunt. After breakfast I rose at once and said I was obliged to go back to Warsaw.

My aunt wanted me to stop to dinner; after which, according to our agreement, we were to start together for the concert. But I pleaded some business; the truth was I wanted to be alone. I gave orders for the carriage to be ready, and then my aunt remarked:--

"I should like to show some gratitude to Miss Hilst, and thought of inviting her to Ploszow for the day."

Evidently my aunt considers an invitation to Ploszow such a great reward that she doubted whether it would not be out of all proportion.

After a moment's pause she began again:--

"If I were quite sure that she is of a proper standing."

"Miss Hilst is a personal friend of the queen of Roumania," I replied, a little impatiently; "and if there be any honor, it will be altogether on our side."

"Well, well," muttered my aunt.

"You will come with us to the concert?" I said, turning to Aniela.

"I am afraid not. I shall have to remain with mamma; and besides, I have some letters to write."

"Oh! if it is a question of wifely tenderness I will not insist."

This ironical remark gave me a momentary relief. "Let her be aware that I am jealous," I thought; "she herself, her mother, and my aunt belong to those women of the angelic kind, who do not believe there can be any evil in the world. Let her understand that I love her, become familiar with the thought, troubled by it, and fight it. To bring into her soul a strange, decomposing element, a ferment like this, is half the battle. We shall see what will happen afterwards."

It was a momentary but great relief, and very much like a wicked delight. But presently, when alone in the carriage, I felt angry with myself and disgusted,--disgusted because I became conscious of the littleness of all I had thought and felt, based as it was upon overstrung and fanciful nerves worthy an hysterical woman, not a man. It was a heavy journey, far heavier than the one when after my return from abroad I went the first time to Ploszow. I was reflecting upon that terrible incapacity for life which casts its shadow upon my existence and the existence of those like me, and came to the conclusion that its main source is the feminine element which predominates in our character. I do not mean by this that we are physically effeminate or wanting in manly courage. No! it is something quite different. Courage and daring we are not deficient in; but as regards psychical elements, every one of us is a she, not a he. There is in, us a lack of the synthetic faculty which distinguishes things that are important from those that are not. The least matter discourages, hurts, and repulses us; in consequence of which we sacrifice very great things for small ones. My past is a proof thereof. I sacrificed inexpressible happiness, my future and the future of the beloved woman, because I had read in my aunt's letter that Kromitzki wished to marry her. My nerves took the bit between their teeth, and carried me where I did not wish to go. This was nothing but a disease of the will. But it is a feminine disease, not a masculine one. Is it to be wondered at that I act as an hysterical woman? It is a misfortune I brought with me into the world, to which whole generations have contributed their share, as also the conditions of life in which we exist.

The shaking myself thus free from all responsibility did not give me any relief. When I arrived at Warsaw I intended to call upon Clara, but was prevented by a severe headache; which got better towards evening before my aunt came up.

