Part 4 out of 8
replied with a certain constraint, and I am sure she would have
received me with still greater coldness had she not feared to
offend my aunt. But I was not hurt by this; her resentment is quite
justifiable. Maybe, in her mind, she connects me with the loss of her
estate, and thinks all this would not have happened if I had acted
differently. I found her much changed. For some time she has been
confined to her invalid chair, on which they wheel her on fine days
into the garden. Her face, always delicate, looked as if moulded in
wax. There are still traces that show how beautiful she must have
been, and at the same time so unhappy.
I asked after her health, and expressed the hope that, with the return
of the fine weather, she would soon recover her strength. She listened
with a sad smile, and shook her head; two tears rolled silently down
Then, fixing her sad eyes upon me, she said,--
"You know Gluchow has been sold?"
This evidently is the thought ever present,--her continual sorrow and
When Aniela heard the question she grew very red. It was a painful
blush, because a blush of shame and sorrow.
"Yes, I have heard," I said quickly. "Perhaps it can be recovered; if
so, nothing is lost; and if not, you must submit to God's will."
Aniela cast a grateful glance at me, and Pani Celina said,--
"I have lost all hope."
It was not true; she still clung to the delusion that the estate might
be recovered. Her eyes looked hungrily at me, waiting for the words
which might confirm her secret hopes. I resolved to gratify her wish,
"It seems to have been a case of necessity, and I do not see how any
one can be blamed for it. Yet there are no obstacles which cannot be
overcome where there is a will and adequate means. Sometimes it has
happened that a sale has been invalidated in law from some omission of
By the bye, this was not strictly true; but I saw it was balm to
Pani Celina's sore heart. I had also stood up for Kromitzki, without
mentioning his name, which neither of the others had done in my
To say the truth it was not generosity which prompted me, but rather a
desire to conciliate Aniela, and show myself before her in the light
of goodness and nobility.
And Aniela was grateful; for, when we had left the room, she came out
to me, and, stretching out her hand, said,--
"Thank you for being so good to mamma."
For all answer I raised her hand to my lips.
My aunt too seemed touched by my goodness. I left her and, lighting a
cigar, went into the park for a quiet stroll to collect my thoughts
and impressions; but I met there the young doctor who was taking
his morning constitutional. As I wished to conciliate every one at
Ploszow, I went up to him, and asked him, with the special regard due
to science and authority, what he thought about Pani Celina's chances
of regaining her health. I saw that this flattered him a little, and
gradually he began to lose some of his democratic stiffness, and
enlarged upon the theme of Pani Celina's illness with the ready
eagerness of a young scientist who has had no time yet to doubt his
powers. In speaking, he used every now and then Latin expressions, as
if addressing a colleague. His strong, healthy frame, a certain power
of speech and eye impressed me favorably. I saw in him a type of that
new generation Sniatynski at one time had spoken of to me. Walking
along the avenues, we had one of the so-called intellectual
conversations, which consist a great deal in quoting names of books
and authors. Chwastowski is thoroughly acquainted with certain
subjects; but I have read more, and this seemed to astonish him not a
little. At moments he looked almost vexed, as if he considered it an
encroachment upon his own territory that I, an aristocrat, should know
so much about certain books and authors. But then again I won his
approbation by the liberality of my opinions. My liberality consists
merely in a kind of tolerance for other people's views, and looking
upon them without party feeling; and that from a man of my position
and wealth was sufficient to win over the young radical. At the end
of our conversation we felt towards each other as men do who have
understood each other, and agreed on many points.
Most likely I shall be the exception of the rule as regards Doctor
Chwastowski. As in my country every nobleman has his particular Jew in
whom he believes,--though he dislikes the race in general,--so every
democrat has his aristocrat for whom he feels a special weakness.
When going away I asked Doctor Chwastowski about his brothers. He said
that one of them had a brewery at Ploszow, which I knew already from
my aunt's letter; a second had a bookshop at Warsaw; and a third,
who had been at a mercantile school, had gone as assistant with Pan
Kromitzki to the East.
"It is the brewer who has the best of it just now," he said; "but
we all work, and in time shall win good positions. It was lucky our
father lost his fortune; otherwise every one of us would sit on his
bit of land 'glebae adscripti,' and in the end lose it as my father
In spite of the preoccupation of my mind I listened with a certain
interest. "There are, then," I said to myself, "people that are neither
over-civilized nor steeped in ignorance. There are those that can do
something and thus form the intermediate, healthy link between decay
and barbarism." It is possible that this social strata mostly exists
in bigger towns, where it is continually recruited by the influx
of the sons of bankrupt noblemen, who adapt themselves to burgher
traditions of work, and bring to it strong nerves and muscles. I then
recalled what Sniatynski once said when I left him: "From such as you
nothing good can come; your fathers must first lose all they have,
else even your grandsons will not work." And here are Chwastowski's
sons who take to it, and push on in the world by help of their own
strong shoulders. I, too, perhaps, had I no fortune, should have to do
something, and should acquire that energy of decision in which I have
been wanting all my life.
The doctor left me presently as he had another patient at Ploszow, a
young cleric from the Warsaw seminary, the son of one of the Ploszow
peasants. He is in the last stage of consumption. My aunt has given
him a room in one of the out-buildings, where she and Aniela look
after him. When I heard of this I went to pay him a visit, and
instead of the dying man I expected to see, I found a young, rather
thin-looking lad, but bright and full of life. The doctor says it
is the last flicker of the lamp. The young cleric was nursed by his
mother, who, upon seeing me, overwhelmed me with a shower of gratitude
copious enough to drown myself in.
Aniela did not visit the sick man that day, but remained with her
mother. I saw her only at dinner, at which also the mother was present
in her invalid's chair. It is only natural that Aniela should devote
her time to her mother, and yet I fancy she does it partly to avoid
being alone with me. In time our mutual relations will establish
themselves upon an easier footing, but I quite understand that at
first it will be a little awkward. Aniela has so much intelligence of
heart, so much goodness and sensibility, that she cannot look upon our
present position with indifference, and has not worldly experience
enough to preserve an appearance of ease. This practice comes with
later years, when the live spring of feelings begins to dry up and the
mind acquires a certain conventionality.
I had let Aniela see there was no resentment in my heart towards her,
and I shall not allude even to the past, and for that reason did not
try to see her alone. In the evening during tea we discussed general
topics. My aunt questioned me about Clara, who interests her very
much. I told her all I knew about her, and from that we drifted into
conversation about artists generally. My aunt looks upon them as
people sent into the world by kind Providence to give performances for
the benefit of charitable institutions. I maintained that artists,
provided their hearts were pure and not filled with vanity and love of
self, might be the happiest creatures in the world, as they are always
in contact with something infinite and absolutely perfect. From life
comes all evil, from art only happiness. This was, indeed, my point of
view, supported by observation. Aniela agreed with me, and if I took
note of the conversation it is because I was struck by a remark of
Aniela's, simple in itself, but to me full of meaning. When we spoke
about the contentment arising from art she said: "Music is a great
I saw in this involuntary confession that she is unhappy, and is
conscious of it. Besides, in regard to that, I never had any doubts.
Even the face is not the face of a happy woman. If anything, it is
more beautiful than before,--apparently calm, even serene; but there
is none of that light which springs from inward happiness, and there
is a certain preoccupation that was not there formerly. In the course
of the day I noticed that her temples have a slight yellow tint like
that of ivory. I looked at her with an ever renewed delight, comparing
her to the Aniela of the past. I could not get enough of this
exchange of memories with reality. There is something so irresistibly
attractive in Aniela that had I never seen her before, if she were
among thousands of beautiful women and I were told to choose, I should
go straight to her and say: "This one and no other." She answers
so exactly to the feminine prototype every man carries in his
imagination. I fancy she must have noticed that I watched and admired
I left at dusk. I was so shaken by the sensations of the day, so
utterly different from all my preconceived ideas, that I had lost the
power of dissecting my thoughts. I expected to find Pani Kromitska,
and found Aniela; I put it down once more. God only knows what will
be the consequence of this for us both. When I think of it I have the
sensation of a great happiness, and also a slight disappointment. And
yet I was right, theoretically, in expecting those psychical changes
which necessarily take place in a woman after she is married, and I
might easily be led to think she would show in some way that she was
glad she had not chosen me. There is not another woman who would have
denied herself that satisfaction of vanity. And as I know myself, my
sensitiveness and my nerves, I could take my oath on it, that if such
had been the case I should have been now full of bitterness, anger,
and sarcasm,--but cured. In the mean while, things have fallen
out differently,--altogether differently. She is a being of such
unfathomable goodness and simplicity that the measure I have for
goodness is not large enough for her.
What will happen next, what will happen to me or to her, I cannot say.
My life might have run on quietly towards that ocean where all life is
absorbed,--now it may run like a cataract down to a precipice. Let it
be so. At the worst I can only be a little more unhappy, that is
all. Until now I have not been lying on a bed of roses, with that
consciousness of my useless life continually before me.
I do not remember; somebody, was it my father? said that there must
always be something growing within us, that such is the law of
nature. It is true. Even in the desert the forces of life hidden in
the depth bring forth palms in the oasis.
I live nominally at Warsaw, but have spent four consecutive days at
Ploszow. Pani Celina is better, but the cleric Latyzs died the day
before yesterday. Doctor Chwastowski says it was a splendid case of
pulmonary consumption, and with difficulty conceals his satisfaction
that he foretold the exact course of the disease up to the last hour.
We had been to see the young man twelve hours before he died. He was
quite merry with us, and full of hope because the fever had left him,
which was only a sign of weakness. Yesterday, when sitting with Aniela
on the veranda, the cleric's mother came up to tell us about his
death, in her own quaint way, in which sorrow blended with quiet
submission to the inevitable. In my pity for her, there was a great
deal of curiosity, for up to now I had not much occasion to see
anything of the inner life of the peasants. What quaint expressions
they use! I tried to remember her words in order to note them down.
She embraced my knees, then Aniela's, after which she put the outside
of her hands over her eyes, and began to wail: "O little Jesus,
dear--O Maria, holiest of Virgins! He is dead, my poor lamb, dead! He
was eager to see the Lord face to face; more eager than to stop with
his little father and mother! Nothing could hold him back, not even
the ladies' cares! Wine he had in plenty, and good food, and that
could not save him; O little Jesus, dear! O holiest of Virgins! O
In her voice there was certainly a mother's sorrow! but what struck me
most was the modulation of the voice, as if set to some local music. I
never heard before the peasants lament their dead, but I am quite
sure they all do it in more or less the same way, as if according to
Tears were trembling on Aniela's eyelashes, and with that peculiar
goodness only women are capable of, she began to inquire into the
details of his death, guessing that it would soothe the poor woman to
speak about it.
