Part 4 out of 5
moustache under a small crooked nose - and in this face one sleepy eye;
the other had perhaps once been there, but now was lost.
"Are you Mynheer Van Vianen?" I asked in Dutch, which at the time I
still spoke with a pronounced Italian accent.
"No!" said the offensive father, without taking the cigar from his
"But you are the hotel-keeper at any rate?" I asked in a disagreeable
state of uncertainty.
"Yes," came the answer just as curtly, as though he wanted to say, "Are
you through soon now? Then we'll go to sleep again."
"But are you not then the father of Juffrouw Van Vianen, who lives in
"No!" said the man. "She has no father. She's a foundling."
I could have embraced the unsightly boor. His indelicate communication
seemed to me the happiest compliment and the gladdest tidings that I
could have expected from him. He could not know that his brutal
rudeness, which he in Dutch fashion seemed to take for lusty candor,
something like "I won't be bothered talking around the subject" - that
this rudeness was for me a blessing. The advantage of not being
descended from him he would indeed hardly be able to appreciate. I
breathed more freely; it was one of the loveliest moments of this
lovely day. The word "foundling" was for me like an opening blind in a
dark chamber of boorishness and provincialism, suddenly revealing a
vista of distant, mistily romantic perspectives. To be sure I had
comforted myself with the thought that the race can, at any time and
anywhere, bring forth geniuses through atavism; thus also in the family
of a Dutch provincial hotel-keeper, a womanly genius of noble grace,
charm and distinction; but this was after all much sweeter solace. With
a foundling one could presuppose noble ancestors of any nationality. I
too now found it unnecessary to talk longer around the subject.
"Then would you kindly tell Juffrouw Van Vianen that there is someone
who urgently desires to speak to her?"
The cigar now fell from the gaping mouth and the solitary eye also
opened perceptibly wider like that of a hippopotamus emerging from the
water. I was scrutinized a while.
"Urgently?" he growled, as though such a thing were most improbable and
"Hm!" said the Dutchman. He stuck the paper mouth-piece with the cigar
back into his mouth and shuffled back on his slippers to the out-house,
the while a remarkable stirring seemed to be going on in the brains
underneath the black cap.
A moment later Elsje came. This time she blushed deeply when she saw
me, although there was now really less reason for it than last time.
But I knew it was joy, for I also saw her eyes sparkling.
"Oh, is it you!" she said with restrained surprise. "Did you wish to
speak with me?"
"If it is convenient to you, Juffrouw Van Vianen?"
"Just step into the upper room. Didn't your French friend come with
"I crossed the sea alone. The other gentleman is a Hungarian, and not a
particular friend of mine either."
"Oh, good!" said Elsje, leaving me in sweet doubts as to what she found
We went into the upper room. I can remember a red table cover, cane
chairs, a crocheted cover over a tea-set, horrible steel engravings on
the walls. Everything lovely and adorable - what would I not give to
see it once more! But "de Toelast" has long since been rebuilt.
I felt somewhat embarrassed, yet not oppressed. I refreshed myself by
gazing quietly into her soft, bright eyes. I could see only the eyes
clearly. Whether the face was pretty or homely I could not judge. It
was too intimate, too beloved, too much a part of me.
"Did I guess rightly that you stood watching on the pier out in the
rain only on our account last Sunday?"
She nodded gravely. "Yes! I was afraid that you would be drowned. It
has indeed happened quite frequently that little yachts were sunk with
that wind blowing. And there was no way of saving them."
"Yes, we came off well. But how did you know that we were coming?"
"Well, I saw the people looking out from the quay and I realized that
there was a boat in peril."
"But would you have done it for any other boat too?"
Then she remained silent and looked at me long. I thought I saw a mist
gathering in her eyes. Her answer sounded timid, as though she dared
not say it or feared to be laughed at.
"I was uneasy all morning. The night before too. I have never felt so
strangely anxious. Only when I saw your face did I become tranquil."
"Then did you know my face? Had you dreamt of me?"
She shook her head. "Not that I know of. But yet I cannot say that your
face is strange to me. I have surely seen it before this." Then as
though to herself she whispered: "Where I do not know."
"You knew the Hungarian, didn't you? He seemed to know you."
Elsie laughed, the short clear laugh that has later so often made me
"Oh, he! - yes, he has been here before. He surely hadn't much good to
say of me."
"Quite the contrary!" said I. "He paid you a great compliment. He said
that you were unapproachable."
Elsje laughed still louder.
"How conceited these foreigners are. Especially these dark foreigners
who speak French. If you just treat them with ordinary civility they
think they can allow themselves anything. I cannot be careful enough
with these persons."
That was meant for me, I thought. I made a little bow and said:
"I thank you for your warning. I shall try my best not to foster any
illusions and to give you no cause for exercising caution."
She became so embarrassed that I regretted my words.
"Oh, you!" she said with charming emphasis and naive candor: "I really
didn't mean you! - with you I don't have to be careful - I saw that
"Who knows, Juffrouw Elsie! for I am one of those dark foreigners too,
and my Dutch is not yet quite irreproachable."
"You are no stranger to me," she said again, softly and earnestly.
I believe that we said nothing for a long time then, and gazed at each
other without finding it in the least embarrassing or oppressing.
We both felt as though the responsibility of our situation did not rest
with us, but with One who probably knew best in everything and in whose
keeping we were safe.
At last she got up, saying: "You surely want your room put to rights
again. It has not been used since you were here last and I saved your
"Did you know then that I would come back?"
"I thought you would."
"Did you hope so?"
"Yes!" she said artlessly.
This was so totally different from what other women I had known would
have replied, that it made me feel confused. I had no conception or
experience of woman's love that can dispense with playful dissembling,
and so thought that I was mistaken after all. I began to consider that
I was already quite an old man and she apparently about twenty years
younger. Perhaps I resembled some one she had formerly known; perhaps
she took me for her unknown father or sought in me a substitute for her
unengaging supporter. I prepared myself for all this, firmly determined
not to disappoint her.
"Will you do me the favor of being my guide about the city this
afternoon? It looks like such a pretty and attractive little town to
"I?" she asked with evident pleasure. "I'll be very glad to. But first
you must eat something."
"Will your ... stepfather have no objections?
Elsje smiled surprised and a bit scornfully.
"Who? - Jan Baars? - Why no! that makes no difference to him. He has no
authority over me either."
How thankful these proud words made me. Hastily leaving the room she
"I'll see that you get something to eat quickly. Then while you're
eating I'll get dressed and at three o'clock I'll go out with you."
And I remained behind, blithe as an angel and full of expectancy as a
child on his birthday.
When we went out she had dressed, and it was astonishing to see with
what simple means she achieved an appearance of tasteful distinction. A
round straw hat, a white standing collar, a well-tailored light gray
suit, a lavender silk tie - and she was a lady among the boorish and
bourgeois women of her town. For on the point of dress the artistic
Hollanders, as soon as they discard their quaint old national costume,
are probably the most tasteless people in the world, and of these the
women of a North Dutch provincial town are probably even the very worst
As we walked along the hot quiet streets we saw the residents peeping
at us through their wire window screens with amazed, well-nigh angry
"Do you see how we are being stared at?" said Elsje. "That will give
them something to talk about for a whole week again."
"And don't you mind that, Juffrouw Elsje?"
"Why, no!" said Elsje, with a pretty expression of power and personal
dignity: "I have taught them that I do exactly what I myself think
right. Now there isn't one left who dares accost me about it. It does
them no good, anyway. And what they say to each other I do not hear,
nor am I anxious to find out."
We went to the museum. It was silent, cool and deserted there. The
door-keeper sat nodding in his corner. Amid the relics of that old,
stout, merry people that, a few centuries ago, strove to surround their
earthly life with beauty and comfort here, amid the prints and
paintings of the graceful, gorgeous, flag-bedecked vessels; the
portraits of magistrates, charmingly elegant and autocratic, the
muskets and cuirasses and lances, the medals and placards, the rare
bibelots and the fine porcelain from the East and West brought together
in this little sailor's hamlet, we spent a few hours of profound
Elsje knew very little, but she was quick to understand, and she
listened to my explanations with such eager desire for learning, with
such rapt attention, with such unlimited faith in my knowledge, that it
made me feel confused and I begged her not to take me for an oracle -
for though I had indeed read much and seen a good deal of the world,
yet I was by no means a scholar such as is demanded in our days.
"Ah! I live in such a small narrow circle here. To me you are the
great, vast world," said Elsje with a charming deference.
When the daylight faded and it grew cooler, we wandered out through the
old, dark gateway up across the thickly wooded dike into the open green
fields, where we watched the sun setting in flame-colored majesty. We
walked to what is now my nursery, and I drew her attention to the
marvellous flight of the gulls soaring motionless against the wind, to
the colors of the sea and of the heavens, to the brightly-sparkling
Venus glittering greenish white against the rose-colored background of
the sky, and I told her all I knew.
Then I came back to our conversation of the morning.
"Have you often such forebodings as when I was approaching in peril on
"Yes, always when something important is going to happen to me, good or
bad, I know it before. It never fails."
"This time it was good, though, I hope?
"Yes, good," she said, smiling sweetly, "but alarming nevertheless. You
must not sail so recklessly again. Boats like your little yacht should
be in the harbor with such a wind blowing. Even all the fishing smacks
were in and they can stand quite a bit more rough weather."
"I was calm and assured. I knew that I would see you. I had dreamt of
you, of your face and of your name."
"Really?" said Elsje, looking straight at me with her frank, innocent
Before this look my heart melted with tenderness. I felt a desire to
kneel down before her and cover her hands with tears and kisses. But I
controlled myself, for I reflected that I was an Italian and that it
was a Dutch girl I had to deal with, and I did not want to risk my
fragile happiness by foolish extravagances. And there was a subtle
relish in this sobriety and this respectful self-control. But I wanted
to be honest too - my happiness must rest on a firm foundation of
uprightness - I wanted to make my position clear.