She found me already dressed, and we drove together to the concert, which was a great success. Clara's fame had attracted the whole musical and intelligent world, and the charitable purpose the aristocratic circles. I saw many people there I knew, among them Sniatynski and his wife. The concert room was crowded. But I was out of humor, and everything irritated me. I do not know why, but I felt afraid Clara's performance would be a failure. When she appeared on the platform a programme clung to the folds of her dress; I thought it would make her appear ridiculous. She herself in full evening dress seemed to me more like a stranger than a friend. I involuntarily asked myself whether it was the same Clara I was so intimate with. When the hearty applause had ceased she sat down to the piano, and I acknowledged to myself that she had a noble and artistic presence, full of simplicity and quite free of any affectation. On all faces there was the concentrated attention of people who have no understanding of art, but like to pass for connoisseurs and judges. She played Mendelssohn's concerto, which I know by heart,--but whether it was the thought that much was expected from her, or that the unusually enthusiastic reception had moved her, she played worse than I had ever heard her. I was sorry for it and looked at her with astonishment; our eyes met for a moment. The expression of my face put the final touch to her confusion, and I heard a few dim notes without force or expression. I was quite sure now she would fail. Never had the piano, with its lack of continuity, its sound smothered by the acoustic properties of the room, seemed to me a more miserable instrument. At times it seemed as if I heard the sharp, staccato sounds of a harp. Presently Clara recovered her self-possession, but upon the whole I thought she had played but indifferently. I was very much surprised indeed when after she had finished there rose such a storm of applause as I had not heard even in Paris, where Clara was received with exceptional enthusiasm. During the short pause, amateurs and professionals began discussing the music, and in their animated faces I read perfect satisfaction. The cheering lasted until Clara reappeared on the platform. She stepped forth with downcast eyes, and I who could read her face saw what she wanted to express: "You are very kind, and I thank you for it; but it was not good and I feel inclined to cry." I too had applauded with the rest, for which I received a passing glance full of reproach. Clara loves her art too much to be gratified by undeserved applause. I felt sorry for her, and should have liked to say a few encouraging words, but the continued cheering did not permit her to leave the platform. She sat down again and played Beethoven's Sonata in cis-moll, which was not on the programme. There is, I believe, no composition in the whole world that shows with the same distinctness the soul torn by tragic conflict; especially in the third part of the Sonata, the _Presto-agitato_. The music evidently responded to the tune of Clara's soul, and certainly harmonized with my own disposition, for never had I heard Beethoven interpreted and understood like this before. I am not a musician, but I suppose even musicians do not know how much there is in that Sonata. I cannot find another word than "oppressiveness" to describe the sensation wrought upon the audience. One had a feeling as if mystical rites were being performed; there rose before me a vast desert, not of this world, weird and unutterably sad, without shape, half lit up by a ghostly moon, in the midst of which hopeless despair waited and sobbed and tore its hair. It was terrible and impressive because so unearthly; and yet irresistibly attractive,--never had my spirit come in such close proximity to the infinite. It was almost an hallucination. I imagined that in the shapeless desert, in the dusk of a world of shadows, I was searching for somebody dearer to me than the whole world, one without whom I could not and would not live, and I searched with the conviction that I should have to search forever and never find what I was looking for. My heart was so oppressed that at times I could scarcely breathe. I paid no attention to the mechanical part of the execution, which no doubt was as perfect as the expression.

All in the room seemed under the same spell, not excepting Clara herself.

When she left off playing she remained for a moment with uplifted head and eyes, lips slightly parted, and face very pale. And it was not a mere concert effect, it was real inspiration and forgetfulness of self.

There was a great hush in that crowd, as if they expected something, or were benumbed by sorrow, or tried to catch the last echo of sobbing despair, carried away by a wind from the other world.

Presently there happened what probably never happened in a concert room before. A great tumult arose, and such an outcry as if a catastrophe were threatening the whole audience. Several musicians and reporters approached the platform. I saw their heads bowed over Clara's hands, she had tears on her eyelashes, her face looked still inspired, but calm and serene. I went with the others to press her hands.

From the first moment of our acquaintance Clara had always addressed me in French; now for the first time, returning the pressure of my hand, she said in German:

"Haben Sie mich verstanden?"

"Ja," I replied, "und ich war sehr ungluecklich!" And it was true.

The continuation of the concert was one great triumph. After the performance Sniatynski and his wife carried Clara off to their house. I had no wish to go there. When I reached home, I felt so tired that without undressing I threw myself upon the sofa, and remained there an hour without moving, yet not asleep.

After a long time I became conscious that I had been thinking about the young cleric's funeral, Aniela, and death. I rung for lights, and then began to write.

