A Fellowe and his Wife

VII

FROM THE COUNTESS TO COUNT VON JAROMAR.

Palazzo Malaspina,
                 November 20

    

OH, Odo, how am I to answer your letter! A hundred things to say flash through my mind, and I cannot utter one ! By turns you draw me irresistibly and repel me --- make me feel that the world were well lost to be with you, and that never, never, never can we live together in that ideal friendship of which we have both so often spoken. What is it --- oh, what is it? why do you make it so difficult for me ? for it is you, you, Odo, who are causing all this misunderstanding, and not I. Oh, Odo, my dear friend, my best friend, there is such a pain at my heart! No true woman could read a letter like yours, and not feel proud of such love and abased at her own unworthiness of it. All my life seemed to go out to you at certain words. I am only your foolish Ilse, and I cannot tell you what I feel in my heart. I can only say that though my eyes are too dry now after my tears, there is, as it were, something worse at my heart, weeping and sobbing.

Odo, if your letter had been in the I same strain throughout, I think ---I think ---I don't know what I think --- perhaps I would have telegraphed to you to come to Rome ; perhaps I would have left everything and every one here and fled northward with but one thought -to reach Jaromar, to be with you, to hear from your lips what is in your heart, to be like one of our northsea fishermen, after long voyaging, dumb from sheer gladness to be at home again, merely to sit still, in utter content, realizing only, " I am at home --- home at last."

But then --- but then --- you say words which chill me inexpressibly. I can hardly explain, I fear. You will think me foolishly sensitive, reading into your words what is not there. But something in me resents something in you. There, I have said it. Is it too harsh and crude? Do not mistake me, my friend; I do not mean that there is something between us that must of necessity keep us apart ---that there is anything to justify your assertion, so emphatically and confidently made, that I do not love you. But, with all your courteous, nay, your chivalrous regard for me and my position, you unconsciously write, now and then, in a tone that I deeply resent. When you allude to my passionate desire for independence, for free scope for my art-life, for individual development, you are generally the Odo Jaromar whom I have known so long, my dearest comrade, my best friend. But when you write to your "unwilling wife" --- they are your words, not mine ---and, in lordly fashion, say, "You want your prancings and caracolings, take them," then you are no longer that comrade whom I love, but Odo von Jaromar whom I have married, and who looks upon Ilse Jaromar as a very different person from Ilse Ilsenstein. Think of it, Odo, before you call me petulant or unreasoning. I am a woman, a proud woman, and, far short of my most moderate ideal of an artist as I am, I am yet sufficiently the artist to know that I have that earnest passion, as well as something of the power, to create, to work with heart, and soul, and brain, and hand, and every fibre of one's being. True, I wanted to come to Rome, but it was no whim that prompted me, no foolish caprice. I came to find myself artistically; I came to learn how to do the best that nature has put into my power to do. And then -then, you write, " You want your prancings and caracolings, take them." Merci, mon prince ! How generous! My dreams, my hopes, my aspirations, my studies, my glad toil, my renunciations even (for I have re-nounced, to serve my end, though you do not understand), are " prancings and caracolings." Moreover, I am not here to prance and caracole by my own right and will, not even by the disposition of Son Altesse le Bon Dieu, to quote your friend Boris ; but because my excellent and amiable sposo autocratically says, " Irresponsible creature, as it is your nature to prance and caracole, you may!"

You see that you have angered me. Yet displeasure is a little thing. But one short phrase in your letter gave me a chill, not of momentary resentment merely, but of dread. Dread, Odo, of you, of myself, of ourselves, of this marriage-bond with which we have linked ourselves one to the other. If you can tell me that the phrase ---a trivial little thing, you may think, to take so seriously --- was a mere slip, a second's unconscious irritation, I will gladly forget it. But otherwise ---well ---here are the words. You say, "What if I go to Rome and follow you about like a spaniel," and then you add, "even if I should attitdinize at ckurch.portals." When you said that, you insulted me, and you insulted my friend. Friedrich Herwegh may have his faults, but I do not believe he would say any such thing of you, were he to know you and have any real or imaginary cause of dislike.

Ah, I have half forgiven you! Perhaps more than half, you undeserving fellow! I was not going to read your letter again. I was going to forget everything in it that touched me to deep affection and admiration. I was going to be --- ah, you cannot imagine what a haughty and unbending and altogether objectionable Ilse, when suddenly down came a great tress of hair, and made that smear at the corner over my malicious last sentence ; and with it fell that amber pin you gave me a year ago. You know the one I mean ? The small round ball, as transparent as yellow wine, and with the tiny little fly preserved in it from time immemorial. You found the piece yourself, after a wild storm along our RUgen coasts, and had it made into a hair-pin for me. It was almost our first quarrel in a whole month -and what a delightful one it was I wanted you to have it as a neckerchief-pin you insisted it was to replace the beautiful ivory one I lost that day I fell among the bracken, after insisting upon looking at the hawk's nest you had discovered. Ah, what a fright I got when that fierce-eyed falcon almost dashed into my face ; and how in the most undignified fashion I fell back, stumbled, and disappeared into a deep sea of fern and how angry I was with you for laughing so uncontrollably, till I couldn't help joining, with the result that all the hawks in the neighborhood must have been frightened out of their wits.

And so that little amber pin --- I have kissed it, and put it in my hair again ---made me think of many things ; and I am quite sure that you are the best and kindest and noblest of all the Jaromars that ever lived, and that I am the most forgiving and delightful and lovable and deserving of all the Ilsensteins.

But I am not all smiles, though the frowns have flown. Your letter has made me ponder deeply. I am glad that we are so much at one.

Your affectionate

ILSE.