And in fact she began at once most eagerly:--
"When the priest had left him I said thus: 'Whether you die or not is
in God's hands! You are nicely prepared now, so lay ye down and go to
sleep.' Says he: 'Very well, little mother,' and fell in a doze, and
I too; as, not reproaching the Lord with it, I had not had a proper
sleep for three nights. At the first crow my old man comes in and
wakes me; thus we were both sitting there, and he still asleep. I says
to the old man: 'Is he gone?' and he says, 'Happen and he is gone.' I
pulled him by the hand; he opened his eyes and said: 'I feel better
now.' Then he remained quite still for about five _paters_ and _aves_,
and smiled toward the ceiling. This made me angry, and I says: 'Oh,
you good-for-nothing, how can you laugh at my misery? But he only
smiled at death, not at my misery, for he began breathing very hard,
and that was all he did until the sun rose."
She began moaning again, and then invited us to come and see the body,
as he was dressed already, and looked as beautiful as a picture.
Aniela wanted to go at once, but I held her back; besides, the woman
had already forgotten all about it, and began now lamenting her
poverty. Her husband, it seems, had been a well-to-do peasant
proprietor, but they had spent every bit of money upon their son's
education. Acre after acre had been bought by the neighbors, and at
present they had nothing but the hut,--no land whatever. One thousand
two hundred roubles he had cost them. They had hoped to find a shelter
for their old age with him at a parsonage, and now God had taken him.
The old woman declared, with all the stoicism of the peasant, that
they had already made their plans, and would go a begging. She seemed
not afraid of it, and spoke of it with a kind of half-concealed
satisfaction. She was only afraid the community might raise
difficulties about the certificate, which, for some reason unknown
to me, seemed to be necessary for the new profession. Hundreds of
realistic details mingled with the calling upon the Lord Jesus, the
Holy Virgin, and laments over the dead son. Aniela went into the
house, and returned presently with some money for the woman. I
arrested her hand; another idea, I thought good at the time, had
crossed my mind.
"So you spent a thousand two hundred roubles on your son?" I said to
"That's so, please the gracious Pan. We thought when he got his church
we would go and live with him. The Almighty willed it otherwise; no
church for us now, but the church door" (place where beggars sit).
"I will give you the thousand two hundred roubles; you can buy some
land if you like, and start fresh again."
I should have given it at once, but had not enough money by me; I
intended to take it from my aunt, and told the woman to come back for
it in an hour. She stared at me with wide-open eyes, without saying a
word, and then with a cry fell down at my feet. But I got rid of her
and her gratitude very soon, as she was in a hurry to be off to tell
her husband the good news.
I remained alone with Aniela, who seemed moved deeply, and who
"How good you are! how good you are!"
"There is not much goodness in it," I said in a careless manner. "I
did not do it for these people I have seen for the first time in my
life. I did it because you care for them,--to please you." It was
true; they did not interest me more than any other people would in
the same position, but I would have given ten times as much to please
Aniela. I said it on purpose, as words like these said to a woman
carry a deep meaning. It is almost the same as if I told her, "I would
do anything for you, because you are everything to me." And, moreover,
no woman can defend herself against a tacit confession such as this,
or has any right to be offended. I had disguised the meaning, treating
it as the most natural thing in the world; but Aniela perceived the
drift, and lowering her eyes in evident confusion, said: "I must go
back now to mamma," and left me alone.
I am quite aware that in acting thus I introduce a disturbing element
into Aniela's soul. I perceive, too, with surprise, that if, on the
one hand, my conscience cries out against this wilful destroying of
the peace of the one being for whom I would give my life, on the other
hand, it causes me a savage delight, as if thereby I satisfied man's
innate instinct of destruction. I have also the conviction that no
consciousness of evil, or sting of conscience, will stop me. I am too
headstrong to let anything stand in my way, especially in presence of
that powerful, inexpressible spell she has cast upon me. I am now as
that Indian who threw away his oar, and gave himself up to fate. I
do not reflect now that it was my fault, that all might have been so
different, and that I had only to stretch out my hand to secure
the happiness I am now yearning for in vain. But it could not be
otherwise. I have come to the conclusion that generations which had
lost all vital power, have made me what I am; that nothing remains but
to cast away the oars and let myself drift with the current.
This morning we three--my aunt, Aniela, and I--went to the funeral of
the young cleric.
It was a strange sight, this village procession headed by the priest,
the coffin on a cart, followed by a crowd of peasants, men and women
who were singing a tune sad and weird as if set to some Chaldean
music. At the furthest end, the men and women were talking to each
other in a drawling, half-sleepy way. Going along, among the rowan
trees, the procession came now and then into the glare of the sun, and
then the kerchiefs flashed into flames of blue, and red, and yellow,
which but for the coffin and the incense of juniper berries, made the
procession rather look like a wedding than a funeral. Death does not
seem to make much impression upon the rustic mind; perhaps they regard
it in the light of an everlasting holiday. As we stood by the open
grave, I noticed their faces following the ceremony with concentrated
attention and curiosity; but I saw no trace of thoughtfulness or
reflection at the inexorable end, after which begins the great,
I looked at Aniela as she stooped for a handful of soil to throw upon
the lowered coffin. She was paler than usual, and with the sun shining
upon her I could read the transparent features as an open book. I was
certain she was thinking of her own death. To me it seemed simply
monstrous, a horrible improbability, that this face so full of
expression, so full of life and charming individuality, should at some
time be stony white and remain in eternal darkness.
And as if a sudden frost had nipped all my thoughts, I grew suddenly
conscious that the first ceremony I assisted at with Aniela was a
funeral. As a person in long sickness, having lost faith in medicine,
turns to quack doctors and wise women, so the sick soul, doubting
everything, still clings to certain superstitions.
Probably no one is so near the gulf of mysticism as the absolute
sceptic. Those who have lost faith in religious and sociological
ideals, those whose belief in the power of science and the human
intellect is shaken, that whole mass of highly cultured people,
uncertain of their way, deprived of all dogmas, hopelessly struggling
in the dark, drift more and more towards mysticism. It seems to spring
up everywhere,--the usual reaction of a society whose life is based
upon positivism, the overthrow of ideals, empty pleasures, and
soulless striving after gain. The human spirit begins to burst its
shell, which is too narrow, too much like a stock exchange. One epoch
draws to an end, and then appears a simultaneous evolution in all
directions. It has struck me often with amazement that, for instance,
the more recent great writers seem not to know how very close upon
mysticism they are. Some of them are conscious of it, and confess so
openly. In every book I opened lately, I found, not the human soul,
will, and personal passions, but merely fatal forces with all
the characteristics of terrible beings, independent of personal
manifestations, living alone within themselves, like Goethe's
As regards myself, I too come near the brink. I see it and am not
afraid. The abyss attracts; personally it attracts me so much that if
I could I would go to the very bottom, and will some time when I am
I intoxicate myself with the life at Ploszow, the daily sight of
Aniela, and forget that she belongs to somebody else. Kromitzki, who
is somewhere at Baku, or further still, appears to me as something
unreal, a being deprived of real existence, something bad that might
come down upon us, as for instance, death, but of which one does not
think continually. But yesterday something happened to bring him
before my mind. It was a small and apparently most natural incident.
Aniela received at breakfast two letters. My aunt asked whether they
were from her husband, and she replied, "Yes." Hearing that, I felt
the sensation a condemned man may feel when they rouse him from
a sweet dream in order to tell him to have his hair cut for the
guillotine. I saw my whole misfortune more distinctly than ever
before, and the sensation remained with me the whole day, especially
as my aunt, quite unconsciously, of course, was bent upon torturing me
further. Aniela wanted to put off the reading of the letters, but
my aunt insisted upon her opening them, and presently inquired how
"Thank you, aunty, he is very well."
"And how are his affairs going on?"
"Thank God! he writes that everything prospers beyond expectation."
"When does he think of coming back?"
"He says as soon as he can possibly manage."
And I, with my sensitiveness, had to listen to these questions and
answers. If my aunt and Aniela had started unexpectedly a quite
improbable cynical conversation it could not have shocked me more.
The first time since my arrival at Ploszow I felt something like
resentment towards Aniela. "Have a little mercy at least, and do not
speak of that man in my presence; do not return thanks for being asked
after him, and say 'Thank God!' because he is prosperous," I thought.
In the mean time she had opened the second letter, and looking at the
date, said: "It has been written at an earlier date;" then began
to read. I looked at the bowed head, the parting of the hair, the
drooping lashes--and it seemed to me that the reading lasted very
long. I thought what a world of mutual interests and aims bound these
two together, and that for some indispensable reason they must feel
that they belonged to each other. I felt that I had no part in it, and
that by force of circumstances I should always be outside her life
even if I won her love. Up to now I had felt the depth of my misery
as one sees the depth of a precipice veiled by clouds. Now the mist
lifted, I looked down and comprehended its whole extent.
My nature is so constituted that under great pressure it resists. Up
to the present my love had not dared to ask for anything, but at this
moment hatred began to clamor loudly for the abolition of merciless
laws, those ties and bondages. Aniela did not read many minutes, but
during that time I ran through a whole gamut of tortures, because
other thoughts relating to my self-analysis and criticism were
haunting me. I said to myself that the agitation, the very bitterness
I felt, were nothing but the ridiculous characteristics of female
ill-humor. How is it possible to live with nerves such as mine? If
such a simple thing as a letter from the husband to his wife makes you
lose your balance, what will happen when he himself comes to claim
I said to myself: "I will kill him!" and at the same time I felt the
ridiculousness and folly of the answer.
Aniela having finished her letters noticed at once that something was
amiss, and looked at me with troubled eyes. Hers is one of those sweet
dispositions that cannot bear to see unfriendly faces, or live in an
atmosphere of cold displeasure. This springs from a great tenderness
of heart. I remember how uneasy she used to be when first she
witnessed the disputes between my aunt and Chwastowzki. Now she was
evidently ill at ease. She began to speak about the concert and Clara,
but her eyes seemed to say: "What have I done, what is the matter with
you?" I merely replied by a cold glance, not being able to forgive her
either the letters or her conversation with my aunt. After breakfast I
rose at once and said I was obliged to go back to Warsaw.
My aunt wanted me to stop to dinner; after which, according to our
agreement, we were to start together for the concert. But I pleaded
some business; the truth was I wanted to be alone. I gave orders for
the carriage to be ready, and then my aunt remarked:--
"I should like to show some gratitude to Miss Hilst, and thought of
inviting her to Ploszow for the day."
