|A Fellowe and his Wife||
January 29. ILSE, my poor Ilse, do you think I am not near you in your wretchedness ? Do you think I do not know ? Do you for an instant suppose that your pitiful last letter can be a revelation --- that I have been silent all this time because cheerfully occupied with riding and smoking and reading, and improving my farmers' and fishermen's minds with lectures and stereoscopic views ? Can you believe that I left you to your fate like a little rudder-less boat in an angry sea ? Dear heart --- no, I have not done that. I was stupid and unconscious too long, and afterwards I may have acted like a--- fool or a madman, but I did not desert you, even when I believed the worst. I was there. I came to you. I saw, heard, and understood for myself. I spoke face to face with that man. I did what I could. And when all was over, when I had satisfied myself that you were safe, then, although I had come so far, wounded to the death, believing I had lost you, mad for one word or look from you, though it were the last, not knowing what was still possible, but vaguely bent. upon rescuing you, if not for me at least for yourself; and although I saw you, Ilse, stood in the shadow opposite your palace and watched you sitting motionless and desolate at your high window, and my heart was torn with longing and pity and love, still I could not, I would not come to you. It is incredible, but something hard and implacable rose within me, a stubborn resentment for the suffering of months crowned by the torture of the final week. " Let her come to me if she wants me," I thought. "Let her seek me. Now it is her turn! ". And because I felt impelled to emerge from that black shadow, swiftly cross the dusky street and little distance between us, run up your palace stairway two steps at a time, enter softly without knocking, find you in your sadness and self-reproach, take you silently in my arms, and, without a word, let you feel that I comprehended, that no explanations were needed, that I loved you, and that we two together would brave all old and haunting memories, all pitfalls of time and fate in the future, and find strength and peace in our alliance ; that one could not abandon the other whatever came; because I felt all this, and more, a thousand times more, overpowering me like a hurricane, I turned and fled as if demons were pursuing. I got my things together, barely reached the late express, rolled myself in my rug in a corner of the carriage, glared like a demented person at all intruders, and it was only after I had been steaming northward for hours, that I came to my senses. Then I saw what a brute I had been. My heart melted like wax, and every instant, like a lost paradise, I saw that sweet, dark, still shape at the window ---an innocent and ardent woman in her remorse and self-abasement, whom I might perhaps have comforted and would not comfort, being stubborn and relentless. Be satisfied, I have atoned for it. I have suffered torments ever since for my lost chance. To think that I left my poor little Ilse alone, mourning for her broken idols!
But you will not understand. I must try to tell you the whole story. First, one word in reply to this heartbroken gallant letter of yours. Not in years can I answer it fully. My life shall be my real response. See, Ilse ; it was detestable of me to be in Rome without going to you, but it was this that I craved, this that has come ; a turning to me after evil days---a cry from your heart after long in-difference, the proof that you wanted and needed me; that was all, never mind in what words you put it, never mind what led to it. I was ready to die for you, but I could sue no longer for your love. Forgive me, Ilse. Some day you will better understand the heart of a man, and what a hot, pained, angry thing mine was that night, with a dumb sense of deadly outrage too, although never think you were to blame for that ---you could not have helped --- but we will speak of that later.
Tonight, as I look back, it is all like a wild dream : the rapid journey, the cities flying past, the excitement, misery, doubt, the shadowy Roman streets by night; and since my return, the strain and suspense of waiting here ---my soul's weal and woe in the balance for your first word which should show me whether your instinctive movement was to. ward me or awa from me forever. All that went before was child's play compared to this. Here was the crisis, the trembling, crucial moment, in which our day should dawn or sink into gloom. For if you had really loved him ---but this can wait.
You turned to me, to me alone, in your bitterest grief. You stretched your hands toward me with the old trust, and now it is still and solemn in my heart after the tumult. It is still here in my study. I hear the slow waves falling with a kind of muffled thud on the strand. I can begin to think like a sane man, and to remember the sequence of things, now that your letter has come and the heavens are opened.
It was the Rhodope letter that broke me down utterly. For weeks I had been struggling hard. It was bad enough from the first. There has not been a day since we parted that I have not had to hold myself with a powerful grip, ---like Baldur when he droops his head, takes the bit in his teeth, and wants to run, --- lest I should break away in spite of myself and plunge off wildly to Rome. Ah, Ilse, the theories are all good, the rights are incontrovertible, the old system was bondage and degradation, the new promises help and growth to humanity, --- but what a man loves he wants near, and when he longs to clasp his wife in his arms, he cannot still his heart-hunger with philosophy.
