XVI

FROM THE COUNT TO THE COUNTESS VON JAROMAR.

Jaromar,
  December 18 .

A Fellowe and his Wife

DEAREST ILSE:

Margot will remain. I regret not to be able to meet your wishes, but the "wind-blown thing " has taken root. As to the question of propriety, whether it is, as you say, seemly" for her to be here, I broke into Homeric laughter " at the inconceivable naiveté of this solicitude --- for us --- on your part. I don't pretend that it was happy mirth or lasted long. But pardon me for retorting that your request is, under existing circumstances, deliciously droll, and I should be considerably more amused by it if it did not also make me sad --- and savage.

Where was your sense of humor wandering when you wrote this letter ? Surely that, if nothing else, ought to have prevented it. Consider, Ilse. Shall there be liberty, equality, fraternity, for you and your satellites, and none at all for Margot and me ? Since when has so obsequious a. regard for conventionalities dwarfed your judgment, your courage, and, pardon me, your generosity ? And if Charlotte Bodenfels is the guardian of our honor and domestic peace, our counselor and guide, perhaps it would be instructive for you to know what tales she has sown broadcast over the country, obtained from some correspondent in Rome who saw you, at the Hotel d'It Ialia, and apparently concentrates all her energies upon chronicling your movements, real and imaginary. I have not sullied your ears with these things. I did not care enough about them to resent them. A beautiful woman alone must always be a mystery, and while envy traduces what she does, it longs still more to annihilate what she is, her inherent charm, her very existence, for therein lies her real offense. There is nothing surprising in the fact that they find your ways problematic and incomprehensible, and that they discover impropriety in all that you do, in what is good and innocent, as well as in that which is equivocal. For this I am prepared, but scarcely that you, reveling in your own " freedom," should desire to restrict mine.

Ah, Ilse, recrimination is not good between you and me. No doubt I am, as usual, taking things too seriously. You don't really care much about anything that happens here. I might as well expostulate with a humming-bird. Why should I find fault when neither my praise nor blame, my warnings nor entreaties move you, and by the time this reaches you, you will have completely forgotten your scruples about Margot, due indeed to but a passing mood? They would never have been uttered, I know, had you had the faintest conception of the real state of affairs.

You consciously and deliberately dare the world's prejudices. I have said, and still say --still, Ilse --- that you have a right to do this, to seek your own, to select your own pursuits, to be yourself, to be " free." But Margot is different. If I could command your attention long enough, I would try to show you how. She has no theories, no aims, no longing for liberty. She is so simple that it does not even occur to her that she has not freedom enough. She d oes not defy or dare anything. She is an old-fashioned girl, a home-child. Fate deprived her of one home and gave her another. It would be a dastardly thing to turn her off because old fools like to chatter. The sea gave her to me. That night I seized her myself and dragged her into the boat, and afterwards, when we found that there was life in her still, Malte and I drew the little thing away from her dead father and mother, and brought her up here, and I carried her in my arms across my threshold.

And here she shall stay as long as she likes. Not even for, you will I send her away, and whoever harms her has to reckon with me. But be very sure, nobody will harm her. That she is a lovely girl, seventeen years old, I and others having eyes perceive ; but also that she claims in a peculiarly sacred way the protection of my house.

In the village, where the little " Ma'm'selle" is as welcome as sunshine; among my guests, who only see her flitting by, but accord to her the deference due to a daughter of the house, no one is so careless as to forget under what circumstances she was tossed upon our shores. And, Ilse, dearest, this you will have to concede, it is not Margot's fault, or mine, that there is no chaperon for her here. It would break her heart to know you wished to send her away, for she worships you. She contemplates your picture with mute and tender adoration, such as she gives her own Sainte Marguerite. Every day she brings you offerings of fresh flowers, and I suspect she says her prayers to you. Poor little benighted girl, how can she!

 

ODO.

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