Evidently my aunt considers an invitation to Ploszow such a great
reward that she doubted whether it would not be out of all proportion.
After a moment's pause she began again:--
"If I were quite sure that she is of a proper standing."
"Miss Hilst is a personal friend of the queen of Roumania," I
replied, a little impatiently; "and if there be any honor, it will be
altogether on our side."
"Well, well," muttered my aunt.
"You will come with us to the concert?" I said, turning to Aniela.
"I am afraid not. I shall have to remain with mamma; and besides, I
have some letters to write."
"Oh! if it is a question of wifely tenderness I will not insist."
This ironical remark gave me a momentary relief. "Let her be aware
that I am jealous," I thought; "she herself, her mother, and my aunt
belong to those women of the angelic kind, who do not believe there
can be any evil in the world. Let her understand that I love her,
become familiar with the thought, troubled by it, and fight it. To
bring into her soul a strange, decomposing element, a ferment like
this, is half the battle. We shall see what will happen afterwards."
It was a momentary but great relief, and very much like a wicked
delight. But presently, when alone in the carriage, I felt angry with
myself and disgusted,--disgusted because I became conscious of the
littleness of all I had thought and felt, based as it was upon
overstrung and fanciful nerves worthy an hysterical woman, not a man.
It was a heavy journey, far heavier than the one when after my return
from abroad I went the first time to Ploszow. I was reflecting upon
that terrible incapacity for life which casts its shadow upon my
existence and the existence of those like me, and came to the
conclusion that its main source is the feminine element which
predominates in our character. I do not mean by this that we are
physically effeminate or wanting in manly courage. No! it is something
quite different. Courage and daring we are not deficient in; but as
regards psychical elements, every one of us is a she, not a he. There
is in, us a lack of the synthetic faculty which distinguishes
things that are important from those that are not. The least matter
discourages, hurts, and repulses us; in consequence of which we
sacrifice very great things for small ones. My past is a proof
thereof. I sacrificed inexpressible happiness, my future and the
future of the beloved woman, because I had read in my aunt's letter
that Kromitzki wished to marry her. My nerves took the bit between
their teeth, and carried me where I did not wish to go. This was
nothing but a disease of the will. But it is a feminine disease, not
a masculine one. Is it to be wondered at that I act as an hysterical
woman? It is a misfortune I brought with me into the world, to which
whole generations have contributed their share, as also the conditions
of life in which we exist.
The shaking myself thus free from all responsibility did not give me
any relief. When I arrived at Warsaw I intended to call upon Clara,
but was prevented by a severe headache; which got better towards
evening before my aunt came up.
She found me already dressed, and we drove together to the concert,
which was a great success. Clara's fame had attracted the whole
musical and intelligent world, and the charitable purpose the
aristocratic circles. I saw many people there I knew, among them
Sniatynski and his wife. The concert room was crowded. But I was out
of humor, and everything irritated me. I do not know why, but I felt
afraid Clara's performance would be a failure. When she appeared on
the platform a programme clung to the folds of her dress; I thought it
would make her appear ridiculous. She herself in full evening dress
seemed to me more like a stranger than a friend. I involuntarily asked
myself whether it was the same Clara I was so intimate with. When
the hearty applause had ceased she sat down to the piano, and I
acknowledged to myself that she had a noble and artistic presence,
full of simplicity and quite free of any affectation. On all
faces there was the concentrated attention of people who have no
understanding of art, but like to pass for connoisseurs and judges.
She played Mendelssohn's concerto, which I know by heart,--but whether
it was the thought that much was expected from her, or that the
unusually enthusiastic reception had moved her, she played worse
than I had ever heard her. I was sorry for it and looked at her with
astonishment; our eyes met for a moment. The expression of my face put
the final touch to her confusion, and I heard a few dim notes without
force or expression. I was quite sure now she would fail. Never had
the piano, with its lack of continuity, its sound smothered by the
acoustic properties of the room, seemed to me a more miserable
instrument. At times it seemed as if I heard the sharp, staccato
sounds of a harp. Presently Clara recovered her self-possession, but
upon the whole I thought she had played but indifferently. I was very
much surprised indeed when after she had finished there rose such a
storm of applause as I had not heard even in Paris, where Clara was
received with exceptional enthusiasm. During the short pause, amateurs
and professionals began discussing the music, and in their animated
faces I read perfect satisfaction. The cheering lasted until Clara
reappeared on the platform. She stepped forth with downcast eyes, and
I who could read her face saw what she wanted to express: "You are
very kind, and I thank you for it; but it was not good and I feel
inclined to cry." I too had applauded with the rest, for which I
received a passing glance full of reproach. Clara loves her art too
much to be gratified by undeserved applause. I felt sorry for her, and
should have liked to say a few encouraging words, but the continued
cheering did not permit her to leave the platform. She sat down again
and played Beethoven's Sonata in cis-moll, which was not on the
programme. There is, I believe, no composition in the whole world that
shows with the same distinctness the soul torn by tragic conflict;
especially in the third part of the Sonata, the _Presto-agitato_. The
music evidently responded to the tune of Clara's soul, and certainly
harmonized with my own disposition, for never had I heard Beethoven
interpreted and understood like this before. I am not a musician, but
I suppose even musicians do not know how much there is in that Sonata.
I cannot find another word than "oppressiveness" to describe the
sensation wrought upon the audience. One had a feeling as if mystical
rites were being performed; there rose before me a vast desert, not of
this world, weird and unutterably sad, without shape, half lit up by a
ghostly moon, in the midst of which hopeless despair waited and
sobbed and tore its hair. It was terrible and impressive because so
unearthly; and yet irresistibly attractive,--never had my spirit
come in such close proximity to the infinite. It was almost an
hallucination. I imagined that in the shapeless desert, in the dusk of
a world of shadows, I was searching for somebody dearer to me than the
whole world, one without whom I could not and would not live, and I
searched with the conviction that I should have to search forever and
never find what I was looking for. My heart was so oppressed that at
times I could scarcely breathe. I paid no attention to the mechanical
part of the execution, which no doubt was as perfect as the
All in the room seemed under the same spell, not excepting Clara
When she left off playing she remained for a moment with uplifted head
and eyes, lips slightly parted, and face very pale. And it was not
a mere concert effect, it was real inspiration and forgetfulness of
There was a great hush in that crowd, as if they expected something,
or were benumbed by sorrow, or tried to catch the last echo of sobbing
despair, carried away by a wind from the other world.
Presently there happened what probably never happened in a concert
room before. A great tumult arose, and such an outcry as if a
catastrophe were threatening the whole audience. Several musicians
and reporters approached the platform. I saw their heads bowed over
Clara's hands, she had tears on her eyelashes, her face looked still
inspired, but calm and serene. I went with the others to press her
From the first moment of our acquaintance Clara had always addressed
me in French; now for the first time, returning the pressure of my
hand, she said in German:
"Haben Sie mich verstanden?"
"Ja," I replied, "und ich war sehr ungluecklich!" And it was true.
The continuation of the concert was one great triumph. After the
performance Sniatynski and his wife carried Clara off to their house.
I had no wish to go there. When I reached home, I felt so tired that
without undressing I threw myself upon the sofa, and remained there an
hour without moving, yet not asleep.
After a long time I became conscious that I had been thinking about
the young cleric's funeral, Aniela, and death. I rung for lights, and
then began to write.
Kromitzki's letters have stirred me to such a degree that I cannot
get over the impression. My unreasonable resentment towards Aniela is
passing, and the more I feel how undeserved was my harshness, the more
contrite I become, and the more tenderly I think of her. Yet more
clearly than ever I see how these two are bound by the power of a
simple fact. Since yesterday I have been in the clutches of these
thoughts, and that is the reason I did not go to Ploszow. There I
am obliged to keep watch upon myself and to put on an appearance
of calmness, and at present I could not do it. Everything within
me--thoughts, feelings, nerves--has risen up in revolt against what
has been done. I do not know whether there can be a more desperate
state of mind than when we do not agree with something, protest with
every fibre of heart and brain, and at the same time feel powerless
in presence of an accomplished fact. I understand that this is only a
foretaste of what is awaiting me in the future. There is nothing to be
done,--nothing. She is married, is Pani Kromitzka; she belongs to him,
will always belong to him; and I who cannot consent, for to do so
would mean losing my own self, am obliged to consent. I might as well
protest against the earth turning round as against that other law
which bids a woman stand by her husband. Does this mean that I ought
to respect that law? How can I submit when my whole being cries out
against it? At moments I feel inclined to go away, but I understand
perfectly that beyond this woman the world has for me as much meaning
as death,--that is, nothingness; moreover, I know beforehand that I
shall not go, because I could not muster strength enough to do so.
Sometimes I have thought that human misery goes far beyond human
imagination,--imagination has its limits, and misery, like the vast
seas, appears to be without end. It seems to me that I am floating on
those seas. But no,--there is still something for me to do.
I read once, in Amiel's memoirs, that the deed is only the
crystallized matter of thought. But thoughts may remain in the
abstract,--not so feelings. Theoretically I was conscious of it
before; it is only now I have come to prove it actually on myself.
From the time of my arrival at Ploszow until now, I have never clearly
and distinctly said to myself that I wanted to win Aniela's love, but
it was merely a question of words. In reality I know that I wanted
her, and want her still. Every look of mine, every word, and all my
actions are tending that way. Affection which does not include desire
and action is a mere shadow. Let it be understood,--I want her. I want
to be for Aniela the most beloved being, as she is to me. I want to
win her love, all her thoughts, her soul; and I do not intend to put
any limit to my desires. I shall do everything my heart dictates, and
use all means my intelligence sees most efficient to win her. I shall
take from Kromitzki as much of Aniela as I can; I shall take her from
him altogether if she be willing. In this way I shall have an aim in
life; shall know why I wake up in the morning, take nourishment during
the day, and recuperate myself in sleep. I shall not be happy; for I
could be happy only if she were exclusively my own, and I could crush
the man who had her before me. But I shall have something at least to
live for. It will be my salvation. And this is not a resolution taken
upon the spur of the moment; it is only a translation into words of
all the forces that work within me,--the will and the desires which
belong to the feeling and make an indivisible part of it.
I throw all my scruples to the winds. Even the fear that Aniela might
be unhappy loving me must give way before the great truth, great
as the universe, that the presence of Love fills the life; gives
sustenance to it, and is a hundred thousand times worth more than
emptiness and nothingness of existence.