It was a prolonged purgatory. Telling myself you would tire of it sooner or later, I determined to bold out. I worked and hoped to gain strength, AntŠus-like, from the touch of mother earth, but my Jaromar soil and its interests could not appease my wild longing for that distant land where my love was radiantly happy without me. Oh, Ilse, you do not understand, no woman can understand, but there have been devils in me. Never mind, that is past.
How often have I pictured arriving in Rome, thought out in detail all the results, and resolved, cost me what it would, not to take this false step. For I knew too well that if I should suddenly appear, you would be all that was friendly, sunny, sweet and charming, if a little astonished and a trifle inconvenienced, and that after a couple of days I should become a positive nuisance, since nothing could prevail against your enthusiasm for art, and your indifference toward me and all else. Besides, Ilse, at first, for months indeed, in spite of your frank interest in Herwegh, I did not believe you loved him. I took him simply as another odious phase of the many-sided art-cult that was continually separating us, something to be temporarily endured like the rest. Not even your disclosures from Villa Mallerini (which you treated with amazing lightness, significant as they were) let me perceive that your interest in this man was other than ---but we shall have time for such things later.
Nevertheless with the villa letters, my fever of impatience and disgust mounted beyond endurance. It is easy to say now that I ought to have known. But the fact is I did not know. You see, Ilse, I was accustomed to think of you as invulnerable so far as love is concerned, and far away from love's inquietude : not cold, oh no, but --- unawakened. Never mind that now. I will tell you later what I thought.
Then like a thunderbolt descended upon me the Rhodope fable, which you related with maddening coolness and simplicity, --- child, child, How could you? It scattered my resolutions to the winds, opened my dull eyes, showed me with one flash what was yawning before you, while I, fatuous man with theories and principles, was more than two thousand miles away.
Then at least I lost no time, not an instant; as nuickly as was humanly possible I lessened that appalling distance between jaromar and Rome. But the trains crept like snails, and I was consumed with helpless rage and the worst forebodings. Ah, those nights rattling on miserably, the very jar and rumble of the machinery grinding out " Rhodope ! Rhodope! Rhodope!" while in brief moments of broken sleep, Rhodope, Phaon, Helicon, and Paris were mingled in a delirious jumble, and statues of men with snakes' heads reached out marble arms to seize a fair-haired child running on the wind-swept dunes of Jaromar.
Well, I got there at last. I sent my things to a hotel and went straight to you. I had no plans, no more theories. My whole being had concentrated itself in one fiery instinct to take you in my arms and carry you off, out of danger, away from the enemy, your enemy, my enemy, and to crush anything that got in my way.
I found the Palazzo Malaspina easily, remembering the streets well. I went up to your rooms, my heart beating with mighty throbs. The door was ajar. I walked in. There in that tranquil room, full of you, breathing you, I think I must have partly recovered my senses.
It was all dusky and sweet. There was a tall standing lamp with a great white shade. There were books, and over a chair hung something soft and white, ---a scarf or whawl. There were roses everywhere. All my fiolence was gone. "Ilse!" I said quite timidly, imploringly. No answer. I went on. There was another room, smaller---quite white---stiller. A lamp with a deep red flame hung on silver shains high in the corner before a clear-cut marble face.
Oh, Ilse, Ilse, if you could understand! It was like coming from hot hell into a shrine. It is stupid and hopeless to try to put such things into words, most of all for me, for I am never fluent. But perhaps I can show you a faint shadow of what moved me. I saw the things that meant you. I breathed your atmosphere. I had come so far, so feverishly, so full of passion and revenge. Here all was still and chaste. I knew it was like you, like your inner self. I don't know what I did. I kissed all the silver and ivory things on your dressing-table. I breathed all those indefinable odors floating like tender mercies bout me. Oh, I loved you so, and in one senseI hac never come so near to you. There were some loose faded violets on the table by your bed, and a tiny green morocco Imitation, with an odd volume of Heine and one little tan-colored glove, impatiently pulled off wrong side out. I waited ten---fifteen minutes, half an hour; you did not come. I paced your small serene domain and devoured everything with my hungry gaze. It is no use to try to tell you how it was with me, the memories, the fears, the hopes that would not die,---and still you did not come. Then I started out to find you, by no means calm and reasonable, but immeasurably civilized by the eloquent loveliness of your white nest.