"Yes, really, Elsje; and yet I had never heard of you, and no one had
spoken of you to me. And now, tell me, had you never heard of me
either? Do you know anything about me? Do you know my name?"
"I saw your name in the hotel register. Otherwise I knew nothing of you
until I saw you."
"Really not? Also not ?"
"That I am married and have a good wife and four children?" I burst
out, almost roughly in my brave effort to spare myself nothing and to
risk the worst.
Elsje without starting gazed at me long, attentively and thoughtfully.
What I distinctly discerned in her glance was a questioning doubt and a
"A good wife and four children," she repeated softly, pensively. "I
thought that you were probably married. But you are not happy after
all, I know it."
"No, I am not happy, Elsje, that is true. Or rather - was not until
She asked nothing more after that, as though she thought that I would
probably myself tell her what I deemed necessary for her to know. But I
knew enough, and I also saw that she knew enough and we spoke no more
about ourselves that day. We felt as one does in dreams - one
understands and communicates without words.
I slept very little that night. With me also, well balanced in mind as
I am, sleep grows more elusive with the advancing years. But it is not
care, but happiness, that drives it away. I lay all night silent and
happy in a bright cloud of joy, thinking of her who now lay peacefully
breathing under the same roof. Then toward morning I had a short dream,
which by its dark terror gave me a measure for the brightness of my
joy. I dreamt that I was back in my office at The Hague and, coming
home, I found a letter containing my transference to Japan. My sailing
excursions, my little city, Elsje - it had all been a dream and I was
again deep in my old, gloomy life, worldly and yet estranged from the
world. My anguish was terrible, I cried and sobbed desperately and woke
up in that way, my face and my pillow now really wet with tears. And
then - the relief, the transition, the glorious realization of the
reality of my newly-found happiness, my dawning memory of yesterday's
beautiful day, of Elsje's winsome ways and the frank, fervent look in
her eyes, her ready sympathy and tender compassion. Only then I really
comprehended what had been given me. I was no longer a stranger in the
world - life, the sacred human life had won me back. I would not die
after all without having been entirely human.
At my solitary breakfast in the upper room, into which the sun was
shining, Elsje, amid the pressure of her domestic duties, stopped a
moment to greet me. I said that I had no time to sail back, but would
go home by train, leaving the yacht anchored in the harbor, to call for
it the following Sunday.
"That is well considered," said Elsje, with a roguish little laugh of
And at my departure I saw my peaceful, friendly little city, with its
venerable old church steeple, stretched out calm and sunny in matinal
activity. In front of the ugly, bare little station I turned, and
stretching out my hands I blessed the little city with all my heart,
murmuring in my glowing, passionate mother tongue:
"Benedetto sia 'l giorno e 'l mese e 'l anno
E la stagione e 'l tempo e 'l ora e 'l punto
E 'l bel paese e 'l loco ov' io fu giunto
Da duo begli occhi, che legato m' hanno."
"Dear Lucia, will you hear me a moment? I have something to tell you
and would like to have it off my mind before we go to bed."
We had just come home from a court banquet and in our gala dress stood
looking over the letters which had arrived that night. Lucia looked up
"Come to my room with me then," she said, and then regarding me: "It is
surely something good, isn't it? I haven't seen you in such good
spirits for a long time."
I followed her silently. When we were seated quietly I realized what a
vast abyss yawned between our two worlds and what a foolish undertaking
was the endeavor to bridge it. I spoke slowly -
"Yes, it is something good, something very good. But I don't know
whether I shall succeed in convincing you of that."
Lucia harkened attentively, and again and again I paused a moment, so
as to proceed with careful precision in my endeavors to bring about an
"So you have noticed that I am in better spirits now, or rather that I
am happier than I was. It is so and it proves to you that something
good has happened. I was not happy because there was something lacking
in my life, something that I can with difficulty explain to you. And
now I have found it, and it opens up for me a glorious prospect of
peace and rest, of the highest content that any human being can expect.
A vast sea, a calm ocean of peace and joy.?"
Lucia waited and listened intently.
"Let me begin by saying that I am profoundly grateful to you for your
faithful love, your care for me, for our children, our home. And also
this - that my affection from the day of our marriage until to-day has
never weakened, but constantly grown deeper. Will you believe me when I
tell you this?"
Lucia nodded mutely. But I saw the shadow passing over her pretty,
placid countenance and the frown contracting the white, still youthful
"If you have ever loved me and believed in me, I now call upon this
love and this faith. Does not love signify to desire the happiness of
the loved one and faith to believe that he himself can best know and
judge of this happiness??"
"Well?" said Lucia. "Where are you leading to?"
"Would it be possible for you to believe that it detracts nothing from
a great affection, nothing, nothing, to have a still greater love
complement it? Yes, that the power of a very great love even
strengthens and unites in us all other affections. Can you feel
something of the truth of:
'True love in this differs from gold and clay
That to divide is not to take away.'"
Lucia bowed her head and stared fixedly at her hands, which she clasped
together convulsively. The frown was deeper and a bitter expression
settled around her pretty mouth. Then she whispered hoarsely:
"Who is it?"
Now once and for all I saw the hopelessness of my endeavor. But I went
"First contemplate generalities, Lucia, and from those judge the
particular. Do you know the truth which I indicated? Do you disagree
with any one of the general facts that I cited?"
But she followed the train of her thoughts:
"Is it Countess Thorn?"
This was a well-known, mundane beauty who, it was said, had come to
live at The Hague on my account.
"What motive have you, Lucia, for being anxious to know the person that
gives me so much happiness? You care for me, don't you? What feelings
should one cherish toward some one who makes a beloved person happy and
does him good beyond measure?"
Lucia laughed, a short, scornful laugh of contempt. She glanced at me
swiftly and furtively.
"Come, Vico, make an end now with these miserable sophisms. I always
thought that you were better than other men. But I knew that this was
hanging over my head just as it threatens every woman. That you
disappoint me so now, you, that is terrible enough. But don't make it
worse by foolish self-deception of this sort and by childish nonsense,
as though I ought to be thankful to her who has destroyed my domestic
happiness. That only makes you sink still deeper in my esteem."
Only then I really felt the absolute impossibility of what I had
attempted. But I did not regret it and I resolved resolutely to
persist. It was essential to the clearing of my life from falsehood at
which I had so hopefully begun. I did not answer directly, and she went
"I appreciate it, Vico, that you immediately speak to me about it. That
is what I expected of you as a gentleman. But then do speak openly and
loyally too, without these wretched sophistries. Tell me what I have a
right to know. Tell me who it is. Let me know what I have to hope and
to fear. Tell me ? how bad it is. Say it as directly as possible, so
that I may know whether it is but a passing infatuation or ... worse.
That I may know what awaits us - we ... and our children."
At these last words her voice began to tremble and the tears came.
Falteringly, in my anxiety to be well understood, I continued:
"It is wholly unlike a passing infatuation. If you call the reverse of
this 'bad,' then it is as bad as you can possibly imagine, or worse ?"
"0 Lord!" Lucia sobbed into her handkerchief. "Who is it then? Who? ?
Do I know her?
"No! You don't know her at all."
"Not?" she pronounced this with great astonishment. "Does she live at
The Hague? Have you known her long? Is she a person of rank?"
"She does not live at The Hague, Lucia, but in a little provincial town
of Holland. I have known her only a very short time. Her rank is
housekeeper in a hotel - thus no rank."
Lucia looked up, surprise and relief on her tearful countenance.
"0 Vico! is it that? But then ?" She paused, reflected, shook her head.
And then again: "How is it possible? ? What unhappy creatures men are!
Is she young and pretty?" . . .
Drily and coolly I answered:
"I could say neither one nor the other exactly. I don't believe that
you would think her pretty, but I do think she is quite young."
"Haven't I been a good wife to you, then, Vico? Wherein did I fall
"In nothing, dear Lucia; you have been a good and excellent wife to me.
I appreciate it, and am grateful for it. I tried also to be a good
husband to you."
"That you have been too, Vico. Until now I have had nothing to reproach
you for. And we were just so happy. Vittoria was to make her début this
winter. Guido is entirely well again. Oh! that this should never fail
to happen! How alike all men are in that respect."
"Forgive me, Lucia, I realize that you have much to forgive. But I was
not happy. I feigned happiness for your sake."
"And what was it you missed? Was I not enough for you? Must a man then
have always fresh excitement? Am I growing too old?"
"No, dear Lucia, it is nothing of all that. It isn't that by any means.
But I see no possibility of making you understand it. I was spiritually
unhappy and often longed for death. I wanted something that you could
not give me."
"Poor man, but why didn't you speak sooner? Why didn't you warn me?"
"Because it would have been useless."
"Why? Tell me what you missed. Let me try to give you what you long
for. I will do what I can for you. What is it? What has this ? other
that I should not be able to give? Can I not prevent you from sinking
so deeply? Can I not save you from this sin? It is only two weeks you
say that you have known her - can it be that in so short a time you
should be so irretrievably lost? Let me help you."
Deeply pathetic was the expression of eager helplessness with which she
gazed at me beseechingly. And deeper my hopelessness of making her
understand what had happened.
"I not only have known her but a very short time, Lucia, but have even
only spoken to her twice, and never touched her - except her hand. And
"What!" said Lucia, with vehement and happy amazement. "Is it nothing
more? A spirit friendship?"
"A spirit love, I would rather say."
"With a hotel maid? I believe you, Vico; you do not lie. I know you as
a man of honor. Men have such phantasies. And ? and ?" with whispered
emphasis and wide, searching eyes: "will it remain so?"