Thousands of years ago it was known to the world that virtue and
righteousness alone give power to life; that emptiness and nothingness
dwell in the realm of evil. The moment when that dear head rests on my
breast, when the beloved lips meet mine, truth and goodness will be
with us. In the midst of doubts which crowd my brain, that one truth
shines clearly,--of this I can say I believe in it. At last I have
found something certain in life. I know perfectly what a gulf there is
between my belief and the small conventional moralities created for
every-day use. I know that to Aniela it will be a strange, fearsome
world; but I will take her by the hand and lead her there, because
I can tell her with sincere conviction that there are truth and
I find great solace in these thoughts. The greater part of the day
passed miserably enough, because of the consciousness of my impotency
to overcome the obstacles that stand in our, mine and Aniela's, way.
The thought crossed my mind: "Suppose, after all, she loves her
Fortunately for me, a visit from Doctor Chwastowski interrupted my
train of thoughts. He had come from Ploszow to consult with one of the
physicians who at some time had attended Pani Celina. Before going
back he had come to see me. He said Pani Celina was still neither
better nor worse, but Pani Kromitzka was confined to her room with a
severe headache. Then he began to speak about Aniela, and I listened
with pleasure, as it seemed in some way to make up for the loss of
seeing her. He spoke intelligently enough, for a young man of so
little experience. He said he had made it a rule to look mistrustingly
upon mankind in general, not because he thought it the right point
of view, but because it was the safest. As to Pani Kromitzka, he was
quite sure hers was a nature of exceptional goodness and nobility.
He spoke of her with a scarcely disguised enthusiasm, and I had some
suspicion he felt more than admiration for her. But this did not
trouble me in the least; there is too great a distance between her and
this young medical student. On the contrary, I felt pleased that
he appreciated her, and asked him to stop as long as he could; his
presence did me good, as it kept me from thinking.
In the course of our conversation I asked about his plans for the
future. He replied that first he must save some money in order to go
abroad and see something of foreign hospitals; afterwards he intended
to settle at Warsaw.
"What do you understand by settling at Warsaw?"
"Work at some of the hospitals, and a possible practice."
"And then you will get married, I suppose?"
"I suppose so; but there is plenty of time for that."
"Unless you meet somebody that subjugates your will; as a doctor you
know that love is a physiological necessity."
Young Chwastowski wants to show himself off as a sober-minded man
above human weaknesses; so he only shrugged his broad shoulders,
smoothed his short-cropped head, and said: "I acknowledge the
necessity; but do not intend to allow it to occupy too large a space
in my life."
He looked very knowing, but I replied gravely: "Considering somewhat
deeper the question of feeling, who knows whether it be worth while to
live for anything else?"
Chwastowski pondered over this a little while.
"No," he said, "I do not agree with you. There are many other objects
in life,--for instance, science, or even social duties. I do not say
anything against matrimony; a man ought to marry for himself as
well as to have children. But matrimony is one thing, and continual
"What is the difference between them?"
"The difference is obvious, sir. We are like ants constructing an
ant-hill. We have our work to do, and not much time to spare for love
and women. That is all very well for those who cannot work, or who do
not want to do anything."
Saying this he looked like a man who speaks in the name of all that is
strongest in the country, and expresses himself well. I looked with
a certain satisfaction at this healthy specimen of mankind, and
acknowledged that, except for a certain touch of youthful arrogance,
he spoke very sensibly.
It is quite true that woman and love do not occupy a large space in
the life of those who work, and those who have before them great
undertakings and serious aims. The peasant marries because such is the
custom, and he wants a housekeeper. There is very little sentiment in
him, although poets and novelists want us to believe the contrary. The
man of science, the statesman, the leader, the politician devote only
a small part of their life to woman. Artists are exceptional. Their
profession brings them in touch with love, for art exists through love
and woman. Generally, it is only in rich communities that woman reigns
supreme and fills the life of those who have no serious work in hand.
She encompasses all their thoughts, becomes the leading motive of
their actions, and the exclusive aim of their exertions. And it cannot
be otherwise. There is myself for instance. The community to which
I belong is not as rich as others, but personally I am rich. These
riches prevented me from doing anything, and I have no fixed aim in
life. It might be different had I been born an Englishman or a German,
and not been handicapped by that _improductivite Slave_. No one of the
compound active principles of civilization attracts me or fills up the
void, for the simple reason that civilization is faint and permeated
with scepticism. If it feels its end is drawing near and doubts
itself, why should I believe in it and devote to it my life? Generally
speaking, I live as if in mid air, with no firm hold upon the earth.
If my disposition were cold and dry, if I were dull of mind or merely
sensuous, I could have limited my life to mere vegetation or animal
enjoyment. But it happened otherwise. I brought with me into the world
a bright intellect, a luxuriant organism, and vital powers of no mean
degree. These forces had to find an outlet, and they could find it
only in the love for a woman. There remained nothing else for me. My
whole misfortune is that, as a child of a diseased civilization, I
grew up crooked; therefore love, too, came to me crooked.
Simplicity of mind would have given me happiness, but what is the use
to speak of it? The hunchback, too, would be glad to get rid of his
hump, but he cannot, because hump-backed he came from his mother's
womb. My hump was caused by the abnormal state of civilization that
brought me into the world. But straight or crooked, I must love, and I
My reason is now altogether subservient to feeling, and is, in truth,
like the driver who passively clings to his box, and can do nothing
but watch whether the vehicle will go to pieces. I went back to
Ploszow a few days ago, and all I say and all I do are only the
tactics of love. He is a clever doctor--is Chwastowski--to prescribe
for Aniela exercise in the park. I found her there this morning. There
are moments when the feeling in my heart--though I am always conscious
of it--manifests itself with such extraordinary power that it almost
frightens me by its magnitude. Such a moment I had to-day, when at a
sudden turn of the road I met Aniela. Never had she appeared to me
more beautiful, more desirable, and more as if she were my own. This
is exactly the only woman in the world who by virtue of certain
natural forces, scarcely known by name, was to attract me, as the
magnet attracts iron, to reign over me, to attach me to her, and
become the aim and completion of my life. Her voice, her shape, her
glances intoxicate me. To-day, when I thus unexpectedly met her, I
thought it was not only her personal charm she carried with her, but
the charm of that early morning, that spring and serene weather, the
joy of all the birds and plants,--in fact, she seemed to be more an
incarnation of beauty and nature than a woman. And it struck me then
that, if nature had created her thus that she should react upon me
more than upon any other man, nature had meant her to be mine, and
that my right had been trodden under foot by this marriage. Who knows
whether all the crookedness of the world does not spring from the
non-fulfilment of certain laws, and whether that be not the cause of
the imperfectness of life?
They are wrong who say that love is blind. On the contrary,
nothing--not the smallest detail--escapes its eyes; it sees everything
in the beloved being, notices everything; but melts it all in one
flame in the great and simple "I love." When I came close to Aniela, I
noticed that her eyes were brilliant as if from recent slumber; that
on her face and the light print dress fell the golden rays of the
morning sun filtering through the young leaves; her hair was tied in
a loose knot, and the flowing morning dress showed the outline of her
shoulders and supple waist, and in its very carelessness had a certain
freshness, which enhanced a thousandfold her charm. It did not escape
my notice how much smaller than usual she looked among the tall elm
trees of the avenue,--almost a child; in brief, nothing escaped me,
but all my observations changed into the rapture of one who loves
deliriously. She returned my morning greeting with some confusion. For
the last few days she seems afraid of me, for I hypnotize her with
every glance and word. Her peace of thought is already disturbed, and
the ferment has entered her soul. She cannot help seeing I love her,
but does not own it, not even to herself. Sometimes I have a
sensation as if I were holding a bird in my hand, and heard its heart
palpitating under my fingers. We walked together in embarrassed
silence, which I did not care to interrupt. I know this uneasiness is
oppressive to her; but it renders her my accomplice, and brings me
nearer to the end. In the silence which surrounded us not a sound
was audible but the crunching of the gravel under our feet, and the
whistling of the golden orioles, which are plentiful in the park. I
started at last a conversation. I directed it to suit my plans, for
however much my mind is closed against influences that have no bearing
upon my feeling, within their sphere I have a well-nigh redoubled
presence of mind,--an acuteness of perception, as have those plunged
into a hypnotic trance, and in a given direction see more clearly
than people in their normal state. We passed speedily on to personal
topics. I spoke about myself in the confidential tone in which one
speaks to those nearest, who alone have the right to know everything.
There sprung up between us a whole world of mutual understanding and
thoughts, common to us both. Since such a bond ought to exist by
virtue of marriage,--between her and her husband,--I was leading
her towards spiritual faithlessness by such gradual steps that she
scarcely could be aware of it.
Nevertheless, the subtle nature perceived the drift. But I had taken
her by the hand, and led her; yet while leading, I felt a moral
resistance. I was fully aware the resistance would grow stronger if I
pushed much farther, and she perceived the danger. But I saw too that
I was gaining ground, and that step by step I could lead her where I
In the meantime I spoke on purpose about the past.
"Do you remember," I said, "how in the days gone by--those happier
days--you asked me why I did not remain in the country, and turn my
abilities to some use. It was when I came home late, and you were
sitting up for me. I cannot tell you even what power you had over
me. I could not then begin to work, I had to go away; then came my
father's death. But I never forgot those words. I have come back now
to live and to work at home, and if I ever achieve anything it will be
owing to you,--your influence will be the source of my achievement."
There ensued a momentary silence between us, broken only by the
whistling of the orioles. Aniela was evidently searching for a reply,
and at last said,--
"I cannot believe that a man like you should not be able to find a
more weighty inducement. You know very well it is your duty, and what
is past is past, and now everything is changed."
"I am not so sure of that," I replied. "Perhaps, when once I start, I
shall find in the work itself some pleasure and encouragement. But
a man like me, who, in spite of what you are saying about duty, has
never been, fully conscious of it, must have some personal reason for
changing the whole tenor of his life; and the more he is unhappy, the
more he wants that personal inducement. Why should I tell you what is
not true? I am not happy. The consciousness of duty is a beautiful
thing, no doubt; but unfortunately I do not have it. You, who are so
much better, nobler than I, could have taught it me; but it was fated
otherwise. But even now, if only for the sake of those times when you
wanted me to do something, I can do it still if you will help me."
Aniela hastened her steps, as if she wanted to return home, and said
almost in a whisper,--
"Do not say that, Leon; please do not. You know I cannot do it."
"Why can you not? Do not understand me wrongly. You are and always
will be a very dear sister to me. It is only this I wanted you to
Aniela almost feverishly gave me her hand, which I raised reverently
to my lips.
"Yes, I will be that,--always that," she replied quickly.