Evenin my agitation I remembered your jesting words about the daring lover and the two entrances: I too came by one entrance and went by the other. I thought you were at Herwegh's, among the tall white forms which Vanni hated and I with him. I loved that splendid boy in your letter. It seemed to me he was the one healthy unspoiled soul you had met in Rome. I asked a chance somebody on the street where Herwegh's study was. The man knew, and even went amiably out of his way to guide me, telling tales to my unheeding ears of a wonderful newly discovered, tenor. I came to the place. Again I was frustrated and cooled. Everything was different from what I had anticipated. He was not there, you were not there. There was only a low light among the silent shapes ; and a dark, beautiful boy with wide-open eyes came forward to meet me.
"Where is the sculptor Herwegh ? " I demanded.
He stared at me long.
"Don't you like him ? " he said at length.
"No," I muttered. It was a strange boy, but what else could I say ?
"Then I will show you," he said gravely."I hate him too."
"You are Vanni ? "
"Yes, I am Vanni, and I hate him."
"Where is the lady ? " I stammered.
"There are several ladies," said the boy thoughtfully. " Do you mean the beautiful white lady that smiles ?"
"Yes, yes, that is the one I mean."
"Well, I don't know," he deliberated, " there are so many: the white lady, and the little red-haired one, and the other with the wide mouth, and the one that sings, and the fierce, sad lady that wants him all the time; but it is under the ilexes that he and the white lady often walk. Wait, I will show you. Come." Locking some doors, he slipped his hand confidingly in mine, and we walked on.
He liked me instinctively, you see, and I him, I suppose because we were both savages at heart; at last he whispered, "There they are ! " and left me.
A man, with a woman leaning on his arm, was passing slowly up and down. I stood motionless against a tree, watched, listened. She was tall and closely veiled; I could not see her outlines, for she wore some sort of long loose black garment. Nothing told me that it was you.
The man's voice was ironically good-humored. He was explaining, soothing, promising---lying, I would have sworn, although hearing at first no word.
They came nearer. The woman gave one assionate sob.
"Non Ú vero, non Ú vero! " she exclaimed, and her first tone released me from torture. Thank God! it was not your voice. It was not my Ilse, humbled, dragged down from her high estate, the plaything of a careless man.
I listened deliberately, greedily bent upon knowing what things meant, where you were, and what relation it all had with you. Once when a boy I was an eavesdropper, at first involuntarily; then, curious because my father was speaking of me, I listened intentionally some minutes, and hated and despised myself for it . afterwards, and was bitterly ashamed of my meanness. But this was different. I had no scruples, and I am not now ashamed.
I heard your name repeatedly, at first with nameless fear, but gradually I grew quieted, for not once did they speak lightly of you, although you were the central point of this dusky rendezvous. She knew that he was lying, yet she let herself be persuaded. She was so weary, so infatuated, that she felt grateful for their hollow, fragile reconciliation. Poor woman! I did not like the Mallerini in your letters. I regarded her as a stagey, obnoxious sort of person, and she is in truth rather torrid and melodramatic. But nevertheless she turns to him with most miserable doglike faithfulness, and that I understand. Although she knows him down to the core, although he has outraged her faith and trailed her ideals in the dust, she loves him ; and for her misfortune, for her pure affection amid impure chances, for the strong human-heart-note in her misery I pitied her so vastly, Ilse, I would have done anything to serve her. For a moment I even forgot you and me, it was so sad a thing to hear her.
She implored him to go away at once.
"Cesare," she said, "was terrible." Sometimes she was afraid he would kill her, and she did not want to die. Or there would be a horrible scandal; Cesare would divorce her if he could obtain one positive proof. Since the duel he had set detectives after her. Divorce would be a blessed release, only she knew Herwegh would abandon her if she trusted him, as he did before in Venice, and she sobbed and moaned and told him how miserable she was, until he grew vastly bored.
"Haven't we had theatre enough ? " he asked. "Besides, you know this has not the charm of novelty for either of us."
Thereupon she retorted angrily and assured him that whatever came he had lost you ; you would never see him again. You had sworn it. She reported the conversation between you practically as it stands in your letter. You cared nothing for him, she declared. You did not know how to love, you were too cold. You were only a sentimental German, in love with carving and yourself.
There's method in your madness, my poor Lucrezia," Herwegh returned with a slight laugh.