"No, Lucia, I don't want to deceive you. It certainly will not remain
Then she rose and walked about the room in violent emotion.
"Oh, but my God, Vico, what possesses you? You are contemplating the
greatest wrong, the deepest offence to me, the disgrace of your family,
the eternal ruin of your soul - you can easily turn back, nothing yet
is lost, and you don't want to! You don't want to! Is this woman a
witch then? An enchantress? Oh, now I know that you have no religion!
Now I see what it is to have no religion."
I did not answer, and in my mind I compared the two spirit-worlds that
here confronted one another, weighing the one against the other. And
there is none who reads this and has read the preceding chapter, not
even you, dear reader of original mind, but shall waver on this subtle
boundary line. And yet in his heart he shall have to choose and range
himself on one side or the other. For we human beings may proudly raise
ourselves above good and evil, saying that no sin may be accounted as
guilt to our frail short-sighted nature - the choice, the terrible
irrevocable choice, with every irrevocable second, is not spared us,
and must be made.
My choice was made. I no longer wavered, but I pondered on the awful
power that forces us to choose where we can yet distinguish so poorly,
that relentlessly pushes us on into the dense fog with its dimly
Lucia however interpreted my silence as irresolution, and with the
exertion of all her powers she attempted a desperate attack upon my
heart. She threw herself down on her knees before me, sobbing and
crying and kissing my hands. She begged and implored me to have pity,
if not with her then at least with the children and with myself.
Then I said:
"Dear Lucia, no more than you have the power to change day into night
for me or night into day, no more can you make me call the light that I
see darkness or deter me from following it. I can only leave you this
choice: do you wish me to deceive you, or would you have me be upright?
In the latter case you must control yourself, for the more I see you
suffer, the stronger grows the temptation not to be upright toward you."
It was even more the tone in which I uttered them than perhaps my words
that made her realize that she had nothing more to hope for.
She got up and dried her tears. Then recovering herself, she said:
"I see, Vico, that a Satanic charm has been cast upon you. Of course I
desire your uprightness. I shall endeavor to bear everything and to
make the best of it and I shall pray for you."
"Thank you, Lucia," said I, rising.
But she came and stood in front of me.
"Yes, but . . . what now?"
"What do you mean?" I asked, not entering sufficiently into her
"You now put me into a position which I have known only from hearsay
and never thought myself to experience. Thousands of women live in this
position, that I know. But you will surely have so much consideration
for me, that you will spare me as much as possible. That after all I
may duly claim from you."
"Of course, Lucia, I shall spare you as much as possible."
"I do not ask it for myself, but for our children. You will respect my
good name, won't you? You won't bring public disgrace upon us? You
won't drag the honor of our family, the name of our children into the
The intuitive tactics of a woman are like those of a shrewd and careful
general, who saves his best troops until the battle seems almost lost.
I felt that now she had declared herself ready to yield in the main
point, I could refuse her no concession.
"What do you demand of me, Lucia?"
"That all this remains a secret between us. That you avoid all public
scandal. That before the world our household remains as it was."
I could not suppress a slightly disdainful smile.
"So you would withhold my uprightness, which for yourself you so
greatly desire, from the world?"
"Oh, Vico, you will promise me that. You do care for us, don't you?"
"Of course I do."
"And you are sensible of your obligations toward your family. Even the
most corrupt man is sensible of those."
"I too am sensible of them, Lucia."
"And you do recognize that you have wronged me."
"That I have, Lucia - not now, but before this."
"But then you surely want to make some amends, to somewhat mitigate the
blow - when it's so easy to do it. See I shall leave you absolutely
free. I shall not question you, not pry, not even make an allusion. But
do you then spare our family too. That is all I ask. Spare our children
I was not prepared, and it is not easy when taking a critical step in
life to go just far enough and with neither half-heartedness nor
exaggeration. Therefore my answer was weak.
"Very well, dear friend," said I. "I shall as far as possible take
account of your desires."
Then we wished each other a good night, well knowing that we had
pronounced an idle wish.
It was not a strict and definite promise I had given. But still it was
a yielding from tender-heartedness that I deplore, though without
self-reproach. He who chooses the high, unbeaten tracks should have
overcome all tender-heartedness that leads to half measures. What is
counted as virtue in the faithful member of the herd, is vice in the
seceder. But I knew, how immediately beyond the safe confederacy of the
group, skulked the wolf of fanaticism. I knew how difficult it is to
keep one's balance upon the steep, lonely paths of originality, how
easily the pathfinder, overwhelmed by the giddy sense of unbounded
freedom, falls down into gulfs of fanaticism, hysteria, bigotry and
Who shall always know how to find the exact medium between bold
consistency and reckless extravagance?
The tendency toward self-sacrifice is an instinct, like all others,
beautiful and useful when it remains in harmony with all our other
instincts, and helps along in the common battle for Christ, who has
given them to us. But this instinct can be perverted and run wild into
asceticism and a passion for self-mortification, as hunger into
gluttony and thirst into drunkenness.
I knew that heroic consistency must lead me to unite myself openly with
the being who had re-awakened in me the highest, holiest and most
blessed emotions - and this meant declaring an open feud against
society. For without doubt I should have the whole world against me, my
own children included. I should lose my position, be expelled from my
circle. I should have to brave poverty too. My mother was still living
and I myself had nothing save the high salary which I would lose. And
to live on Lucia or my mother remained absolutely beyond consideration.
I did not fear all this so much for itself, as for the danger of
fanatic self-torture I saw in it. For above all, in the arbitrary
breaking of the bonds between myself and my children there lay a
refined torture, and I also knew that Lucia's suffering would not let
me rest a day, no matter how firm my conviction might be that I had
done right. I should feel remorse just as well then as I should if I
did not do what I deemed right. Two consciences would always be at war
in me, whether I turned to the right or to the left.
And then - what would my conflict with the world signify, powerless as
I was? Should I convince anyone by my action that it is right to break
a mock union, to clear an untrue life, to assert our true sentiments
and feelings, to pursue the things eternal and the pure blessedness,
and to remain true to Christ in the face of the world?
It would merely be said: "There's another fallen into the bog," and I
should disappear like a stone in the mire.
I do not want to excuse; I only want to explain. To make it clear how
it was possible that I, after this first vigorous wrench at my fetters,
nevertheless for many years still led an irresolute double life,
apparently the same happy pater-familias and prosperous man of the
world, hiding my real, true life in the little seaport town and
restricting it to the hours that I spent together with her, who had
awakened it and who kept it alive.
When I went to get my boat and was starting the night before for
E------, my son Guido, a sport-loving youngster of fourteen, asked
whether he might accompany me. In my sense of guiltlessness I would
perhaps have raised no objection, but his mother immediately
interposed, with quick intuition guessing at the object of my journey
and by a clever pretence thwarted his plan.
Elsje was awaiting me at the station and we had a long conversation, in
which I for the first time experienced what a blessing it is to be able
to give oneself freely, to show oneself as one likes best to be, to
hold back nothing for fear of being misunderstood, even though one
expresses oneself as always, with but the same limited means, toward a
human being having the same limited comprehensive faculty as all men.
For here was the infinite love with its magic interpretive power, that
completes the defective, and from a few faltering phrases is able to
erect a lofty structure of sympathy and understanding, because the
beautiful plan in both speaker and listener has from the very beginning
been designed by a higher wisdom, and no intellectual material is made
use of and applied but must be in harmony with this fixed plan.
"I have spoken about us at home, Elsje."
"With her whom the world calls my wife, the mother of my children."
"What is her name?"
After I had spoken this, I have nevertheless quite frequently forgotten
myself and spoken of "my wife." But Elsje never, not a single time.
"What did you say about me?"
"May I tell you quite frankly, Elsje? And will you tell me just as
frankly whether what I said was right?"
"Yes," said Elsje, shyly and softly.
"I said that I had met a woman of whom, at first sight and after two
brief encounters, I could say that she would give me the great love
which was still wanting in my life. Was that rightly said, Elsje?"
"Yes," I heard a whisper beside me. Arm in arm we wandered through the
dark lonely streets of the little town which was going to rest. The
confidential pressure of her arm in mine was a never experienced joy.
"It was not quite understood, Elsje. It was taken for self-delusion and
the entire case treated as a common gallant adventure. That's not
surprising and it will appear that way to everyone. We must resign
ourselves to that."
"Of course!" said Elsje.
"But I had a difficult half hour, for Lucia begged me not to see you
"Poor Lucia - does she care for you very much?"
"Certainly - and I told her that nothing was taken away from my
affection for her. But she wouldn't hear of that -"
"Of course!" said Elsje again. "I shouldn't accept that either. Why
"Look, look," thought I smilingly; "even the rivals among women yet
ever conspire together."
"I thought it might be a consolation. But I seem to be mistaken in
that. I remained firm, though I told her that nothing would hold me
back from Elsje."
"Oh, if I am only worthy of it! If only I am worthy of it!"
"That is fear of responsibility, Elsje. That we both have. But it is a
"And did Lucia yield?"
"She first asked whether it could remain a spirit friendship. I refused
to promise that." Elsie remained silent.
"Do you think that was right, Elsie?"
"Then she yielded, but on one condition."
"That before the world I would remain her husband. That everything
would be secret."
"Oh!" cried Elsie vehemently with anger and surprise. "Then she never
really cared for you either. Never!" And then indignantly: "You didn't
promise that though, did you?"
There I stood, poor sinner, and hadn't a word to say. And I felt while
seeking to defend myself that by nature a man always remains a sophist.
"Dear Elsie! remember that this consideration for a proud woman like
Lucia is of much greater import than the sacrifice for us. Consider how
much I have grieved her. Consider how few women would so nobly forgive
this to their husbands. Consider that after all the past makes it my
duty to care for her and my children. Disgrace is a very dreadful thing
for them, something much more dreadful than you can probably
"I consider just that a disgrace," said Elsie, illogically, but to the
point, "to want to keep up a lie before the world."
