FROM THE SAME TO THE SAME.
|A Fellowe and his Wife||
THIS is the third letter to you I have begun within the past hour. The others are torn up as this may shortly be.Palazzo Malaspina.
How am I to tell you ? What am I to tell you? I would give --- oh, God knows what I would give to be able to avert this bitter pain from you.
Odo --- Odo --- you are still my best friend! Can you help me? No one else can. ---Oh, how am I to tell you ? What can I say ? I have had a terrible shock. But oh, the pain, the pain at my heart !
But you must know, and from me ; it is unavoidable. Gladly would I bury it all, and forget it, and Rome, and all that has happened - but I cannot, I cannot. I could never respect myself ; no, I could never even see you again if I were to be silent upon this misery I have brought upon myself.I will try to tell you all.
You will see I shirk nothing when I tell you at once that the past week --- till yesterday ---has been, no, I could not even then call it the happiest, and yet I have no other word for it unless I say the most thrilling week in my life. I rose each morning as if the world were a beautiful dream, and it needed but the exercise of creative will on my part to make it a reality. From the outset I made such progress with my sculpture that I was almost startled at what I felt within me, at the new and triumphant power that seemed to be shaping every thought in my mind and guiding every touch of my fingers. Even when I was not working, the hours passed as though they were minutes. We went everywhere toether; we were always together. I saw none of my friends, and even Lilien R÷hrich left me undisturbed when she perceived how preoccupied I was. In the evenings we strolled to and fro beneath the ilexes of the Accademia Fontana, and talked of all things, and above all of our work, and what we were to do, and alas ! of Paris, and what lay awaiting us in the near future, all unseen and unguessed even. Sometimes he came home with me, and we spent hours reading Ahasuer, and imagining some illustrations and outlining others.Yesterday I went to his studio as usual Vanni was at the door. He asked me if Il Tedcsco were ill or angry, because he had told him to go away, to return towards evening. I said a few kind words, and arranged a sitting for next day, and then went in. He was singularly reserved, and after our greetings were over I began my work in silence. A little later I heard a curtain drawn, and looked round. There I saw a bust of myself, though in every way beyond me in its strange beauty. It was Rhodope. On the floor lay the fragments of what had been Phaon. "That clumsy Vanni did it, Ilse, but it does not matter. Here I am, 1, your Phaon. Which is it to be ? Shall we go to our Syracuse, or do we stay in this Corinth, and " ---and he pointed to the broken bust and strewn fragments ---"and you are responsible for this!" I cannot tell you what happened thereafter. God knows with what pain you have already guessed it all. And I spare you what I would fain spare myself in remembrance.
I was swept away by his burning words, by his golden promises, by the rapturous hope and passion in his eyes. And oh, Odo, I did love him. Forgive me, but I cannot keep it from you. It, may not have been the deepest, the truest love; it may all have been fore-doomed to failure; I cannot say,---I know nothing, ---for I am blind and deaf and dumb in my misery.
Before I left the studio I had promised to go away to Paris with him; to begin a new life there ; and to forget that I had ever been Ilse Jaro--- no, I dare not say it --- to forget that I had ever been the Ilse whom you and the dear ones in that distant, distant north had loved and trusted.
I would not let him go out with me. I wanted to be alone.
When I reached the corner of the Vicolo da Tolentino I saw a woman standing, waiting forme, watching me. It was Lucrezia Mallerini. In a moment, in a flash, it came to me with sickening dread, and yet I know not also what sudden exaltation, that she was the messenger of Soni˛s. Never, never, never for Rhodope, the faithless wife, that future of which she had dreamed.
No one meeting us would have guessed the dreadful thing that was all about us. Her eyes flamed at me out of her white face. We did not speak, but walked on together.. There was no need to speak --- till we were in my room,
The first thing she said to me when we entered, and I had closed the door, was : Now, will you listen to me?" I had guessed her secret before this, of course; deep down in my heart I suppose I have known it ever since Christmas. "What is it you want with me?" I demanded. Her answer was another question : "Why have you refused of late to see me? Why did you return my letter unopened ? " I looked at her steadily, before I spoke again I suppose you loved him, and now hate him because he loves me."
She flung some letters on the table before me, and with a harsh laugh said: "You fool, you believe, no doubt, that he loves you as he has never loved any woman? What is it he wants with you ? is it to be Sicily, or Venice, or Vienna, or Paris ? " When she added bitterly, " He always spends these visits at one of them, Paris preferably." I think that if I could have killed her by my will, I would have done so then and there.
I laughed at her ---told her that she was utterly mistaken if she thought she could come between us ; and said I know not what other wild and wicked and foolish thing.
Lucrezia stared at me. "Do you know," she said at last, slowly, "if I thought there were the faintest chance that you two should still go away together, I should kill him --- or you. I did not answer, and she went on. It would be needless to tell you what all men know of him, what even your good friends the Heideloffs, can verify; but I shall speak to you of two women whom he has ruined. Nay, you must listen ; yes, though you should die in the listening. You have doubtless heard the name of one, Olivia Czlcmka, the wife of the Polish patriot. The usual end came ; the place, in her case, was Paris. Isidor Czlemka, who had forfeited everything for her sake, shot himself. I forget how long it lasted ; it does not matter. As for her vicissitudes, after she was left to face shame and disaster, they were not much worse than might be expected ; that is, for a time. Then she sank, plumb down into the depths; and in Paris, ---well, in Paris the depths have no bottom."
