XIII

FROM THE COUNT TO THE COUNTESS VON JAROMAR.

A Fellowe and his Wife

Schloss Jaromar,
    December 7.

MY DEAREST ILSE:

I am going to ask you to cease your pretty poetic soarings for a while, and scrutinize more closely the somewhat miry ground beneath your feet. I have thus far refrained from expressing my opinion of your associates. In the first place, you have not requested it ; in the second, I shrank from the role of Cassandra. Then I trusted you boundlessly. You are clever, sensitive, and good. To such as you, slimy things do not cling.

"Wem Gott will rechte Bunst erweisen
  Den schickt er in die weite Welt,"

said the poet, and, I fancy, foresaw your case. Why should you not meet and know all sorts of people? You would inevitably be confronted with unpleasant experiences, but why not, I reasoned? Why should a woman not make the best of them and learn from them as a man does ---or at least ought? The time is past when we wrapped her in cotton-wool, and believed that if a breath of gossip blew upon her, her reputation was irretrievably tarnished. Only tinsel tarnishes so easily. Pure gold can bear rough handling. Reputations are happily nowadays less fragile and anæmic than formerly. They meet many ill-winds, yet remain strong, sound, and sweet. It is not, then, from motives of narrow conventional caution that I speak. This, I think, you will believe.

Ilse, little Ilchen, dear little girl --- you are so appallingly clever, you dance about so alluringly in your letters, you are so literary, so artistic, that I don't pretend to keep pace with you at all. Every moment the dainty kaleidoscope presents new colors and new forms. Yet one underlying truth is clear to me. You are, in spite of your cleverness, only a little girl, after all. This touches, comforts, and makes me anxious all at once.

I have to-day read and re-read all your letters. I have followed every step of your way in Rome, and considered you and your surroundings as unselfishly and as accurately as my mental machinery permits ---with this result : you seem to me a lovely innocent-eyed child smiling serenely at bandits.

You may retort that I am prejudiced. To a certain degree, I no doubt am. Let us discount that. You may even add that I am jealous. I don't pose for a disembodied spirit. I am a very human man thirty years old, and I love you. Hence certain incidents in your career do not have precisely the effect of a lullaby on my emotions. Let us discount, then, as much as you please for vague heavy discontent and suspicions, when not actual Othello-moods. But after all my limitations are deducted, there still remains in my favor a solid modicum of common sense upon which I base my remarks.

I don't like Herwegh. I didn't like him in your first letter, but I acknowledged your sovereign right to choose your friends. The Röhrichs and the Heideloffs are amiable non-entities, not a little selfish and cowardly, as are most out-and-out society people. They do not dare to tell you what they see quite clearly. They shrug their shoulders and say, "After all, why should we burn our fingers ? It is life, and Countess Ilse is not an infant-in-arms.  She would not thank us for interfering.    If she did not seek adventures, she would have CountJaromar with her." Forgive me, dear. You know what I think, but the world thinks otherwise. It does not respect your motives. It refuses to believe that you and I are loyal friends, although separated by two thousand miles. The world's opinion is in itself unimportant, but when one braves it tête baissée, as you are braving it now, one usually wants a good reason. However, it is not on account of the world or for my sake that I make this appeal, but purely to save you from annoyance, which it requires no gift of prophecy to see threatening you.

Your Mallerini ghouls do not disturb me. They stride about like gloomy stage-villains in mantles, doing a great deal of glittering eye-business, but not much else. If this inactivity pleases the noble Cesare under existing circumstances, that is his affair. I don't pretend to understand Italians ; but I understand Friedrich Herwegh uncommonly well. He is not playing a fair game with you. He cannot play a fair game with any woman. Perhaps he could once, but he cannot now. He has become altogether too picturesquely erotic. It is almost inconceivable that a woman who sees every flitting nuance in sunset clouds, every microscopic wrinkle beneath the lower eyelid of a beautiful visitor, should be blind to facts as conspicuous as the Coliseum. It may be the innate depravity of my sex that renders us more clear-sighted in this turbulent province of human affairs ; for, believe me, any man, the dullest, would have long ago perceived what you airily and blissfully ignore. Men's souls will require a sublimating process for a few centuries yet, before they arrive at woman's bland unconsciousness of evil. It almost reconverts me to the mediæval idea of woman's inability to stand alone. Badinage aside ---Ilse, dear girl, it makes me long to protect you, yet I know when once your attention is aroused, you will not need me, you will protect yourself. Not that there is any positive danger, but most assuredly there is the possibility of extremely unpleasant corn-plications. In fact, your conduct and your obliviousness invite them. They can scarcely fail to respond. Permit me one practical suggestion. Surely Herwegh's studio is not essential to your art work? I am aware, of course, that you are conventionally guarded there, that there are other students, but there is only one Ilse, and I know better than you what is passing in Herwegh's mind.

Dear, sweet, lovely, reckless Ilse, putting aside the fateful facts that you are a woman, after all, and my beloved wife, there are still other reasons why what I say ought to have some weight with you ; for if you were a man and my friend, if I cared for your happiness and remembered your youth, I should, without fear of offense, say, "Better not be too intimate with these people. They are slippery.  Honest men are better companions in the long run." So do not think me presuming, or arrogant, or "mannish," as you used to say so indignantly. If I were silent now, I should commit a crime. Sweetheart, don't go to Herwegh's studio. Don't flatter him so far. Don't encourage him. Of course I know, and you knew, it was he who filled your bower with roses. I may not like that much, because I don't like him, but it is, after all, a trifle ---a mere passing attention. Why then make a mystery of it ? You observe I do not say, "Avoid him completely." Why should you, indeed ? He is a good authority, and stimulating to your work. Use him, then, as an artist, but leave the man to his Mallerini and other flames. There, I have spoken, and plainly enough. Believe me, trust me, not because I am your husband, but because I would give my heart's blood for your happiness, and am your friend,

Your loving, loyal
                                                    ODO.

Dearest, could you not come home for Christmas ? May I not come for you, or meet you? You would not lose many days, and letters are wretched things, worse than ever just now. All would be sunny and clear again. And the joy! It takes away my breath ---the mere thought of it! And you could go back immediately. Will you not consider it in all its bearings ? Ah, Ilse Ilse come

 

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