"Consider then, Elsie, what it would mean for me. I should not see my
children again. They would not want to recognize me. I should bring a
terrible sorrow upon them, and I am very fond of them."
"Would none of them try to understand it, to forgive it?" asked Elsie.
"Not one of them, I fear. Even were it only on account of their mother,
whom they adore. And remember that, beside my children, I should also
lose my position. My wife ? I mean Lucia is wealthy, but I am not ?"
"Would your health suffer if you were poorer?" asked Elsie, with naive
directness and perfect sobriety, though the question almost sounded
ironical to me. In a very impolitic fashion I had again reserved my
weakest argument for the last.
"Not that! Not that! ? but perhaps I am too much spoilt ? I should have
the whole world against me ? and I don't know if all that ?"
I felt that I was going wrong, thus I would end by myself casting a
doubt upon the self-sacrificing power of my love. Elsie helped me out
"May I now speak quite frankly with you too? Yes? Then listen! I am so
dazed, so overwhelmed by the greatness of that which I receive from
you, so suddenly and so bewilderingly, that you must not expect me at
once to judge rightly. It seems ridiculous to me that I should not be
satisfied with the least that you would offer me, now that I am getting
so infinitely much more than I ever could have hoped for or expected.
Though I never saw you again after this night, yet I should be
eternally grateful to you. But forgive me if in your difficulty I judge
too much according to my own feelings. Your grief for your children -
that I can comprehend. But all the rest I don't understand; it is
strange to me, contrary to my nature. Of the world and of the money I
should not think - I don't know these things and have not experienced
their power. I only know that I should like to be with you always and
should like to confess it openly before all the world. And if I were in
Lucia's place, and really cared for you, I wouldn't want for one moment
to bind you, cost what it would to me. I shouldn't be able to bear it,
that you lived beside me and were looked upon as my husband and
secretly cared for another, I should think that much more terrible than
all the sorrows of a divorce."
"Lucia would never agree to a divorce. That is a matter of religion
with her. A Catholic marriage is indissoluble."
"And are you, yourself, also a Catholic, devoutly Catholic?"
"Lucia says that I have no religion whatever."
Elsje looked at me anxiously.
"Is that so? And I had just hoped to learn so much from you concerning
that. It occupies me all day long. Even now I have a hundred questions
ready, for you. I had put all my trust in you."
"In what faith were you brought up, Elsie?
"Brought up? I wasn't brought up. I must make another confession to you?"
I saw that she hesitated and was troubled. I began to fear some
unpleasant secret or other.
"Speak without fear, Elsie. It is safe with me. Trust me."
"That I would like to, but see, I know you are a distinguished man of
"That signifies nothing, Elsje - I am not so proud of that."
I was joking, but she understood me.
"No, you are not proud, but still you have assurance. That I have not.
Do you know how I got my name?"
"They called me Van Vianen, became I was found near Vianen. I have no
She said this deeply humiliated and ashamed. And in my heart I laughed,
because now after all she too showed herself apprehensive of the voice
of the herd, and because she felt as a disgrace, the very thing that,
as an aureole of romance, had delighted me.
"Oh, is it only that!" I cried; "that I already knew. All week I have
thought of the poor, dear little one as crying, it was laid down upon
the grass by a desperate mother. Likely it was a royal child, Elsje!"
Elsie laughed, reassured and happy.
"They let me become a Mennonite. Not Jan Baars, but his sister who took
me into her home as a child."
"Ah! Mennonite!" said I. I hadn't the slightest idea what theological,
ethical and ritual peculiarities were attached to this creed. I only
knew that it must be one of the innumerable variations or sects of
"To be sure it's a good custom of the Mennonites that they don't
baptize you as a child, when you don't yet know whether you would
rather be a Roman Catholic or an Israelite, but later, when you are
confirmed and can yourself choose. But look! when I was eighteen I knew
just as little what to choose. And now I don't know yet."
"And still you let yourself be baptized?"
"Why yes, there was surely no wrong in that. But if they would have you
choose well they would first have to let you serve an apprenticeship
with the Romans, then another with the Protestants, then another with
the Jews and then with the Mohammedans?"
"Not to mention the Hindus, the Buddhists and the Shintoists," said I.
"So that you would need seven lives before you could let yourself be
baptized, isn't it so? And yet it is so necessary, so very, very
necessary that you choose the right thing, isn't it? I never can
understand how all people just live on carelessly, and all believing
something different, and never consider that they might perhaps be
wrong, and how terrible that would be. They simply assume, and only
feign assurance, and you never hear them talk of it, so they probably
do not break their hearts about it. And if you were to believe them,
then everyone who thinks differently than they is a miserable wretch.
But they all think differently, and so one or the other must be wrong,
and yet they are all equally certain and assured. How is that possible
now? Why it's absurd!"
I thought it was already a great deal for Elsie, in her solitude, to
have arrived at the realization of this absurdity. Then I threw out my
"What do you think of Christ, Elsie?"
"I love best to read of Jesus; I think it wonderful to read -
especially toward Christmas time - how he came on earth as a little
child, and about the star and the shepherds. When I think of Jesus, I
always think of him as a little child with Mary his Mother. I should
like to have a picture or an image of them, but that's considered
Catholic. Do you know more of Jesus and can you tell me all about him?"
"I asked about Christ, Elsie."
"Isn't that the same?"
"They are all only names from which we can choose. I prefer to say
Christ, because I don't believe that there lived a man called Jesus who
was Christ. But I do positively know that there is something that all
men call Christ, and that lives and knows and loves us. And this Christ
they already knew long before Jesus is said to have lived. I have seen
images of the Mother with the child exactly like the one you would like
to have, and it was thousands of years older than Jesus and made by the
Egyptians, and instead of Mary and the Christ Child they spoke of Isis
and the Horus Child, and the Chinese too made such images."
"And what do they mean by it?"
"Ordinary people mean a holy mother with a holy child, a saviour. But
the few wiser ones probably mean the earth mother and the child
humanity. I at least presume it, and when men now speak of Christ, then
I believe, Elsje, that the most and the best, those who really mean
something by the word, something real that they have felt - that they
mean something that is equivalent to humanity."
"Humanity? that means nothing to me. Jesus for me is a living, beloved
and loving being, who helps and supports me, an exalted, holy being.
Humanity - that is nothing to me, an empty word."
"Right, Elsje, I readily believe it. But empty words can be filled with
knowledge. There are learned professors to whom the word Jesus or
Christ is entirely hollow or empty. But the word humanity implies for
them a real and well-known thing, the entire human race which in its
development and growth, in its expression and forms of life they have
studied minutely. These professors again would be able to fill the word
Christ with the exalted and tender feelings which it arouses in Elsje,
if they had learned to feel like Elsje. And now it is my personal
opinion with which, so far as I know, I stand quite alone in the world,
that Elsje and the professors, were they to compare one another's
observations, would come to realize that it is precisely the same real
being that fills the word Christ and the word Humanity: the religious
word Christ and the biological, scientific word Humanity."
"But humanity - that is not a being, not a personality ? that is a lot
of people. People that I don't know. How can I care about them and how
can they care about me?"
"A tree, Elsje, is a lot of roots, branches and leaves. Yet we call it
a tree. A swarm of bees are a lot of bees, and yet one swarm. You
cannot discern humanity because you cannot see all people at the same
time, and not how they are connected. But I don't believe either that
one leaf can see the whole tree or one bee the whole swarm.
"But humanity is yet a great deal more than all men together, just as
the tree is more than all the leaves. And humanity is after all
perceived by Elsje in her own heart - all humanity. That is thus much
more even than the professors can discern of it, and why should it not
be a personal, thinking, loving being? It is that, I think, that Elsje
means when she speaks of her exalted Jesus, and it is that I prefer to
call Christ, because I like that name best."
"I am such a stupid, ignorant creature, and you are so learned. Forgive
me if I still find it somewhat too difficult."
"Of course, dear Elsje, you find it difficult, because you do not know
what the professors have observed concerning man and the human race.
But really, the professors would find what I said equally difficult and
incomprehensible, because they don't know - at least most of them do
not - what Elsje has observed concerning Christ. Only they would not be
as modest as you are; they would not recognize that it is their
ignorance. And I am no professor and no Elsje, but I stand sort of
between the two and know something of the observations of both, and I
know quite positively and see quite plainly that they both mean the
same thing and that they require each other's knowledge."
"So you do know my Jesus, my Christ too, thank God!"
"Yes, though perhaps not as well as Elsje, yet better than the
professors. And I believe that it was this Christ who brought me to
Elsje so that I should learn to know him better, - and perhaps should
better testify of him. And through him too I gained courage and
steadfastness to remain true to Elsje, and not to give up, though the
whole world stand against me."
Here the woman found good opportunity for bringing the man from his
world of speculation back to practical life.
"But does not Jesus, or Christ, want you to do it openly, before all
"I don't know ? I don't know, Elsje. His promptings and suggestions as
they proceed clearly from out the original fount are by no means always
equally positive and distinct. But I assure you - I would swear it to
you, had I not vowed once for all never to swear again - that I shall
stop at nothing and spare nothing as soon as his light shall shine
clearly and unmistakably for me."
"We Mennonites may never swear either," said Elsje, with pretty pride
in her creed, confessed with so little conviction.
"That is good, that is indeed one of the best things the Bible Jesus is
said to have taught. Therefore it is surely followed least of all. I
not only swear no more - I even dare not promise you anything, for I
know myself too little to foretell my future actions."