And I saw what a heavy weight I had lifted from her mind; how that one
word "sister" had calmed and moved her. This made me recover all my
self-possession; for, when I had touched her hand with my lips, it
almost grew dark before my eyes, and I wanted to take her in my arms,
and tell her the whole truth. In the mean time Aniela's face had grown
brighter and more cheerful. As we came nearer the house, her trouble
seemed to slip off from her, and seeing how much I had gained by
taking this way with her, I continued in the same strain of friendly
"You see, little sister, there is such a void around me. My father is
no more; my aunt is a saintly woman; but she does not understand new
times and new people. Her ideas are different from mine. I shall
never marry,--think only what a lonely man I am. I have nobody near
me,--nobody to share my thoughts, my plans, or my sorrows; nothing but
loneliness around me. Is it not natural that I look for sympathy where
I might expect to find it? I am like the crippled beggar, who stands
waiting at the gate until they give him a small coin. At this moment
the beggar is very poor indeed, and he stands under your window, and
begs for a little friendliness, sympathy, and pity. A very small coin
will satisfy him,--you will not refuse him that, Aniela, will you?"
"I will not, Leon; I will not, since you are so unhappy--"
Her voice broke, and she began to tremble. Again I had to make a great
effort to restrain myself; and as I looked at her, something like
unshed tears took me by the throat.
"Aniela! little Aniela!" I exclaimed, not knowing what to say.
But she waved her hands, as if to ward me off, and said, her eyes full
"Let me go--I shall be better presently. I can not go back like this;
let me go."
And she went swiftly away.
"Aniela, forgive me!" I called after her.
My first impulse was to follow her, but I thought it would be better
to leave her to herself, and I only followed her with my eyes. She
went quickly back into the avenue we had crossed together, and then
turned into a side path. Sometimes the foliage hid her from my eyes,
then again the light dress lit up by the sun appeared between the
trees. From the distance I saw how she shut and opened her sunshade,
as if trying by physical exertion to overcome her emotion. During all
that time I inwardly called her the most endearing names that love
could invent. I could not go away without looking once more into her
eyes; but I had a long time to wait. She came at last, but passed
quickly by, as if afraid of another shock; she only smiled at me in
passing, with angelic sweetness, and said, "I am all right again."
On her face, pink with exercise, there was no trace of tears. I
remained alone, and a mad, indescribable joy got hold of me, hope
filled my heart, and there was one thought dominating everything: "She
loves me, she fights against it, does not yield, deludes herself--but
loves." At times, the most self-possessed of men, in the
super-abundance of some emotion, comes near the brink of madness. I
was so near it then that I felt a wild desire to hide myself in the
deepest recess of the woods, tear the grass, and shout at the top of
my voice, "She loves me!" At present, when I am able to think more
calmly of this joy, I find it was composed of various active forces.
There was the joy of the artist who sees that a masterpiece he has
begun is progressing satisfactorily; maybe also the satisfaction
of the spider when the fly comes near the web; but there was also
kindness, pity, great tenderness, and all that over which angels
rejoice, as the poet has it. I felt sorry the defenceless little thing
should fall into my hands; and that pity increased the love, and the
desire to conquer Aniela. I felt also a sting of conscience that I had
deceived her, and yet I had the consciousness that I had spoken the
truth when I asked for her sympathy and friendship. I want it as I
want my health. But I did not confess to all my desires, because the
time for it has not yet come. I did not tell her the whole truth, so
as not to frighten the timid soul. I shall come to it by and by, and
the road which leads towards it in the straightest line is the best.
The weather is still serene, and everything is serene between us.
Aniela is calm and happy. She thoroughly believes in what I said,
and, as I did not ask for anything but sisterly affection, and her
conscience approves, she allows her heart to follow its dictates.
I alone know that it is a loyal way of deceiving herself and her
husband; for under cover of sisterly affection there is another
feeling, the growth of which I am watching daily. Of course I do not
intend to undeceive her until the feeling grows too strong for her.
By and by she will be enveloped in a flame which neither will, nor
consciousness of duty, nor the modesty of the woman white as a swan,
will be able to keep under control. Constantly the thought dwells with
me that since I love her most, mine is the higher right. What can
there be more logical or more true? The unwritten code of ethics of
all people, of whatever faith, says that the mutual belonging of man
and woman to each other is based upon love.
But to-day I am so restful and happy that I prefer to feel rather
than to reason. There is now between us a great cordiality, ease, and
intimacy. How we were made for each other, cling to each other, and
how the dear little thing delights in the warmth, delusive warmth
of brotherly affection. Never since my return have I seen her
so cheerful. Formerly when I looked at her she reminded me of
Shakspeare's "Poor Tom." A nature like hers wants love, as her body
wants air to breathe. Kromitzki, occupied with speculations, does not
love her enough, perhaps does not know what love means. She might
rightly say with Shakspeare, "Poor Tom's acold." When I think of this
my heart is stirred, and I make a silent vow that she shall never feel
cold as long as I live.
If our love were wrong there could not be within us such peace. That
Aniela does not call it by its proper name means nothing; it is there
all the same. The whole day passed for us like an idyl. Formerly I
disliked Sundays; now I find that a Sunday, from morning until night,
may be like a poem, especially in the country. Soon after breakfast,
we went to church in time for the early mass. My aunt followed in our
rear; even Pani Celina, profiting by the fine weather, was wheeled
thither in her Bath chair. There were not many people in church, as
most of them go later for high mass. Sitting on the bench by Aniela's
side, I had the blissful illusion that I was sitting with my affianced
wife. From time to time I looked at the sweet, dear profile, at the
hands which were resting on the desk before her, and the concentration
in her face and bearing gradually infected me. My senses went to
sleep, my thoughts became purer, and I loved her at that moment with
an ideal love, because I felt more than ever how different she was
from any other woman, how infinitely better and purer.
For a long time I had not felt anything like what I felt in this quiet
village church. Added to Aniela's presence there was the impressive
dignity of the church itself, the soft, flickering light of the
candles in the dim recess of the altar, shafts of colored light coming
through the windows, the chirping sparrows, and the still mass.
All this, with the dreaminess of an early morning, had something
unutterably soothing. My thoughts began to flow as evenly as the
incense at the altar. Nobler feelings stirred within me, and a desire
to sacrifice my own self. An inward voice began to remonstrate:--
"Do not disturb that transparent water; respect its purity."
When the mass came to an end, and we left the church, I saw, to my
greatest amazement, both the Latyszes crouching near the church gate,
with wooden plates in their hands, asking for alms. My aunt, who knew
about my gift, grew very angry upon seeing them there, and began to
abuse them roundly. But the old woman, still holding out her wooden
plate, and not at all abashed, said quietly:--
"His lordship's generosity is one thing, and God's will is another. We
must not go against the Lord's will. When the little Lord Jesus told
us to sit here, we must, now and forever and ever, Amen."
There was nothing to say against this kind of reasoning; especially
that "forever and ever, Amen," imposed upon me, to such an extent that
I gave them some money for the oddity of the thing. These people at
the bottom of their hearts believe in fate, which they dress up in
Christian forms, and submit to it blindly. These Latyszes, to whom I
gave a thousand two hundred roubles, are now better off than they ever
were in their lives, and yet they went to sit at the church gates
because such was their fate,--which the old woman translated into the
"will of God."
When we were wending our way homewards, the bells were ringing for
high mass. On the road appeared groups of men and women. From the more
distant hamlets one could see them going Indian file along the narrow
paths amid the corn, which, though still green, had shot up to a
considerable height, owing to the early spring. As far as the eye
could reach, in the pure translucid atmosphere, the bright colored
kerchiefs of the girls appeared above the wheat-fields like so many
poppy flowers. By the bye, there is nowhere in Europe such a breadth
of atmosphere as in Poland. What struck me most of all was the
distinctly Sunday character of the day, not in the people alone, but
also in nature. It is true the weather was splendid, but it seemed as
if the wind were hushed because it was Sunday; even the corn did not
rock, not a leaf shook on the poplars, the stillness was perfect; yet
there was the cheerfulness of the Sunday in the festive garments, and
in the dancing sunbeams.
I explained to Aniela how, from an artistic point of view, those
bright spots harmonized with the landscape and melted in the distance
into a blue haze. Then we began to talk about the peasants. I
confessed that I did not see anything but a crowd of more or less
picturesque models; but Aniela looks at them from a quite different
point of view. She began telling me many characteristic traits, some
sad, and some amusing, and while talking grew very animated, and at
the same time as lovely as a summer's dream.
The conversation again drifted towards the old couple we had left
sitting under the church gate, and especially the old woman, whose
reasoning had amused us so much. I began comparing her position to my
own. As my aunt remained with Pani Celina, whom the servant wheeled
along at a certain distance behind, I could with freedom allude to our
last conversation in the park.
"Not long ago," I said, "I asked you for alms, and you bestowed them
on me. I see now that this does not bind me to anything, and I may
again hold out my wooden platter at the church gate."
"Eh! to ask other charitable souls for the same," replied Aniela.
"Aunty is going to invite one charitable soul to Ploszow, I
"If it is Miss Hilst you mean, she is too big to find room in a single
heart; it wants three at least to hold her," but Aniela did not leave
off teasing, and shaking her little finger at me, said:--
"It is a suspicious case, very suspicious."
"At present there is no ground for suspicion," I replied. "My heart
is a repository of brotherly feelings, and there reigns supreme the
spiteful little being who is tormenting me at present."
Aniela ceased laughing and jesting, slackened her pace, and presently
we joined the elder ladies. The remainder of the day passed without
a cloud, and so pleasantly that at times I fancied myself again a
schoolboy. My eyes still spoke to her of love; but my desires slept.
My aunt went to Warsaw after lunch, and I remained in Pani Celina's
room, reading to her Montalembert's letters, with whom my father at
one time had a regular correspondence. These letters would have seemed
very tedious to me but for Aniela's presence. Raising my eyes now and
then, I met her glance, which filled me with inexpressible joy. Unless
I have lost all power of judgment, she looks at me as would look a
pure, innocent woman, unconsciously loving with all her soul. What a
good day it has been!
My aunt came back towards evening, and announced visitors. To-morrow
both the Sniatynskis are coming, and Clara Hilst.
It is very late, but I do not want to sleep, for I am loathe to part
with the memories of the day. Sleep cannot be more beautiful. The park
is literally alive with the song of the nightingales, and there is
still in me a great deal of the old romanticist. The night is clear
and limpid, and the sky full of stars. Thinking of Aniela, I say a
hundred times good-night to her. I see that side by side with the
_improductivite Slave_, there is in me a great deal of purely Polish
sentimentality. I had not known myself in that capacity before. But
what does it matter? I love her very much.