Then she relented, begged him to forgive her, but to go away, to go that very night. Things were too strained, she could not bear it any longer. Only gain time, avert Cesare's suspicions, and later all would be well again.
"But, my dear child, you know very well that I am going to Paris soon in any event. Why this ungraceful haste ? "
"To-night, ah ! to-night," she pleaded; " Cesare is in a horrible mood."
"You are far more afraid of the Countess von Jaromar than of Cesare, yet you say she will never look at me again."
"To-night, Friedrich, for my sake to-night," was her one reply.
"Well," he deliberated, " upon the whole, I will think of it. It might save a little awk-wardness, and one day is as good as another to them that love the Lord."
"Oh, thanks," she sobbed; "do you promise ? "
"Promise! Promise!" he repeated incredulously. O indestructible trustfulness of womankind ! She still has faith in my promise. Lucrezia, for this sublime weakness you shall be rewarded." Looking at his watch ---lf Vanni is still at the studio, and he is unless he has run away, which sometimes happens when I tell him to sleep there, I can send him in various directions and get ready in time, --- for really I cannot sail off on a cloud like Jove without any shirts, --- I will presently leave for Paris to-night."
The poor thing thanked him with passionate gratitude as if he had undertaken some heroic deed for her, clung to him wildly, and they parted.
She stood alone, tottered, leaned against the wall. I was on the point of following Herwegh, but I could not leave her like that, I went to her.
"Signora," I said, "I am Odo, Count Jaromar. You seem ill; command me."
She started and stared at me under the gas lamp.
"Yes, I am ill," she muttered, very ill."
"Can't I get a carriage for you?" I suggested.
She leaned her head against the wall and closed her eyes.
I waited --- silent, hearin, the monotonous splash of the fountain, remembering., you had listened to it there with him, and realizing you too had done this woman a wrong and added to her pain.
Presently, she said:
"Were you here all the time ?"
I thought it," she murmured. "I thought I saw a man's figure. But I am so nervous, I am afraid of shadows. I always see spies and listeners where there are none. I am not sorry that you heard; now she will believe doubly"
"If I cannot get a carriage for you, or be of any service, I will leave you now," I returned formally.
"You can do me a service, a great service,will you ?"
"If in my power."
"Take me home, into my husband's house," she proposed impetuously.
" I shall be glad to do that."
"Give me your arm; let us go," she said with strange animation.
"It is not too far ? I must see Signor Herwegh to-night."
"You will not hurt him! she cried.
"Why should I ? " I said coldly. " I have no cause.
"True" she sighed. After a moment, " Yes you will have time. It is not yet nine; he goes after eleven."
We went on in silence. I stopped a carriage, and we drove to her house. I wondered every instant where you were, if she knew, but I could not speak your name.
A carriage followed us closely. She glanced back nervously now and then.
At her door I turned to go.
"One instant," she murmured, --- for Heaven's sake!" then in a clear, penetrating voice, as somebody got out of the second carriage :
"I must really insist upon your coming in a moment, my dear count. My husband would be inconsolable."
I followed her. "Why not let her have her way?" I thought. " Everybody is against her. If anything I can do can help, she is welcome to it." I saw the moody Cesare. He was pointedly courteous. His smiling wife chattered unceasingly about you, your beauty, your talent, your sympathetic qualities, how she had enjoyed her long talk with you, how charmed she was to find me there, how good I was to bring her home. We two men listened gravely, and believed, I presume, one about as much as the other. Still my presence was a tangible reality, which Count Mallerini could not deny.
I may have remained five or six minutes, not longer. Then I drove to Herwegh's studio. Don't ask me what my intentions were, for I don't know. I had to see him, and I was seeking you. I don't know why I did anything that night, but nothing seemed to me at the time strange or unnatural.
Vanni opened the door and smiled as if he loved me. Herwegh was sitting at a writing-table strewn with papers. A bright light shone upon him, the rest of the long room was dim, the corners black. I saw the white shapes, and thought, "She loved it here, I will try not to hate it."
"Well," said Herwegh, turning impatiently, what is it now, Vanni ? I told you to have those things sent to my hotel."
Perceiving me, he gave me a quick, keen look, and came forward courteously with "Whom have I the honor?
I gave my name.
"I presumed as much," he returned affably.
I recognized you from the little bust on the countess' desk. I am very glad to meet you. May I offer you an arm-chair, and a cigar? Vanni, bring a bottle of Frascati."