"You do not promise to be true to me?" asked Elsje with mild
"I do better, I assure you of profound love. So profound that I do
surely believe it will be true. But what would my faithfulness be to
you if love grew weaker? It would become a lie, a feint, wouldn't it?"
"I shall be thankful for all that I get," said Elsje, "and never ask
for more than you wish to give me."
I had to laugh when I thought what my acquaintances from the diplomatic
world - friends I do not call them, I never had a friend among them -
what they would say of a gallant adventure with so much theology at the
But you, dear reader, will probably long have comprehended that I draw
from the same reservoir, what others keep separated in water and
air-tight compartments, and that theology, science, poetry and love to
me are not only brothers and sisters, but often merely names and masks
for one and the same inward reality. So that you will no doubt allow me
to tell yet a few more things that in my amorous theologizing with
Elsje, I learned and taught.
You will also probably understand without my remarking it that I did
not speak in quite as fluent and succinct Dutch as I have here written
down. But I could make myself understood just as well as if it had been
thus spoken, because Love served as our interpreter.
I will not yet decide whether it was prudent discreation or rather,
fearful and narrow-minded timidity, that deterred me from the great
resolve of abandoning my family and my sphere of activity, to alone
remain true to Elsje. It was for many years a hard and fearful
struggle. It was indeed the hardest period of my life, albeit not the
darkest. The gloom and dejection this most feared evil, marked by the
relaxing of the highest vital spirits, dread warning of the powers that
guide and rule us - this evil had vanished. I struggled and suffered,
but was no longer miserable and wretched. Only I did not see my way
clearly and vainly sought for help and guidance.
The wicked charms and temptations also were dispelled. I desired one
woman - without faltering, without shame. I knew what my desire
signified, and all my soul pronounced it right. To be sure the demons
still carried on their nocturnal sport, but I minded them no more than
barking terriers, and the wild passions were now tamed because the hand
of the master had grown firm and he knew what he wanted.
My dreams attained their former sublime splendor, and for the first
time in my life I had some one to whom I could confide them. I still
saw Emmy in my dreams occasionally, but not so often, and it will
surprise no one to hear that it did not excite Elsje's jealousy, and
that she begged me to tell her of her. Elsje also asked me whether I
would call herself once more. And I did it and saw her, and Elsje hoped
devoutly that she would be in some way sensible of it.
But greatly as I should have desired it, and much more impressive and
more convincing as it would have been for her and for you, dear reader,
the truth is that she never noticed anything of it, or rather, to be
exact, that she never remembered anything about it.
I for my part did not require such evidence. I have obtained stronger
evidence through strangers, who let me know without my ever having told
them anything about my dreams, that my summons had been heard - but all
this belongs to the science of the supernatural, which awaits more
general investigation and for which, dear reader, I refer you to some
of my other writings.
I now lived separated from Lucia, although before the world our
relations remained the same. And a most remarkable and peculiar fact is
that Lucia assured me that her dreams were much more tranquil, since I
no longer shared her room. The wild horses that lately had troubled her
in her dreams more than ever, now stayed away. I consider this
remarkable, because it seems to show how corporal proximity also
affects supernatural influences.
One thing I had fully resolved on, and this was - that I would never
abandon Elsje for good. And as often befalls the man in doubting
attitude, I expected relief from destiny. Should fate threaten to tear
her from me, then I would offer resistance and stay with her, no matter
what the price. Should that which everyone in the diplomatic service
may expect, befall me - sudden transference to another country - I
would then deem the moment arrived to free myself entirely and for
good. I know this attitude too was a weakness, but who does not see
clearly must remain weak, and it is of no avail that he feign strength
and act as though he were quite capable of distinguishing. And with our
human tendency to argue that our own conduct is right, I consoled
myself with the consideration that my children were still too young and
still too much in need of my guidance.
Often too I prayed in my dreams, imploring counsel and enlightenment.
But my experience is that sign or counsel is never accorded us before
we ourselves have decided or acted, or before the approaching event has
already been determined without our help and knowledge. We are never
helped in a choice, though we are comforted and encouraged after we
have chosen to the best of our knowledge. Many times this seemed cruel
and unreasonable to me, but I am inclined to believe in the beneficent
and salutary significance of it.
The secrecy toward the world, so much desired by Lucia, soon however
assumed an altogether different, unfavorable and undesirable aspect. My
frequent trips to E------, though explained by my passion for sailing,
could not fail to arouse comment, especially as I usually went alone
and also declined the company of my son Guido, no matter how often he
asked. And E------ is a favorite port for sailing yachts, ten or twelve
of them sometimes landing there at the same time on fine summer days.
Thus my acquaintances from The Hague, the men in the first place, very
soon knew what attracted me to the little seaport. This by no means
aroused any great agitation or indignation in Hague circles, as
everyone acquainted with these and similar circles will readily
I was looked upon as a very moral and honorable man, simply because I
did not mix up in scandal and never spoke of things of that kind,
whether they concerned myself or others. It now caused many a one
satisfaction that the halo of chastity which, despite a total absence
of display or moralizing toward others, yet by its mutely reproaching
presence is ever in painful evidence, - that this unpleasantly spotless
reputation was now fittingly and modestly obscured. I was almost
congratulated upon it. No one thought of judging hardly of such a thing
or of pitying Lucia on that account. She, herself, heard nothing of
these rumors and lived in the illusion that everything retained its
former aspect. I believe I was praised - behind my back, of course, not
to my face - because I had had the decency to seek my diversion so far
from the vicinity, and not, as more shameless ones, in The Hague or
Amsterdam. As long as I did not arouse publicity or scandal, I could do
what I wished; these were my private affairs. And Lucia and the
gentlemen of my set seemed to agree in this - that it was worse to
bring publicity upon a woman than to deceive her. The herd only resents
any assault upon the unity of the group - for the rest it permits
For me this was a twofold torture. Instead of one deceit I was now
practising two. I was honoring a mock union and I was permitting a true
union to be suspected and profaned. I felt myself locked in an
intolerable fashion between two falsehoods. What as a tender secret I
had wished to hide from the world to spare Lucia, the world had soon
discovered. And yet it spared Lucia and myself, at the cost of this
same tender secret, which it looked upon as an infamy: an infamy of the
kind from which I had just felt with pride that I had freed myself. It
was all equally unbearable to me, the friendly, sarcastic generosity of
the world that spared me and acted as though forgiving me a sin, where
I felt virtue beyond its comprehension; and the condemnation of Elsje,
to which I was now most painfully sensitive, though it went out from
this same unintelligent herd.
As often as I saw Elsje again, I read in her look of anxious suspense
the question whether I had now at last taken the great resolve. But
only her dear eyes asked, and her pale little face, her lips remained
shut. She did not question me about my family either. She waited until
I should speak. We spoke of our love and of everything that was nearest
our hearts, of the difficulties of life, why we had to toil and
struggle so and bear affliction, of the great world full of men and
what would grow from it, of my dreams, of the best and most beautiful
that we could experience and of the way we could conquer the
difficulties and attain the purest blessedness. And we spoke a great
deal of Christ, groping and seeking in the dawning truths, trying to
help and to understand each other. And at every parting I felt again
that something had remained unspoken, whereof she would yet have heard
so gladly. And never did I leave her without a sense of the blessing
that I had her, and without a heavy heart because I must let her wait
For she suffered, she suffered as only pure, tender womanly natures
made for love can suffer. And by degrees I could not hide from myself
that she suffered more than she could bear. The power of endurance of a
pure, delicate soul like hers is infinite as long as in the kernel of
her being, in her love life, she is satisfied and contented. But the
sorrow that touches the kernel consumes her both body and soul.
Remorse is a bad thing, a weakness, a morbid symptom. I permit no
remorse in myself, for I know that it harms and weakens the best that
is in us. But against the self-reproach which is the punishment for
these years of wavering, I struggle in vain. It is always there, like a
dark demon, silently awaiting its favorable opportunity in the third or
fourth hour of the night, when sleep evades me - then it sits upon my
breast and questions and awaits my answer: - why I let her mutely ask
and ask so long and wait for an answer, till the bright eyes sank
deeper into their darker growing hollows, and the red blood had gone
from the fresh cheeks, and the delicate nose became so thin, and the
soft lips so colorless?
And in my luxurious home everything continued as of old: the children
healthy and happy: Lucia the housewife correct and diligent as ever,
not unfriendly toward me, without sign of spiritual suffering, amiable
Pardon an old man, dear reader, if he spares himself and does not
expatiate on these anxious years. He is not a friend of tears and does
not like to give in to melancholy.
One night the end of the struggle was at last proclaimed to me. I
dreamt I was walking in the park at The Hague and saw an old man
sitting with an opened letter in his hand. I comprehended that the
letter was for me and saw my name and title on the envelope too. But
the old man said, "This is not for you!" and I understood that he meant
that I no longer had a title. Then I saw too that it was a large
official document from Rome, and I knew that the long-expected
transferal had come. Thereupon I dreamt that I was fleeing with Elsje
and that I carried her across a great plain of ice. The ice cracked
under my feet and every crack was a snapping spark of bluish fire like
a flash of lightning. This betokened ill, but Elsje was not afraid.
The letter of which I had dreamed came a few weeks later. But it was
the same. I recognized the envelope. I also knew positively what the
contents would be, and I felt a glorious sense of relief, and a "Thank
God" escaped my lips.
Lucia had also seen the letter and it now appeared that she had awaited
it with equal longing. Her face was bright.
I had never wanted to ask the ambassador for transferal, detained by
the thought that I should be deceiving him by doing so, but I had a
suspicion that Lucia was secretly exerting herself in my behalf. She
too expected relief from it, but in another sense.
"From Rome," she said. "That seems something good to me. Just look,
"It seems something good to me too," I replied; my hand trembled and my
"Where?" asked Lucia, the while I read.
"Stockholm," I replied, "with advancement."