Clara and the Sniatynskis have not arrived. Instead of this, there
came a letter, informing us they would come to-morrow, the weather
permitting. To-day we had a thunder-storm, the like of which they have
not experienced here for a long time. About ten o'clock in the morning
a hot wind rose, which smothered everything in clouds of dust. The
wind fell at times, and then rose again with such fury that it seemed
to lay the trees flat. Our beautiful park was filled with the sound of
crashing branches, and clouds of dust mingled with torn-off leaves and
twigs. The great lime-tree close to the pavilion, where young Latysz
died, was split in two. It was fear-fully close, there was no air, and
the wind seemed to come straight from a heated furnace, and carried
with it a breath of carbon. I, used to the Italian _scirocco_, did not
mind it so much, but Pani Celina suffered greatly, and indirectly,
Aniela. My aunt was in a bad temper about the damage done to the park,
and as usual, vented it on Chwastowski. The peppery old gentleman,
who probably was caned often enough over his Homer, had evidently not
forgotten the Odyssey, nor his ready speech either, for he replied to
my aunt that if he were AEolus he would not serve her as agent, and
bear with her unjust tantrums. My aunt gave way this time, merely
because of the redoubled threats from the skies. It had grown very
still all at once, but from the south, banks of cloud, black as a
funereal pall, overcast with a sickly red sheen, came rolling up. In
a moment it grew as dark as night, and Pani Celina rung for lights.
Shortly afterwards the darkness yielded to an ominous reddish light.
Chwastowski rushed off in a hurry to give orders for the cattle to be
driven home, but the cow-herds had started without waiting for orders,
for presently we heard distinctly the mournful lowing of the cattle.
Then my aunt fetched the bell of Our Lady of Loreto, and went around
the house ringing energetically. I did not even try to explain to her
that ringing a bell in that motionless atmosphere might rather attract
than avert a thunderbolt, and in spite of the consciousness that in
case of danger I could not be of the slightest help, I was ashamed to
let her risk the danger alone. The old lady was simply magnificent
when, with her head thrown back, she seemed to defy the black and
copper-colored banks of clouds, and shook at them her Loreto bell.
I did not regret having gone with her, if only to see a symbolic
picture. At a moment when everything trembles before the approaching
horror, crouches in terror almost stupefied, faith alone has no fear;
it defies, and rings a bell. This is, from whatever side we look at
it, an element of incalculable power in the human soul.
We returned when the first thunder began to growl all around the
horizon. A few minutes later the roar became incessant. I had a
sensation as if the thunder rolled on the lower stratum of the clouds,
and the whole mass would burst at any moment and come with a deafening
crash upon the earth. A thunderbolt fell into the pond at the other
end of the park, followed by another so close by that the house
shook on its foundations. My ladies began to say the Litany; I felt
uncertain what to do; if I joined them it would be hypocrisy on my
part, and if I did not it would look as if I were showing myself off
as an ill-bred wiseacre, who cannot make allowance for country customs
and female terrors. But I was wrong; they were not afraid; their faces
were calm, even serene. It was evident that the familiar Litany was
to them a sufficient armor against all dangers, and that there was no
fear in their hearts. The thought crossed my mind what a stranger in
spirit I was in presence of these Polish women, of whom each knows ten
times less than I, and according to human measure, is worth ten times
as much as I. They are like books of comparatively few pages, each
page containing clear and simple rules, whereas I, with all those
volumes of which I am composed, do not possess a single undoubted
It was but a passing thought, as presently the storm that broke upon
us with terrific force engaged all my attention. The wind rose again,
crashing among the trees. It fell at moments, and then the rain came
down in streams; no drops were visible, but long spouts that seemed to
join sky and earth. The avenues in the park were like foaming brooks.
Sometimes a strong gust of wind whipped the water into a fine spray
that hung between earth and sky and obscured the whole view. The
deafening roar of thunder went on incessantly. The air was saturated
with electricity. My pulses were beating loudly; in the rooms an
irritating smell of sulphur made itself felt. The raging elements
without seemed to influence me in a strange way, and I began to lose
control over myself.
"Do you want to see the storm?" I asked Aniela.
"Very well. Where from?"
"Come into the next room, there is a larger window."
We went and stood at the window. It was very dark then, and every
moment white and red forks of lightning tore across the clouds,
opening the skies and at the same time illuminating our faces and the
dark world without. Aniela was calm, but seemed every moment more
"Are you afraid?" I whispered.
"Give me your hand."
She looked at me wonderingly. Another moment and I should have folded
her in my arms and pressed my lips against hers, and then let Ploszow
be razed to the ground, by the tempest. But she was terrified, not by
the storm, but by the expression of my face and that whisper; she drew
back from the window and returned to the room where the elder ladies
I remained alone,--with a feeling of anger and humiliation. That I
should have taken advantage of Aniela's confidence is quite certain,
and yet I felt offended by her want of trust, and resolved to pay her
out in some way. I stood for an hour at the window looking absently at
the lightning flashes. Then it grew lighter and lighter outside; at
last the clouds parted, and the sun shone forth fresh and bright and
as if wondering at the devastation the tempest had wrought.
It was very considerable; the avenues were still flooded with yellow,
foaming water, above which floated broken branches. Here and there big
trees were lying about, snapped across or torn out by the roots; the
bark was partly stripped from the trunks of pine trees, leaving what
looked like gaping wounds. Everywhere the eye could reach there was
ruin and devastation, as if after a battle.
When the water had drained off a little I went out toward the ponds
to ascertain the extent of the damage. Suddenly the whole park became
alive with people, who, with an almost savage energy, began to tear
off the broken branches and chop at the fallen trunks. It appears they
were peasant-lodgers who had no right in the woods. In the main, I
did not care whether they gathered the sticks, but as they had come
through the broken fence without permission, and in such a savage
manner, I, being out of humor, began to drive them away, my anger
rising at their stubborn resistance. At last I threatened them with
the village authorities, when suddenly, close by, the sweetest voice
in the world said in French:--
"Is there any harm in their clearing the park, Leon?"
I turned round and saw Aniela, her head covered with a kerchief tied
under her chin. With both hands she was holding up her dress, showing
up to the ankles her little feet encased in high boots; bending
slightly forward she looked at me entreatingly.
At her sight my anger vanished at once. I forgot the unpleasant
sensations that had troubled me a little while before, and looked at
her as if I could never fill myself enough with the sight.
"Is it your wish?" I asked.
Then, turning to the people, I said:--
"Take the wood, and thank the lady for the permission."
This time they obeyed with alacrity. Some of them, evidently strangers
to Ploszow, addressed her as "gracious Panienka" (Miss), which caused
me unspeakable delight. If Ploszow were mine they might cut down every
tree at her wish. In half an hour every broken branch and fallen tree
was cleared away, and the park looked really all the better for it.
Walking with Aniela along the paths I found a great many swallows and
other birds, either killed by the storm or half dead and drenched
with rain. I picked them up, and handing them one by one to Aniela,
I touched her hands, looked into her eyes, and again felt happy. The
idyl of the day before repeated itself, for us both, and brought with
it ease and cheerfulness. My heart was full of joy, for I saw what
Aniela could not see,--that in our brotherly relation there was twice
as much tenderness as would be or ought to be between the most loving
brother and sister. I was quite sure now that, unconsciously, she
loved me as much as I loved her. In this way one half of my hopes and
schemes are realized already; there remains only to bring it home to
her and make her own to the feeling. When I think of that I remember,
with a heart beating fast with happiness, what I wrote down some time
ago: that "no woman in the world can resist the man she truly loves."
Our visitors did not come yesterday but to-day, which was very
sensible, as all traces of the storm have disappeared and the weather
is very fine. This fifteenth of May will be one of the best remembered
days in my life. It is now past midnight; I am wide awake, as if I
never wanted to sleep again, and intend to write until morning. I am
collecting my thoughts so as not to begin at the end, and put it all
down in proper order. Force of habit is a great help in this.
My aunt sent the carriage for the Sniatynskis and Clara very early, in
consequence of which they arrived before noon. The ladies were bright,
cheerful, and chirping like sparrows, glad of the fine weather and
their excursion. What toilets, and what quaint hats! Clara looked
very well in a light, striped dress that made her seem less tall than
usual. I observed that Aniela, after the first greeting, looked at her
searchingly and seemed struck by her beauty, of which I had scarcely
said anything to her. I had not refrained out of calculation, but
had been so occupied with Aniela that I had not thought of it. For
instance, though I had met Pani Sniatynska several times I had never
noticed she wore her hair short, which suits her style of beauty. The
light, curly hair falling over her brow gives her the expression of a
resolute, rosy-faced boy. We are excellent friends again. There was a
time she would have liked to kill me, so angry was she about Aniela.
Evidently her husband had told her what I suffered, and women have
a special weakness for those who suffer for love's sake; she has
forgiven me and reinstalled me in her favor. The presence of such a
bright, vivacious, easy-going woman was a great help in bringing Clara
and Aniela into closer relation. I saw that my aunt met Clara with
great heartiness; but Aniela, in spite of her sweet disposition,
seemed shy, and kept aloof from her. At lunch, amid a cheerful
conversation, she thawed a little. Clara seemed struck by Aniela's
beauty, and as she always says what she thinks, she expressed her
admiration with so much grace and enthusiasm that Aniela had to yield.
Pani Celina, who now perhaps for the first time found herself in
company with an artist, looked gratified, and turning to her said that
"though Aniela's mother, she must say that as a child she was very
pretty,--promising far greater beauty." Both Sniatynskis joined in the
conversation. He began to discuss with Clara various female types,
then spoke of Aniela's type and its aesthetic perfection in a highly
amusing objective manner, as if she were a portrait hanging on the
wall, rather than a living presence. She, listening to this, blushed
and lowered her eyes, truly like a little girl, which made her look
more charming than ever.
I was silent, but inwardly compared these three female faces, treating
them also objectively, that is, putting aside the fact that one of
them was the loved one, and as such occupied an exceptional position;
even then everything spoke in her favor. Pani Sniatynska's, especially
in her short curly hair, is a charming head, yet nothing but what may
be found in any English Keepsake. Clara's beauty rests mainly upon her
calm expression, the blue eyes, and that transparent complexion so
often met with in German women; but for her art, which surrounds her
as with a nimbus, she could only be called a handsome woman. Aniela
is not only an artistic production of an exceedingly noble style as
regards her features, but there is something individual in her that
cannot be measured by any standard. Maybe her individuality rests upon
the fact that, being neither dark nor fair, she gives the physical
impression of a brunette and the spiritual one of a blonde. The cause
of this is perhaps the great abundance of hair on a comparatively
small head; enough that she is unique in her kind. She excels even
Mrs. Davis in this regard, whose beauty was without a flaw, but it was
the beauty of a statue. Mrs. Davis only excited the admiration of my
senses, while Aniela rouses in me the idealist, who goes in rapture
over the poetry of her expression.