When Lucrezia stopped and drew a long breath, I was sick with horror. Already some dreadful instinct told me that she was speaking the truth. I made a sign to her at last to go on, if go on she must. "Signora von Jaromar," and the tone of her voice terrified me, Signora von Jaromar, I tell you that Olivia Czlemka was, when she first came to Rome, my dearest friend. And now I have to confide to you the story of another woman. She is, perhaps, the most mad fool of all, for she loves him still. Do you know what he is ? He is, as the great sculptor, one of the best of men: all that is good in him comes out there. As the man of the world, he has a heart that is as a corpse, that can neither see, nor hear, nor feel.
"This woman was the betrothed wife of a Neapolitan count. But, for his sake, she broke off the marriage at the last moment. Her father died ultimately, broken-hearted. Before he died he saw her married to the wealthy Florentine, the sixty-years old merchant, Paolo di Paoli. But in the second year of her marriage she met him at Bagni di Lucca. She never went back to Florence, nor to the old man who cursed her to the last. He took her to Venice. It was the happiest year of her life, Yet not a year, because before the end of it he had tired of her. He is nearly always kind and gentle, when it is to his pleasure. As a gentleman---it is he who calls himself so ---he prides himself upon his tact and forbearance. I suppose that when he struck this woman, in Milano, where she had followed him, it was because his self-possession had momentarily forsaken him in the shock of finding that a woman's desperation could survive insult and desertion. She did not die; she followed him no further. She did nothing heroic. She had a widowed sister at Bologna, whither she went. A year and a half passed. One day, on the occasion of a ball to celebrate a great national event, a Roman gentleman of high rank was struck by her beauty --- a beauty which, strangely enough, had grown and not waned since her Venice-madness. He saw her again and again ; and, in the end, he married her. To this day he does not know but that he married the unmarried sister of the widowed Lucia Vescovi of Bologna.
"They went to live in Rome. She was almost happy again. She had a child, but it died. Before its birth she met him again. He had settled in Rome. She was fool enough to believe that at least a friendship might between them. He told her --- and perhaps it was true ---that he was ashamed of his past that he was going to devote himself absolutely to his art ; that he had great dreams and high hopes ; that his manhood was to redeem his youth.
" But the end was just the same : of course, his passion was born anew. He said that it had never perished, but he lied. And she ---what would you ? She had never loved any one else. After a time her husband grew suspicious of his sculptor-friend. He waited his opportunity ; and found it. Then there was a duel. But before this" --- when she had gone thus far, Lucrezia abruptly stopped. I knew quite well now what she was about to say, but I waited.
"But before this happened, Ilse Jaromar," ---and though her voice was like the hissing of a serpent, it seemed to me to resound deafeningly from every nook and corner "b-fore this, he found that he could again treat Lucrezia Mallerini with insult and neglect and mockery and even brutality; and why? Beause you had come in his way. I stood between you and him, therefore I had to suffer; and now you, who have in mind and word at least betrayed your husband, what are you going to do ? Is it to be Venice or Paris over again ?
But enough, Odo. I have forced myself to write every burning word thus far, but now I may spare myself ---and you. I did not doubt for a moment. I knew it to be true. The letters she thrust into my hands I read mechanically yet understandingly; shameful, selfish, horrible letters. There was one ---not to Lucrezia, but to that other woman ; I don't know why it came to be there; she was an artist too, I saw --- wherein be used the same words of love, urged almost the same pleas, as he had done with me.
I grew sick with the horror of it all. Perhaps it is that women of the North are different from those of the South ; but I could not unbend, or give way either to my shame or to my agony of sorrow swallowed up in passionate indignation. I said to her simply that I did not love this man; that, before God, I would never speak with him again, not even look at him if it were, in my power to avoid even that degradation. She believed me. She burst into a passion of tears, I could not have wept one tear though my soul's redemption had depended thereon. But at last she rose. Before she said farewell---for we shall never see each other again, never, never--- she asked me when and where he and I had arranged to meet that evening. I told her. It was under the shadow of the ilex avenue, beyond that hateful Accademia Fontana with its treacherous whispering music. "And you will not go?" were her last words.
And now, Odo Jaromar --- Odo, my best friend --- Odo, who have given me your honor, that I might slur it ; your name, that I might shame it ; your trust, that I might shatter it here, now, all is at an end between us.
It would have been simpler to have sent you, as I at first wrote, the briefest line, but I could not, coward though I was and am. Perhaps another woman would have sent for you, told you something or all, and thrown herself upon your forgiveness! As you well know, the Ilse whom you once loved is not such a woman.
I give you back your name. I have never been worthy of it. Now, I would not bear it though you were dead and it were mine whether I would or not.
I shall be here a little time yet, for I am not well. Then I shall go away, to England, I think. No one shall know my name or whereabouts except my father. It is the one thing I ask of you, do not let him know all.
And so, now, all is at an end. Our hopes ---but no, there is no "ours " for me any more. You called me --- not long ago, though God knows how long aoo it seems to me now ---a child, a foolish girl. There is no longer any girlhood in the broken-hearted woman who writes this letter to you.
And so, once more good-by. Perhaps you will think it only too characteristic of me when you see that my last wish is ---not for you, the noblest and truest man I have ever known or shall know, but for those with whom I have sinned---that further evil and misery may not come out of this thing. More I cannot suffer, for the agony is not of the body.
After all, let my last wish be for you. There is one near you, a bright, beautiful, and pure life. Is it not a worthier one for YOU than ever mine could have been ?
I am very tired.