"Thank Heaven!" said Lucia; "then the wretched story here is ended."
I looked at her a while severely and gravely, so that her bright look
darkened and a shadow of anxiety fell upon her face.
"The story here is not ended, Lucia, but has reached a turning point. I
am not going."
"That's impossible," she cried out; "you can't refuse."
"No! but I can hand in my resignation."
"Your resignation - and then??"
"Remain in Holland."
"In Holland? And without a salary? Live on my money? And continue this
liaison? No, Vico, that you can't demand of me, that is too much."
"Lucia, there is something else I want to demand of you."
"And that is?
"That you release me. That you allow me to put an end to this
falsehood. The world takes us for man and wife and we are not?"
"Release you? Don't I grant you as much freedom as I can? And are you
not still the father of my children? The head of the house?"
"I have a wife, Lucia, who is really my wife and whom I want to make my
wife before the world. I ask you whether you will give me the
opportunity to do this by dissolving our marriage."
Then her Italian temperament revealed itself in all its intensity. She
spoke with rage and animosity upon her face, and with vehement and
dramatic gestures, as I had never seen her before.
"Give you opportunity? Opportunity to break what God cannot break? Are
you crazy, Vico? How many women would do what I did - pardon and bear
the deadly offence? Would you now cast me off still further and humble
me yet more? Would you have me give up my rights for an ordinary
bourgeois woman, whom another would long ago have poisoned? Should I
yet abet her and you in the wrong you are doing me and the disgrace you
are bringing upon me and upon my children? - Go, Vico, and don't
provoke me, for I still love you and should be capable of murdering
you. - I have borne this because I pitied you and hoped that you would
soon have enough of it and come back to me. - But now that on top of it
all you do this, now I shall yield nothing more, nothing. A marriage
cannot be dissolved. - Off with you, man, - you are crazy or drunk.
That can be your only excuse."
"I go, Lucia, - but understand me well, I am going for good. You will
not see me again."
"Are you going to her? And what shall you live on?"
"I don't know. Surely not on your money."
"And the children?"
"I shall gladly see the children if they will see me. But they won't,
you will surely see to that."
"I'll see to it. You shan't see them. Poor children!"
"Be good to them, Lucia, and advise them to get entangled in lies as
little as possible. For some people it is distressing. Others are
better able to cope with it. Good-bye! So we need not hope for a
reconciliation or an agreement between us, need we?"
"Never! I swear it by God and by my innocent children."
"I do not swear, but you need not fear that I shall make any further
attempts. I shall demand leave of absence this very day and hand in my
resignation. We shall probably not see each other again. Forgive me if
I have grieved you. I intended no ill."
A sarcastic laugh -
"Oh, come! intended no ill! Say that to Satan when you stand before the
everlasting fire. If you want to go, then, go right off too. - And God
have mercy on your soul."
Then I thought it time to end the torture. I packed up some clothes,
regulated my affairs at the legation and was in E------ that same
afternoon. I had wired: "I am coming for good." And, sobbing and
laughing, Elsje embraced me at the station before the eyes of the
officials. It was the first time in public.
"There is as much reason for crying as for laughing, Elsje!" said I. "I
haven't brought along much money."
"Oh, we need so little and I can manage so well. And you are so good
and so clever, you will surely be able to earn money again."
"And we cannot be lawfully married either. Lucia will never give in to
"That's nothing," said Elsje, "if only the world may know of it. The
ceremony we can well dispense with. Now you shall see how well I shall
grow, and how strong."
My mother was still alive and was living in Italy. I wrote her a
letter, earnest and upright, to inform her of what had happened. This
was one of the things I did to establish my position, to make it final,
without myself believing in the success of my action. The answer was
such that I had to hide it from Elsje, and shall also refrain from
repeating it here. There is something awful in seeing persons whom one
has known and loved as tender-hearted human beings grow hard in age.
And for me there was something still more awful in the chief reproach
contained in my mother's letter - that I, her only son, for whom she
would have sacrificed her life, and who should have been the support of
her declining years, now poisoned her life and made her old age lonely
and miserable. Of Elsje she spoke with scornful, malicious contempt, as
of an immoral, shameless monster, a she-devil who had beguiled me with
sensual charms and had wantonly destroyed my domestic happiness. And
this I had to hear from my mother, who so long had been my saint! I
realized that we were lost for one another.
I had taken lodgings in "de Toelast," from there to regulate my
position as far as was practicable, and to effect the rupture with my
superiors and the entire sphere of my activities as correctly as
I had been an active, helpful worker, and what made me popular
everywhere - harmless, impersonal, without any unpleasantly obtrusive
originality in actions or opinions. In the diplomatic world above all,
a vigorous originality is quite intolerable unless it manifest itself
in a ruling personality. And even then this personality must not raise
his aspirations too far above the average of the masses. That is to
say, the aspirations which he manifests in his actions - his private
thoughts may, if he be but a strong ruler, wander where they would,
upward or downward. Just because I was more original in my private
thoughts than any of my compatriots, there was absolutely no
possibility of turning these into aspirations of practical account, and
thus in practice I remained an efficient aid esteemed by all and feared
by none. My sudden breaking away was looked upon as a lapse, and I was
in fact more pitied than scorned. I was said to have fallen prey to an
ambitious, selfish woman, as indeed sometimes happened to the best of
I received many kindly admonishing and gravely moralizing letters from
my chiefs and from former compatriots. I saw that they did not like to
lose so efficient a power. They even organized noble endeavors for the
saving of the poor drowning man. But I remained obdurate and would not
let myself be saved and even concealed myself from all callers,
faithfully assisted therein by Jan Baars, whose good Dutch qualities
beneath his apparent unpleasantness I learned to respect. Jan Baars was
the touchstone so to speak, the training that taught me to tolerate a
Dutch environment. Without the schooling of Jan Baars I could not have
endured my present life. He was a boor, a dolt, a dirty lout, a
narrow-minded churl, but he did all sorts of kind and generous things.
Once convinced of the fact that my intentions toward Elsje were
honorable, he stood by us through thick and thin, and did not trouble
himself about conventions, nor about gossip, nor about the minister,
nor about the burgomaster, nor about the baker and his customers. And I
have later noticed that a Dutch provincial world is not as dangerous by
far as it is sometimes pictured in novels or comedies. In the beginning
there is a buzz and hum as in a disturbed beehive. But if one goes
ahead quietly and, just as the experienced beekeeper, lays hold with a
firm hand, if one is not afraid and shows that one intends no wrong,
the excitement and asperities subside wondrously quickly and the petty
world tolerates what it contended it could never endure.
But not knowing this, I had feared a wretched life for Elsje and had
made greater plans.
"Elsje!" said I, a day after my arrival, "I have wavered so long, not
only because of all we must brave, but also because I did know how this
rupture with my world should increase my usefulness in life. For I have
perhaps achieved something, but under the direction of others, and my
own will I have restrained and suppressed. For I did not have the
qualities and the capacities for making my originality prevail. And I
asked myself, if I now seek my personal happiness with Elsje shall I
thereby be also doing some good to the world? I know, of course, that
Christ calls us through the light of joy, and that we must follow the
highest happiness, the brightest light; but I also knew that we can
never find this for ourselves alone, for the highest happiness is
universal happiness. If personal joy does not in some manner radiate
over the world, it is not the highest, though it be ever so alluring to
us. And I did not see how our happiness would be anything to the world.
On the contrary, I saw only a dark, foul misapprehension that would
arise from it. Do you understand me, Elsje?"
"I believe I do. But it seems to me it must after all always have a
salutary effect, when people see that some one dares to do what he
considers good and honest, no matter what it costs him."
"Yes, Elsje, but then people must also see and feel that it is for
something better that he abandons the less good and beautiful. And that
they don't see at all in our case. What impelled me they do not know,
and so they cannot consider it good and beautiful either. They say:
Poor Muralto, he has wrecked his life, he has become the victim of a
woman, he could not restrain his passion, now he throws away his
prospects, his happiness - some will add: his eternal blessedness - for
a love caprice, an amourette. That is nothing new for the world. It
happens frequently. And also that the unhappy sinner moreover deceives
himself, pretending that he acts from noble motives and for a fine and
righteous cause. That too is very common, for no one really sins in his
own eyes, every one takes his follies for wisdom, and man understands
no art better than that of deceiving himself."
"Poor, dear man!" said Elsje, now for the first time alarmed by the
true realization of the world's attitude toward my act.
"And the world is usually quite right. It must cast out whoever menaces
the unity of the group. For in this unity is its security, it is
sacred, holy, 'taboo,' as the Polynesians say. And it cannot possibly
investigate each particular case, whether the seceder is perhaps a
faithful follower of Christ, a truly original spirit or simply an
eccentric fool or weakling. That the seceder must himself prove In the
face of the world's condemnation. Do you understand me rightly?"
"No!" said Elsje, "not quite, I believe. I don't know whether you think
it good to secede or not."
"That I shall explain to you. Humanity consists of two principal kinds
- of herd-men and seceders. Both, Christ has need of. The herd-men form
the mighty unity through which he lives; it in his great organic body,
whereof the individuals are the cells. The better they cohere, the
stronger, mightier, more beautiful becomes his unity, his judgment, far
exalted above our comprehension. Therefor the union of the groups in
holy and good and every disturbance is met with vigorous resistance.