But I will not even compare these two so utterly different beings.
I yielded to these reflections during lunch, because the topic in
question had brought me on that track; besides, the analysis of
Aniela's beauty always gives me a keen delight. My aunt interrupted
the discussion, deeming it proper, as lady of the house, to say
something about Clara's last concert. She spoke much and very well;
I never supposed she had such knowledge of music; she paid her some
graceful compliments with the air of a _grande dame_, in that flowing,
winning style only people of the older generation are capable of. In
short, I observed that my downright, outspoken aunt was still able to
recall the times of powder and patches. Clara seemed quite charmed,
and did not remain behind-hand in graceful acknowledgment.
"I shall always be able to play well at Warsaw," she said, "because
I am in touch with my audience, but I play best in small circles of
friends where I feel in sympathy with everybody,--and if you will
permit, I will give you a proof of it after lunch."
My aunt, who was very anxious that Pani Celina should hear her, yet
had misgivings whether it would be right to ask her to play, was much
pleased by the proposal. I began to speak of Clara's performances at
Paris and her triumphs at Erard's concerts; Sniatynski gave an account
of what was said at Warsaw; and so the time passed until we rose from
lunch. Clara herself got hold of Paul Celina's invalid chair and would
not allow anybody to help, declaring laughingly that she was by
far the strongest among us, and was not afraid to tire her hands.
Presently she sat down to the piano, and as evidently Mozart suited
her disposition, she gave us Don Juan. The first notes sounded, she
was a different Clara; not the merry, lively child any longer, but an
incarnate Saint Cecilia. There shone in her the close relationship of
outward form with the spirit of harmony, which surrounded her with a
dignity above common womanhood. I made another observation, namely:
that a man in love can find food for his feelings even in what tells
against the loved woman. When I thought how far my Aniela was from
being a Sybil, saw her sitting in a corner of the drawing-room so
small and still, as if crushed down by some weight, I loved her all
the more, and it made her if possible dearer to me than ever. It also
occurred to me that a woman is not in reality what she appears to
people in general, but such as the man who loves sees her; therefore
her absolute excellence is in proportion to the power of love she
inspires. I had no time to follow out this idea, but it pleased me
because I saw dimly before me the conclusion that in the name of this
excellence the woman ought to give her heart to him who loves her
Clara played superbly. I watched the sensation on the others' faces,
when presently I noticed that Aniela was looking at me for the same
reason. Was it mere curiosity, or an involuntary uneasiness of heart
which could not say what it feared and yet was afraid? I said to
myself: "If the last supposition were true it would be a proof that
she loves me." The thought filled me with joy, and I resolved to find
an answer to it in the course of the day. Thenceforth I bestowed all
my attention upon Clara, and was more attentive to her than I had ever
been before. In the woods whither we had driven, I walked with her,
glancing furtively now and then at Aniela, who remained with the
Suiatynskis. Clara was in rapture with the woods, which are indeed at
their best now, the fresh green of the leafy trees forming a perfect
canopy over the more sombre looking pines.
The sun filtering across the branches converted the earth, carpeted
with ferns and tender mosses, into a delicate golden embroidery. There
were the cheerful voices of spring around us, the cuckoo's call and
the woodpecker's knock-knock at the trees. When we joined the others
I asked Clara to translate into music the voices of spring. She said
there was already a _Fruehlingslied_ singing within her, and she
would try to give it expression. Truly she looked as if the song was
there,--besides she is like a great harp that speaks only in sounds.
Her face was bright with burning blushes; Aniela instead looked
fagged, though she evidently tried to keep up with the Sniatynskis,
who were as lively as a couple of school-children on their holiday.
They began finally to race with each other, and Clara joined in the
sport, which she ought not to have done, considering her size, as the
quick motion was anything but graceful,--nay, almost ridiculous.
When they were thus running after each other I remained alone with
Aniela. According to my plan of operations I was anxious to bring
her mind to full consciousness through the uneasiness with which she
seemed to be oppressed.
"There is something troubling you, Aniela; what is it?" I asked.
"No, nothing whatever."
"It seemed to me as if you were dissatisfied with something; is it
that you do not like Clara?"
"No; I like her very much, and do not wonder she is so much admired."
Further conversation was made impossible by the return of the truants.
It was also time to go back. On the way, Sniatynski asked Clara
whether she felt really satisfied with her stay at Warsaw.
"The best proof I can give you of this is that I do not think of going
away yet," she replied gayly.
"We must try to keep you with us always," I interpolated.
Clara, in spite of the simplicity with which she accepts all that is
said to her, looked questioningly at me, then grew a little confused,
and replied,--"They are all very kind to me here."
I was conscious that my words were in a way dishonorable, as they
might mislead Clara; but all I cared for was the impression they would
make upon Aniela. Unfortunately, I could not see her face, as she was
buttoning her gloves, with her head bent so low that her hat concealed
it from me. This sudden movement seemed to me a good sign.
The elder ladies were awaiting us with the dinner, which lasted until
nine o'clock; and then Clara improvised her _Fruehlingslied_. I am
almost certain that since Ploszow existed there had never been heard
such music within its walls, but I paid very little attention to it.
I sat near her in the dusk, as she did not want the lamps lit.
Sniatynski waved his arm as if it were a baton; which evidently
annoyed his wife, as she pulled his sleeve several times. Aniela sat
quite motionless; maybe she, too, was absorbed in her own thoughts,
and did not listen to the _Fruehlingslied_. I was almost certain she
was thinking about me and Clara, and especially about the meaning of
the words I had said to Clara. It was easy enough to guess that even
if she did not love me, or had the slightest consciousness that my
love was any other but brotherly affection, she would feel sore and
disappointed if that were about to be taken away from her. A woman who
is not happy in her married life clings round any other feeling, if
it be only friendship, as the ivy clings to the tree. I had no doubt
whatever that if at this moment I knelt down at her feet and told her
it was she, and she alone, that I loved, she would feel a sudden joy,
as one feels upon recovering something very precious. And if so, I
debated within me, why not hasten the solution, if only a way could be
found,--frightening her as little as possible, or making her forget
all terror in her joy. I began at once to devise ways and means, as
I understood it must be done in such a way as to make it forever
impossible for her to cast me off. My mind worked very hard at it, as
the problem was not an easy one. Gradually a great emotion stole over
me: and strange to say, it was more on Aniela's account than on my own
that I felt moved,--for I realized suddenly what a great wrench it
would be, and I was afraid for her.
In the mean time it had grown lighter in the drawing-room; the moon
had risen above the trees, and cast luminous shafts across the floor.
The melodies of the _Fruehlingslied_ still filled the air, and the
nightingales responded to it through the open French window. It was
a glorious evening, warm and balmy, and full of harmony and love. I
thought involuntarily that, if life does not give us happiness, it
presents us with a ready frame for it.
In the luminous dusk my eyes searched for Aniela; but she looked at
Clara, who at this moment seemed more a vision than a substantial
being. The moonlight, advancing more and more into the room, rested
now upon her; and in the light dress she looked like the silvery
spirit of music. But the vision did not last long. Clara finished her
song; whereupon Pani Sniatynska rose, and saying it was late, gave the
signal for departure. As the evening was so warm, I proposed we should
see our visitors off as far as the high-road, about half a mile from
our house. I did this on purpose, so as to walk home with Aniela. I
knew she could not well refuse such a mere act of politeness, and I
was also sure my aunt would not go with us.
I gave orders for the carriage to drive on and wait on the road, and
we went on foot through the lime avenue. I offered my arm to Clara,
but we walked all abreast, accompanied by the croaking of the frogs in
the Ploszow mere.
Clara stopped a moment to listen to that chorus, which ceased now and
then, to start afresh with redoubled vigor, and said,--
"This is the finale of my Song of Spring."
"What an exquisite evening!" remarked Sniatynski, and then began to
quote the beautiful lines from the "Merchant of Venice":--
"How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony."
He did not remember the rest, but I did, and took up the strain:--
"Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it."
Then I repeated to Clara, who does not understand Polish, the lines in
French, improvising the translation. She listened to it, then raised
her eyes heavenward, and said simply,--
"I was always certain there is music in the spheres."
It appeared that Pani Sniatynska was equally certain of it, and
reminded her husband that she had discussed it with him not long
before, but he was not quite sure he remembered; whereupon a slight
matrimonial dispute took place, at which Clara and I laughed. Aniela
had not joined the conversation at all; did she feel hurt that I
had offered my arm to Clara, and paid her some attention? The very
supposition made me feel happy. Yet I tried not to lose my head, and
said to myself, "Do not run away with the idea that she knows what
jealousy means; she is only a little sad and feels lonely, that is
all." I would have given at this moment a whole host of artists such
as Clara for a few words with Aniela,--to tell her that I belong
to her, and only to her. Then Sniatynski began a discussion about
astronomy, of which I heard now and then a few words, though this
science attracts me more than I can tell,--for in its very nature
there is no limit, either in itself or for the human mind; it is
We reached at last the end, where our guests mounted into the
carriage. Presently the wheels rattled on the road, the last good-bys
reached our ears, and I was alone with Aniela. We turned homewards,
and for some time walked side by side in silence. The croaking of
the frogs has ceased, and from the distance came the sound of the
watchman's whistle and the loud baying of the dogs. I did not speak to
Aniela, because the silence seemed fraught with deep meaning,--both
our minds being full of the same subject. When about half-way I said
"What a pleasant day it has been, has it not?"
"Yes. I never heard such beautiful music before."
"And yet you seemed not in your usual spirits, and though you will not
tell me the cause, I notice every passing cloud on your face."
"You were obliged to look after your guests. You are very kind to
trouble about me, but there is nothing the matter with me."
"To-day as any other day I was occupied with you only, and as a proof
of it let me tell you of what you were thinking to-day." And without
waiting for permission, I went on at once: "You thought I resembled
somewhat the Latysz couple; you thought I had deceived you in speaking
of the void around me; lastly, you thought that I had no need to ask
for your friendship while I was seeking friendship elsewhere. Was it
not so? Tell me the truth."
Aniela replied with evident effort: "If you insist upon knowing--yes,
perhaps it is so. But I ought to be only glad of it."
"What ought you be glad of?"
"Of your mutual friendship with Clara."
"As to our friendship,--I wish her well, that is all. But Clara, like
all other women, is indifferent to me. Do you know why?"
I began to tremble a little, because I perceived that the moment
had come. I waited a moment to see whether Aniela would take up my
question, and then, in a voice I tried to render steady, I said,--
"Surely you must see and understand that my whole being belongs to
you; that I loved you and love you still madly."