29 April.

Kromitzki's letters have stirred me to such a degree that I cannot get over the impression. My unreasonable resentment towards Aniela is passing, and the more I feel how undeserved was my harshness, the more contrite I become, and the more tenderly I think of her. Yet more clearly than ever I see how these two are bound by the power of a simple fact. Since yesterday I have been in the clutches of these thoughts, and that is the reason I did not go to Ploszow. There I am obliged to keep watch upon myself and to put on an appearance of calmness, and at present I could not do it. Everything within me--thoughts, feelings, nerves--has risen up in revolt against what has been done. I do not know whether there can be a more desperate state of mind than when we do not agree with something, protest with every fibre of heart and brain, and at the same time feel powerless in presence of an accomplished fact. I understand that this is only a foretaste of what is awaiting me in the future. There is nothing to be done,--nothing. She is married, is Pani Kromitzka; she belongs to him, will always belong to him; and I who cannot consent, for to do so would mean losing my own self, am obliged to consent. I might as well protest against the earth turning round as against that other law which bids a woman stand by her husband. Does this mean that I ought to respect that law? How can I submit when my whole being cries out against it? At moments I feel inclined to go away, but I understand perfectly that beyond this woman the world has for me as much meaning as death,--that is, nothingness; moreover, I know beforehand that I shall not go, because I could not muster strength enough to do so. Sometimes I have thought that human misery goes far beyond human imagination,--imagination has its limits, and misery, like the vast seas, appears to be without end. It seems to me that I am floating on those seas. But no,--there is still something for me to do.

I read once, in Amiel's memoirs, that the deed is only the crystallized matter of thought. But thoughts may remain in the abstract,--not so feelings. Theoretically I was conscious of it before; it is only now I have come to prove it actually on myself. From the time of my arrival at Ploszow until now, I have never clearly and distinctly said to myself that I wanted to win Aniela's love, but it was merely a question of words. In reality I know that I wanted her, and want her still. Every look of mine, every word, and all my actions are tending that way. Affection which does not include desire and action is a mere shadow. Let it be understood,--I want her. I want to be for Aniela the most beloved being, as she is to me. I want to win her love, all her thoughts, her soul; and I do not intend to put any limit to my desires. I shall do everything my heart dictates, and use all means my intelligence sees most efficient to win her. I shall take from Kromitzki as much of Aniela as I can; I shall take her from him altogether if she be willing. In this way I shall have an aim in life; shall know why I wake up in the morning, take nourishment during the day, and recuperate myself in sleep. I shall not be happy; for I could be happy only if she were exclusively my own, and I could crush the man who had her before me. But I shall have something at least to live for. It will be my salvation. And this is not a resolution taken upon the spur of the moment; it is only a translation into words of all the forces that work within me,--the will and the desires which belong to the feeling and make an indivisible part of it.

I throw all my scruples to the winds. Even the fear that Aniela might be unhappy loving me must give way before the great truth, great as the universe, that the presence of Love fills the life; gives sustenance to it, and is a hundred thousand times worth more than emptiness and nothingness of existence.

Thousands of years ago it was known to the world that virtue and righteousness alone give power to life; that emptiness and nothingness dwell in the realm of evil. The moment when that dear head rests on my breast, when the beloved lips meet mine, truth and goodness will be with us. In the midst of doubts which crowd my brain, that one truth shines clearly,--of this I can say I believe in it. At last I have found something certain in life. I know perfectly what a gulf there is between my belief and the small conventional moralities created for every-day use. I know that to Aniela it will be a strange, fearsome world; but I will take her by the hand and lead her there, because I can tell her with sincere conviction that there are truth and goodness.

I find great solace in these thoughts. The greater part of the day passed miserably enough, because of the consciousness of my impotency to overcome the obstacles that stand in our, mine and Aniela's, way. The thought crossed my mind: "Suppose, after all, she loves her husband?"