But Christ is growing. Humanity has not yet attained its perfect growth
and the union is still incomplete, defective. The tree is constantly
developing new branches, bursting through the old bark, sending forth
new shoots. That is the function of the single cells that burst the old
union, forming the kernel of a new, better organization. Our body too
has two principal kinds of cells, the corporal cells that constitute
our organs, and the germinal cells from which new organisms are
developed. The germinal cells in the body of Christ are the seceders,
the original spirits who will no longer tolerate the union of the group
and are directly called and guided by the Genius of Humanity, by
Christ's own voice. But they must then also be men, with great strength
and patience, designed for stern endurance and constant struggle. The
world must hate them and persecute them and if possible annihilate
them. For only those who can withstand this process of persecution and
annihilation are the real, true seceders, elected by Christ and able to
create a new and better union. Therefore it is good to be a herd-man
and to respect the existing union - the existing order as it is called
- if one has the strength for that and nothing more. But it is good to
break this order if one feels oneself very distinctly impelled to it by
the inward light of Christ, by true knowledge, by the firm
consciousness of truth, and moreover knows, knows with absolute
certainty, that one has the power and the abilities for enduring and
struggling, for resisting the inevitable enmity of the world, for
surviving her hatred and persecution, for proving indeed one's good
right to secede and to be original. It is not just to denounce the
world and to glorify the martyrs. Christ does not want martyrs. He
wants conquering triumphant originals. The patience of the martyrs is a
virtue, which he bestows on the originals, his privileged servants, but
a virtue with which to conquer, not to yield. And a virtue which must
not be sought for its own sake, but for the sake of the victory. The
world punishes according to his deserts him, who breaking from the
union has overestimated his power to persevere and to triumph."
"Thus my dear husband will not be a martyr," said Elsje, as always
practical, and keeping to the point.
"Not if he can help it. If I came before Christ with only a crown of
thorns, might he not ask them: 'Where is your gospel? And what joy for
my world have you bought with your anguish?' We are dealing with his
goods, Elsje, with Christ's goods; our sorrow is his sorrow, our joy is
his joy and we may not squander anything for nothing. Even the Jesus of
the Bible-drama bought his gospel of joy too dearly. The just price for
his crown of thorns has never yet been paid; the gospel is there, but
the joy has yet to come. Though his kingdom is not of this world, the
joy of that kingdom would also brighten this world, as soon as we could
all believe in it. But no heavenly kingdom of joy shall be built of
material as poor as mortal life to-day still is. I did not want to
yield for nothing, nor do I want to sacrifice Elsje for nothing.
Therefore I wavered so long, for I know how weak I am and how little I
can achieve for Christ. Understand me well, Elsje, I do not want this
just account for myself, but for Christ in whom I live. I am quite
ready to pay with personal sorrow whatever is for the benefit of
Christ. For his good is also my good. But naught for nothing."
"But you are so strong and you know so much, and there is so much you
can do for the world," said Elsje, with her charming pride.
"I lack the very things that are most essential to make oneself prevail
as an Original. I have not the qualities of an orator, nor of a poet,
nor of an administrator, nor of an organizer, nor of a composer, nor of
a dramatist. The only things I have are patience, insight and
"But then you can communicate this to others who help you."
"See, Elsje, before I tore myself away I doubted of this. But now I see
better how Christ works in me. As soon as you take one step in his
direction, though it be in the pitch dark, then he makes the two
following steps clear for you. The great relief in my heart and my
speaking much and freely with you, dear Elsje, has made so much clearer
to me. I believe that I can do something in the world after all. And I
feel that I must attempt it. And though it does not succeed, yet I am
sure that I shall gain something by it that shall be worth fighting and
bleeding for. Will you support me, will you join me, will you venture
what I venture?"
Then Elsje threw both her arms around me joyfully crying:
"Oh, my Husband! what would I not venture where you are beside me.
Whither leads our journey and when do we go? I am ready, though it were
"It is not to-morrow, but the day after. And our journey leads us
across the great ocean, to the new country, where the new life is
stirring, and foaming, and seething most intensely."
"Yes, Elsje; are you willing? We shall escape the evil tongues in
Holland. Evade the painful proximity of my old sphere of life. We shall
not bury ourselves in some remote corner of the earth, but shall stand
in the very midst of the most fiercely burning life, in the most
intensively growing human world. There I can best become aware of what
is to be expected of mankind, best divine what Christ intends with us
and what he expects of me. If I can achieve anything indeed - it is
there. I know it, for I know the country and the people, though I am
not yet quite sure how I shall go about it."
Elsje looked grave and thoughtful: not appalled or frightened by the
prospect, but as though in a whirl of new overwhelming images. Then she
"And in this battle will there still be room and time for a small,
peaceful home? And for a little, tender child?"
"Why not, Elsje? There too are peaceful dwellings and many tender
little children also are born there. The fighting does not go on
"I shall see that I am ready," said Elsje. And she was, in good time.
We stood upon the deck of the great trans-Atlantic steamer and our
color-thirsty eyes drank in the rich scene of the cliffs and hills of
Ireland, rising above a calm sea under a sky heavy with rain. Dark
grayish-purple, light gray and white rain clouds to one side, above us
a clear limpid blue, a short fragment of a rainbow rising out of the
light emerald-green sea, and stretching straight across the faded brown
and dull green land with the little white houses, on to the
blackish-gray cloud which flowed out into mist and against which the
bright colors shone dazzlingly. Thousands of white gulls round about
the ship, like a whirling, living snow flurry, glittering in the bright
sunlight and contrasting sharply with the dark background of clouds -
screaming and screeching wildly and ceaselessly.
"The sign of the covenant," said I, pointing to the rainbow.
"Do you really believe, Vico, that God gives such signs to men?"
"What do you mean by 'God,' Elsje?"
Elsje looked at me with pensive wonder.
"Do you then only believe in Christ and not in God?"
"When I employ a word I want it to mean something. After many years of
thought and observation I am beginning to mean something more or less
distinct when I say Christ. Why? Because I have obtained so many signs
of Christ, outward and inward, that I could form a fixed idea from them
- not a picture, not an image, but an idea, what the professors call a
hypothesis, and in which one may believe as every scholar may believe
in his hypothesis, without absolute certainty, but with an
ever-increasing degree of probability, so that one can make predictions
and see them confirmed by experience. This is the faith that poets and
scholars and originals and herd-men are all equally in need of."
"And does God not give such signs then?" asked Elsie.
"Patience, child! first come the signs and only then do the conclusions
follow. I behold here a glorious, beneficent and comforting spectacle.
That is a sign. But of what and of whom? Of a higher being than Christ?
Surely. For earth and sun, that made this sign, are more than humanity.
But our inward perceptibility experiences emotions which point to a
supreme Being, the Almighty, who created the sun and the earth and all
the stars, on whom all we know is dependent and to whom all is subject.
No matter what we think we must always arrive at such a Being. It is
impossible not to - whether we call it Nature or God or something else,
or better still give it no name."
"Yes," said Elsie; "but for me again God, just like Christ, is a
living, feeling, loving being. And Nature, sun, earth - all that is not
living and feeling, is it -?"
"Dear Elsie, only in the beginning of this century, before the
professors had yet thought out their impossible hypothesis of a dead
matter and a soulless Nature, there was a poet who in a few words set
forth the wisdom which the professors have forgotten and which they
will have to remember again, before we have gone half a century
further. This poet was named Shelley, and when he was not older than
twenty, he wrote:
'Of all this varied and eternal world
Soul is the only element...
'The moveless pillar of a mountain's weight
Is active, living spirit. Every grain
Is sentient both in unity and part,
And the minutest atom comprehends
A world of loves and hatreds.'
"Remember these words well, Elsie, I will repeat them once more and
translate them for you."
And I did so, for Elsie's knowledge of English consisted only in what
she had learned from me. Then I continued: "These words issued from the
strongest and most magnificent original spirit the world has brought
forth since the poet of the Jesus-Drama, and every child ought to learn
them, more necessarily than the multiplication table or the Lord's
prayer. The world has called their maker an Atheist, just as did
Spinoza. But all modern natural science can be brought back to God,
that is to the truth, only by these words."
"Then is this glorious spectacle a living sign of the earth and the
sun?" Elsje asked.
"Of course!" said I; "but it shall yet be long before we comprehend
such an outward sign. All we understand of it is: splendor, beauty,
sublimity. These are also the characteristics of all that is divine.
But their nearer relations to our inner emotions of love and joy -
these we do not comprehend."
"And God?" asked my wife.
"All the outward signs I have seen point to the operation of limited,
imperfect beings or deities - as humanity, the plants and animals, the
celestial bodies. But these all seem to work in a power that is fixed
and unchangeable. The signs thereof are what the scholars call 'Laws of
Nature,' as the force of gravitation and all chemical and physical
laws. These alone can be signs of life of the Almighty. And still we
are not sure that they issue from the supreme Power.
"Our inner consciousness tells us that the supreme Life cannot be
finite, temporal. But the sensible signs of the supreme Life according
to our faulty perception are temporal and point to an end. The Universe
that we perceive is not a perpetuum mobile. The laws of motion that we
know all come to a standstill. As the scholars put it: there is
increasing entropy and there are irreversible processes. This does not
satisfy our inward consciousness of the supreme Life. It must be a
local, temporally restricted condition. We know irrefutably that the
highest Life is more, and we shall also discover the perceptible signs
Beside us stood the second-class passengers of a large emigrant
steamer, gazing across the bulwark toward the last land of Europe, and
vainly trying to catch something of our conversation carried on in low
tones and in a language strange to them. Small, dark, Slavonic women,
with gaily-colored scarfs around their heads and children in their
arms; Poles in shabby coats and astrakhan caps; tall blond
Scandinavians, square-jawed, cool-blooded and patient; short, sturdy
Italians with felt hats and gay cravats; a handful of pale-brown
Siamese jugglers or gymnasts with flat gold-embroidered caps on, and
tired, listless faces, melancholy and pallid from cold and seasickness.