I said nothing, I only looked fixedly at him. In my heart were a score of emotions in hot conflict, but ruling them all, a distinct impression that I must be cool or I should harm you. I presume I looked as I felt, hostile, for presently he said with a smile
Have you come all the way from the Baltic to shoot me ? Because --- Vanni, a candle on that upper shelf." Taking a small revolver from the table, he aimed with a neglient air and shot off the pointed tip of a plaster faun's right ear. This was stupid bravado ; but I confess it angered me.
" I have not," I returned icily but - allow me," and taking the revolver from his hand, I shot off the corresponding left ear-tip.
"A la bonne heure!" he exclaimed, smiling. "What can I do for you ?"
"For me, nothing."
"For my fair pupil, the Countess Ilse, then ? "
"For her, still less."
"Then since you come neither in war nor in peace, may I inquire what in, the devil do you want ?"
"Merely to accentuate the request of the Countess Mallerini that you leave Rome to-night," I replied, on the impulse of the moment.
He regarded me with extreme surprise.
"Upon my word," he began, "you know the Mallerinis already ? "
" I come from their house."
"But you must have only just arrived ?"
He surveyed me some moments with an amused, puzzled expression.
"You have evidently come to remain," he remarked reflectively. To this I made no reply.
"It is amazing. Why you should appear as special pleader for---for the other woman is what causes my confusion of ideas," he went on with unfeigned amusement. " Sapperment! it is as good as a vaudeville. But I will go. My friends in Rome don't want me, my friends in Paris do. Perhaps you will come to the train and see me off ? " he asked ironically. " I will, I should like nothing better." At this he laughed.
"Do you know, as an accent you are a suc-cess," he said, "you are impressive."
"What is the price of that bust?" I demanded. It was you, Ilse ---the plaster Rhodope.
"You speak as if it were a pair of shoes, my young Goth," he answered amiably. " That bust is not for sale, but if you will accept it at my hands---
I stood looking at it fiercely, helplessly, longing to destroy it, not trusting myself to speak.
Herwegh watched me for several moments. Suddenly he flung the lovely likeness on the floor. It lay at our feet in fragments.
"Will you accept it now ? " he said quietly.
"I thank you," I answered.
"See," he returned, "it is always better not to take things tragically. For the rest, the Countess Jaromar is a lovely, a singularly innocent and enthusiastic woman, a true artist-nature whom I"---
"You will lose your train," I interrupted.
"No, I still have time. I must be fifteen years older than you; take my advice and" ---
"I don't want it, I have no need of it," I broke out hotly.
" Perhaps you are right," he returned imperturbably. " Every man must stultify himself in his own fashion, --- you in yours, I in mine. It is an unlucky chance that we meet thus," he went on; "I should have greatly liked to know you better. You suggest half a dozen things I want to do, do you know. I shall not forget you, and I have to thank you for a particularly fresh experience this evening."
I asked where and when his train would leave, and turned to go.
"One word," he said hastily; "a droll idea just occurs to me. You do not suspect me, I hope, of anything resembling fear of consequences ?
"No man could think that of you," I answered with conviction.
"That is right," he said cheerfully. " Give the devil his due. I am not over-sensitive as to the bauble, reputation, but I confess I don't understand jests in regard to my personal courage. Au revoir, then, since you will not stay, and since I have a couple of letters still to write."
I was sorry to say good-by to Vanni. He looked at me wistfully. He was disappointed that nothing had happened. It seemed to him a very small performance for so tall and strong a man who hated Herwegh. I presume it was. Yet I cannot see that anybody's gore, Herwegh's or mine, would have helped matters.
I hastened back to the Palazzo Malaspina. There was now no light in your windows. I could not explain this, but waited, watched, until it was time to go to the train.
I saw Herwegh leave. He waved his hand and nodded in a debonair fashion from the window, and went off apparently with a tranquil conscience. It was very commonplace, yet all the elements of tragedy were there, as they always are everywhere.
This is the history of my evening, in Rome when I came to see only you, and fate led me to all these others and not to you. You know the rest, how I went again to seek you, and turned and fled. Your long letter has reached me to-day. And now trust me. Come. Tele-graph where I shall meet you. Think only that your old friend longs to comfort you. When we are calmer, after a long time---we will speak of all these things. We will help each other. There is no other life near me but your own, none that wants me, none that I want --- only you. Come to me, trust me, Ilse, beloved wife.