Fortunately for me, a visit from Doctor Chwastowski interrupted my train of thoughts. He had come from Ploszow to consult with one of the physicians who at some time had attended Pani Celina. Before going back he had come to see me. He said Pani Celina was still neither better nor worse, but Pani Kromitzka was confined to her room with a severe headache. Then he began to speak about Aniela, and I listened with pleasure, as it seemed in some way to make up for the loss of seeing her. He spoke intelligently enough, for a young man of so little experience. He said he had made it a rule to look mistrustingly upon mankind in general, not because he thought it the right point of view, but because it was the safest. As to Pani Kromitzka, he was quite sure hers was a nature of exceptional goodness and nobility. He spoke of her with a scarcely disguised enthusiasm, and I had some suspicion he felt more than admiration for her. But this did not trouble me in the least; there is too great a distance between her and this young medical student. On the contrary, I felt pleased that he appreciated her, and asked him to stop as long as he could; his presence did me good, as it kept me from thinking.

In the course of our conversation I asked about his plans for the future. He replied that first he must save some money in order to go abroad and see something of foreign hospitals; afterwards he intended to settle at Warsaw.

"What do you understand by settling at Warsaw?"

"Work at some of the hospitals, and a possible practice."

"And then you will get married, I suppose?"

"I suppose so; but there is plenty of time for that."

"Unless you meet somebody that subjugates your will; as a doctor you know that love is a physiological necessity."

Young Chwastowski wants to show himself off as a sober-minded man above human weaknesses; so he only shrugged his broad shoulders, smoothed his short-cropped head, and said: "I acknowledge the necessity; but do not intend to allow it to occupy too large a space in my life."

He looked very knowing, but I replied gravely: "Considering somewhat deeper the question of feeling, who knows whether it be worth while to live for anything else?"

Chwastowski pondered over this a little while.

"No," he said, "I do not agree with you. There are many other objects in life,--for instance, science, or even social duties. I do not say anything against matrimony; a man ought to marry for himself as well as to have children. But matrimony is one thing, and continual love-making another."

"What is the difference between them?"

"The difference is obvious, sir. We are like ants constructing an ant-hill. We have our work to do, and not much time to spare for love and women. That is all very well for those who cannot work, or who do not want to do anything."

Saying this he looked like a man who speaks in the name of all that is strongest in the country, and expresses himself well. I looked with a certain satisfaction at this healthy specimen of mankind, and acknowledged that, except for a certain touch of youthful arrogance, he spoke very sensibly.

It is quite true that woman and love do not occupy a large space in the life of those who work, and those who have before them great undertakings and serious aims. The peasant marries because such is the custom, and he wants a housekeeper. There is very little sentiment in him, although poets and novelists want us to believe the contrary. The man of science, the statesman, the leader, the politician devote only a small part of their life to woman. Artists are exceptional. Their profession brings them in touch with love, for art exists through love and woman. Generally, it is only in rich communities that woman reigns supreme and fills the life of those who have no serious work in hand. She encompasses all their thoughts, becomes the leading motive of their actions, and the exclusive aim of their exertions. And it cannot be otherwise. There is myself for instance. The community to which I belong is not as rich as others, but personally I am rich. These riches prevented me from doing anything, and I have no fixed aim in life. It might be different had I been born an Englishman or a German, and not been handicapped by that _improductivite Slave_. No one of the compound active principles of civilization attracts me or fills up the void, for the simple reason that civilization is faint and permeated with scepticism. If it feels its end is drawing near and doubts itself, why should I believe in it and devote to it my life? Generally speaking, I live as if in mid air, with no firm hold upon the earth. If my disposition were cold and dry, if I were dull of mind or merely sensuous, I could have limited my life to mere vegetation or animal enjoyment. But it happened otherwise. I brought with me into the world a bright intellect, a luxuriant organism, and vital powers of no mean degree. These forces had to find an outlet, and they could find it only in the love for a woman. There remained nothing else for me. My whole misfortune is that, as a child of a diseased civilization, I grew up crooked; therefore love, too, came to me crooked.

Simplicity of mind would have given me happiness, but what is the use to speak of it? The hunchback, too, would be glad to get rid of his hump, but he cannot, because hump-backed he came from his mother's womb. My hump was caused by the abnormal state of civilization that brought me into the world. But straight or crooked, I must love, and I will.

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