And amid this dirty chattering human assemblage, devouring nuts and
oranges, sometimes making music and gaming, all half dulled and
frightened by the usual fierce and anxious battle of life they had gone
through and with the vague expectation of future wealth and pleasure in
their eyes - amid these I saw my sweet, delicate wife with her eyes,
now dark-rimmed but shining with joyous fervor, and her pale, delicate
features - and amid the singing, eating, chattering and gaming our
subtle quiet conversation grew like a strange exotic plant amid rubbish.
But Elsje put to shame my false pride and gladly and helpfully busied
herself with this little troop of humanity blown together from all the
quarters of the globe, making herself understood and loved in all sorts
of ways in the overflowing joy of her new life.
I myself was not very cheerful, but more often profoundly grave and
sad, though with that rich and gentle melancholy that leads to sublime
thought. Above all the memory of my children could make me deeply
dejected and silent for hours. When I imagined that they would fall
ill, or that they cried because of my absence, it was as though my
inmost heart was torn, or strange hands were wringing the entrails of
my soul. I had heard nothing of them before my departure with the
exception of one brief, comforting word from my second daughter, the
third in age of my children, a shrinking, gentle girl of sixteen. She
wrote in Italian:
"My dear father, I don't know why you have gone away, and I dare not
ask mother or the others about it, for they don't quite understand and
take it amiss and won't speak of you. But I will think that it had to
be and say that I am not angry. You had better not answer, for that
would annoy mother.
Your loving little daughter,
This letter also made my grief vent itself in tears; they were not
tears of remorse, however, but of an unavoidable mournfulness. At such
moments Elsje respected my feelings with a sacred veneration for which
I was unutterably grateful to her. She felt that in this she could not
heal or comfort.
The first stormy days in the European waters were the wont. Then I was
painfully sensible of my poverty because it compelled me to let Elsje
live in the midst of these often unclean and unmannerly people, in the
close steamer atmosphere surrounded by sick people, in the sleeping
quarters separated only by curtains, with the primitive washing
accommodations and the lack of everything that I would so gladly have
given her - beauty, cleanliness, comfort. But Elsje did not complain
and adapted herself to the circumstances with bright inventiveness and
At last came the warm, dark, transparent, deep violet-blue waters of
the Gulf Stream and the sun began to shine refreshingly and the
light-hearted folk made music and danced on the deck. Then for us too
it became more endurable and we sat for hours hand in hand gazing at
the glorious play of colors on the waves, blue-black, seething
light-blue, and foaming snowy-white. From time to time we spoke of the
great things that always occupied our thoughts. For we felt that in
these great things alone could lie our justification and our peace of
"Dear man, you have taught me much that is comforting and true," said
Elsje; "but yet it sometimes seems as though you had made God very
distant and inaccessible for me. This beautiful, wicked, awful sea - a
thinking, feeling being is already terrifying in its profound
incomprehensiveness. And then, moreover - the sun and the stars!"
"Still it is good, Elsje, not to wish to hide the truth, even though it
is oppressing. Inwardly God remains just as near. There is no further
or nearer there. And Christ I have really brought nearer to you,
"Yes, but also robbed him of his perfection."
"True, and therefore made him dearer, more intimate and real. When we
are children we consider our father and mother perfect. Thereby we
wrong them. Later we see that they do indeed stand above us, but that
they have faults too. And then when we can love them, faults and all,
then they are most truly our beloved and trusted confidants. It is a
stupid, childish tendency always to expect and to demand perfection in
all that is above us. The Bible-Jesus spoke truly when he said that
there was but one perfect Goodness. I will add that there is but one I
and one Memory. And only then will man be able to follow Christ to the
pure blessedness, when he learns to feel that there may be
incomprehensible sublimity, loftiness and superiority without
perfection: that there may also be faults in the power that has created
him and in which he lives: that there are yet an infinite number of
higher beings, all above him, and powerful and wise and lofty far
beyond his comprehension, and yet all of them humble and faulty and
weak in the power of a Most-Sublime, who is equally near to all and
penetrates all with equal profoundness."
I do not propose to give you dramatic surprises, dear reader, and you
must not look for thrilling excitement in the story of my life. Elsje's
parentage has always remained unknown to me and the pretty motive for a
romance of the foundling is left unused. For that sort of thing you
have your well-stocked public libraries and Mr. Conan Doyle and his
So I will rather tell you directly that my trip to America resulted in
what everyone, and I myself too at first, considered a complete failure.
But I wish to make you distinctly realize that man may fare as the
soldier, who, ordered to maintain a position without knowing that the
position is untenable, faithfully perseveres in his charge, though
aware that the endeavor is a hopeless failure - later to learn that his
perseverance and his failure were foreseen in the great plan of the
general and have helped to bring about the victory and peace.
It is possible that, even though it seemed otherwise, my efforts were
after all beneficial and fruitful, that I sowed seeds that are still in
a state of germination and only long after I am gone will shoot up as
plants. I do not know this and I need not trouble about it. I have
carried out the order, as I understood it, to the best of my abilities.
But I do know what I have gained in new knowledge and understanding.
And this has made me so rich that I regret none of my sacrifices and
repent none of my actions. And this alone also lets me find peace and
contentment in this quiet lonely life, because here I can write down
what has enchanted and stirred me go strongly, and the assurance never
forsakes me that my words shall find their way and, like a mighty
ferment, work on in the heads of those who as you, dear reader, have
experienced the painful blessing of originality, and know what it is to
live in immediate contact with Christ, the Genitive Spirit of humanity.
Through all the dark confusion of my vain efforts and painful
experiences, through the continued terrible anguish of mankind, ever
increasing and void of beauty and sublimity, one light shone out with
an ever steadier and brighter glow the wonder of the true marriage.
This is so difficult to describe, because every one professes to know
it and to respect it, and insincere eloquence and insincere enthusiasm
have poured themselves out over it in riotous streams. So that one
scruples to employ any word wherewith to indicate the true wonder,
because all words have been polluted and defiled through a horrible
The true wonder is so great that the man of original spirit who has
found it would, if he had the power, not hesitate for a moment to
destroy all domestic happiness and domestic peace among the great human
herd, as long as these rest only on a conventional imitation, a
miserable substitute, of the true glory. I have lived in what to all
the world seemed a happy union. I have endured the terrible anguish of
a violent rupture of firmly-knit bonds of attachment and affection -
but how insignificant is all this, how sorry this apparent happiness,
how slight the anguish compared to the mighty and transcendent things
that were gained - the perfect tenderness, the real intimacy of true
conjugal love, the complete melting into one of two cells in the great
body of humanity.
I have good reason to believe that most marriages - oh! by far the most
- are of inferior quality and falser than my own false union. And also
that in this matter with most men - oh! by far the most - the elemental
susceptibility to true conjugal happiness is still inborn, that even
the weakest conventionalist and herd-man would in this respect turn
back to this deep elemental instinct, if he were left free to do so -
that with the majority Christ herein still works directly and
immediately, because it is the most deep seated, most absorbing passion
with which he has equipped us.
And even with a clear vision of the ocean of grief, confusion and
disaster that would arise were the herd to apply itself to follow the
lead of the Originals and in fanatic zeal break all untrue bonds - even
with this appalling knowledge I would not hesitate to lead them on to
such a crusade against the matrimonial lie, since I know the glory and
the riches of the promised land to be regained. Many would perish on
the road and pine away, many would be trampled on and perhaps curse my
name and denounce what they had began; but the prize is worth the
Marriage is without doubt one of the most sacred human institutions,
but only sacred through inward truth, and no civic formula or churchly
ritual can make it sacred if the inward truth is wanting in it. And
better a thousand dissolved and broken false marriages than one true
marriage prevented or one untrue one with the semblance of sincerity
and sacredness upheld.
But Christ is yet in distress and anguish. He is yet in the throes of
birth, in the pains of growth. Our world is as my brother Hebbel said:
a wound of God. But as I add: a healing wound; therefore not less
painful. And what distinguishes the true marriage from the untrue is
this very quality of pain. Never did I suffer through Lucia what I
suffered through Elsje. In the apparent happiness there is contentment
and complacency, in the real an everlasting gnawing and torturing
longing, a desire for more, more - the desire to express oneself more
fully, the desire to be more closely united, to be bound together more
firmly, more indissolubly, more everlastingly. Elsje and I were
constantly tormented by our powerlessness to express to one another the
depth of our emotion, by our anxiety for each other's welfare and
happiness, by our uncertainty in regard to what life and death would
bring us, by our wish never to be parted and to experience constantly
the blessing of each other's company.
Even when, in the serenest, most peaceful moments, I sat by her side
gazing at her with devout attention so that Moricke's words arose in me:
"Wenn ich von deinem Anschaun tief gestillt
Mich ganz mit deinem heil'gen Werth begnüge?"
even then there was a mysterious, tender quality of pain in my love,
independent of all the considerations and cares concerning present and
future - like a gentle, never wholly dying echo of the great world
sorrow. And through this I knew that our love-life was one with the
great love-life of Christ. By the tang of pain in our cup of life I
recognized the water from the world-stream.
I had worked out no definitely elaborated plan for my campaign in the
new land, amongst the new people. I had a few thousand guilders that
belonged to me and a few hundred from Elsje. We had selected the
cheapest travelling accommodations and would live very simply. I hoped
to have enough for us to live on until I should have found a means of
subsistence and a field for my labors. I had plenty of acquaintances in
the most distinguished circles, but I knew how little I could count on
them. Yet I had to try to find among them the few that were susceptive
to original thoughts and had the ability to turn them into deeds.
I argued thus: that all individuals live in an invincible group-union
of morals, customs, traditions and institutions, which originated
wholly beyond their reasonable will and which are mostly in conflict
with their own deeper convictions. That they live thus is the result of
their nature and character as group-creatures. They cannot do otherwise
and may not do otherwise. No individual can live apart, he must have a
group or grouplet, no matter how small, whose ideas, customs and morals