Aniela stood still as if turned to stone. By the icy coldness of my
face I felt that I was growing pale; and if the world seemed to totter
under that poor child's feet, it was my life, too, which was at stake.
Knowing with whom I had to deal, I did not give her time to repulse
me. I began to speak very quickly:--
"Do not answer me, for I do not want anything from you. I desire
nothing,--nothing whatever, understand that well. I wanted to tell you
that you have taken my life, and it is henceforth yours, to do with it
what you like. But you have seen yourself that such is the case, and
it matters nothing whether I speak of it or not. I repeat that I
desire nothing, nor do I expect anything. You cannot repulse me,
because I repulse myself. I only tell you as I might tell a friend, a
sister. I come and complain to you, because I have nowhere else to
go, that I love a woman that belongs to somebody else,--love her to
distraction,--oh, Aniela!--and without limit!"
We were near the gate, but still in the deep shadow of the trees. For
a moment I had the delusion that she was leaning towards me like
a broken flower, that I might snatch her into my arms; but I was
Aniela, recovering from the sudden shock, began suddenly to say, with
a kind of nervous energy I had not suspected in her,--
"I will not listen to this, Leon. I will not; I will not; I will not!"
And she ran into the moonlit courtyard. Yes; she ran away from my
words,--my confession. Presently she disappeared within the portico,
and I remained alone with a feeling of unrest, fear, and great pity
for her, and triumph at the same time that the words which should be
the beginning of a new life for us both had been spoken. For, to say
the truth, I could not expect anything else from her at first; but the
seed from which something must spring up was sown.
When I came into the house there was no Aniela visible. I found
only my aunt, walking up and down the room muttering her rosary and
soliloquizing between the prayers. I said good-night, and went at once
to my room thinking that it would calm me if I put down the day's
impressions; but it only tired me more. I intend to go away to-morrow,
or rather to-day, for I see the daylight coming through the window. I
want to confirm Aniela in the conviction that I expect nothing from
her,--want her to calm down and get familiar with what I told her. But
to confess the whole truth, I go away also because I am afraid to meet
her so soon, and would fain put it off. There are moments when
it seems to me a monstrous deed to have introduced an element of
corruption in this pure atmosphere. But does not the principal evil
lie in her marrying a man she cannot love? What is more immoral, my
love which is a manifestation of nature's great law, or the belonging
of Aniela to that man, which is a shameful breaking of the same law?
And I, who understand this so clearly, am yet so weak that a horror
seizes me when I kick against that corrupt morality. But all these
scruples melt like snow at the words, "I love." If even now my heart
feels sore at the thought that at this very moment she may be awake,
weeping perhaps, or torn by doubts, it is only another proof how I
love her. It hurts me, and at the same time I do not see how otherwise
we can arrive at happiness.
The first night after my arrival I slept profoundly. At Ploszow I
grudged every moment that kept me from Aniela, and during the night I
was writing; consequently I felt deadly tired. And now I feel still
heavy, but am able to think. I am somewhat ashamed that I ran away and
left Aniela alone to bear the burden of my confession; but when the
beloved woman is in question, a little cowardice is not dishonorable.
Besides, I should not have fled had it not been necessary for the
future weal of my love. Now, every day when she rises and says her
prayers, walks in the park or attends her sick mother, she must, if
ever so unwillingly, say to herself, "He loves me," and the thought
will gradually become familiar, less terrifying to her. Human nature
gets accustomed to everything, and a woman soon becomes reconciled to
the thought that she is loved, especially when she returns that love.
This question, "Does she love me?" I put to myself the first time when
I knew I loved her still; and again I turn it over in my mind, try to
weigh all the circumstances as if somebody else's fate were at stake,
and I arrive at the conviction that it cannot be otherwise. When she
married she loved me, not Kromitzki; she only yielded to him her hand
driven by despair. If she had married a superior man who dazzled her
by his fame, his thoughts, or exceptional character, she might have
forgotten me. But how could a Kromitzki, with his money-grubbing
neurosis, get hold of her affection? Besides, he left her soon after
they were married; he sold Gluchow, which was as the very apple of the
eye to these two women. Judging Kromitzki quite impartially, there
was nothing in him which could win a being full of ideal impulses and
feelings. Then I came back,--I, whom she had loved. I touched the
chords of her heart with memories of the past, by every word and
glance. I drew her towards me, not only with that skill an experience
of life gives, but also with that magnetic force true love bestows on
man. Adding to this the fact that she knew how much I suffered when I
sent Sniatynski to her, she must have pitied me, and that pity cannot
have vanished altogether. I play for my life, but the cards are in my
favor. I cannot lose the game.
I am as much in my right as anybody who is defending his life. I do
not say this upon the impulse of the moment, but after calm reasoning.
I have no convictions, no beliefs, no principles, no stable ground
under my feet, for the ground has been undermined by criticism and
reflection. I have only those forces of life born with us, and they
are all concentrated on one woman. Therefore I clutch my love as a
drowning man clutches a plank; if this gives way there will be nothing
left to live for. If common-sense asks, "Why did you not marry
Aniela?" I say what I have said before: I did not marry her simply for
the reason that I am not straight, but crooked,--partly because born
so, partly because so reared by those two nurses, Reflection and
Criticism. Why this woman and no other should be my plank of
salvation, I do not know. Most likely because it was she and not
another. It did not depend upon me.
If she were free to-day, I would stretch my hands out for her without
hesitation; if she had never been married, who knows?--I am ashamed
of the thought, and yet it may be that she would not be so desirable.
Most likely, judging by the past, I should have gone on watching her,
watching my own feelings, until somebody else carried her off; but I
prefer not to think of it, because it makes me inclined to swear.
I considered to-day what would happen if I gained Aniela's love, or
rather brought her to confess it. I see happiness before me but no way
of reaching it. I know that if in presence of these women I uttered
the word "divorce," they would think the roof was crashing down over
our heads. There cannot be even a question as to that, because my
aunt's and Pani Celina's ideas upon that point are such that neither
of them would survive the shock. I have no illusions as to Aniela; her
ideas are the same. And yet the moment she owns her love, I will say
the word, and she must accustom herself to it; but we shall have to
wait until my aunt's and Pani Celina's death. There is nothing else
for it. Kromitzki will either agree willingly or he will not. In the
latter case I shall carry Aniela off, if I have to go as far as the
Indies, and the divorce, or rather invalidation of the marriage, I
shall conduct myself, in spite of his wishes. Fortunately, there is no
want of means. As regards myself, I am ready for everything, and the
inward conviction that I am right justifies me in my own eyes. This
time it is not a mere love intrigue, but a feeling that absorbs my
whole being. Its sincerity and strength make all my stratagems lawful.
I know that I deceive her in saying that all I wish to gain is a
sister's love. I deceive her when I say I do not desire anything; all
this would be wrong and a lie if my love were in itself a lie. In
presence of a great truth, they are mere diplomatic stratagems of
love. It all belongs to the course of love. It is a known fact that
even affianced lovers have recourse to stratagems, in order to make
each other confess their love. As to myself, I am sincere even when I
say what is not true.
I told Aniela that I intended to work, and I will do so, if only for
the reason that I said so to her. I will have the collections brought
over from Rome, and found a museum. This will be Aniela's merit,
and the first useful deed that springs from our love. I suppose the
Italian government will raise difficulties, as there is a law that
prohibits the exportation of antiquities and precious works of art.
But my lawyer will arrange that for me. And that reminds me of the
Madonna by Sassoferrato, which my father bequeathed to his future
daughter-in-law. I will have it sent over at once, because I want it.
Human nature is ever malicious. I have a grim satisfaction in thinking
how ridiculous a man like Kromitzki must seem, who is turning
summersaults in the East in his effort to make money, while somebody
whispers love vows into his wife's ears; and sooner or later Aniela
must see it in this light. The whole Kromitzki can be summed up in
the one fact: he sold Gluchow and left the women without a home. He
thought perhaps they would live in Odessa or Kieff; in the mean while
Pani Celina's illness brought Aniela to Ploszow.
Yet he knew how precarious the lady's health was; he ought to have
foreseen that she might fall ill, and that Aniela would remain alone
with the burden of sorrow and trouble. If his business requires his
presence in the East, why did he marry at all?
To-morrow I go back to Ploszow. I feel very lonely here, and besides
I feel the longing to look once more into Aniela's eyes, and at times
feel guilty, as if I had been shirking a duty by running away. It was
necessary at the time, but I must go back now. Who knows? greater
happiness than I suppose may be waiting for me,--perhaps she too is
longing for me.
I called upon the Sniatynskis, and Clara, whom I did not find at home.
I paid also a visit to the celebrated beauty, Pani Korytzka. The
latter carries her historical name like a jockey cap, and her wit as
a riding-whip; she hits people with it between the eyes. I came off
unscathed; she even tried a little coquetry on me. I made a dozen or
so calls and left cards. I wish people to think that I am settled at
As the bringing over of my father's collections is only a matter of
will and ready money, I am seeking what else there is for me to do.
Men of my position are usually occupied with the administration of
their fortune; and very badly they administer it on the whole, far
worse than I. Very few take any part in public life. I mentioned
before that here they still amuse themselves with aristocracy and
democracy; there are even some whose whole aim in life consists in
backing up social hierarchy, and stemming the tide of democratic
currents. It is a sport as good as any other, but since I am no
sportsman, I take no interest in that amusement. Even if it were no
mere play, if there were some sense at the bottom of it, I am too much
of a sceptic in regard to both parties to belong to either. Democracy,
by which I mean patented democrats, not people of humble extraction,
acts upon my nerves. As to aristocracy, methinks that if their _raison
d'etre_ is based upon services rendered to the country by their
ancestors, those services have often been such that the sooner their
descendants don the hair shirt and cover their heads with ashes the
better. Besides, these two parties, with the exception of a few
foolish individuals, do not really believe in themselves. Some feign
sincerity in order to serve their own ends, and as I never feign
anything, it is clear that to take part in such struggles is not the
work for me. Then there are those of the Sniatynski order who stand
above both parties, but are always ready to drown both in their
synthesis. They are, as a rule, strong men; but even if I could agree
with them I should have to do something,--mere consciousness of duty
is not work. Sniatynski writes plays. Truly, when I look things
straight in the face, I find that I am outside the parenthesis, and
do not see my way to get inside. It is strange that a man who has
considerable means, culture, certain capacities, and a wish for
something to do, should find nothing he can put his hands to. Again
I feel inclined to swear, as it is all owing to that intellectual
splitting of hairs. They ought to make a diagnosis upon me, as to the
disease of Time's old age, which in me has reached the acute stage.
He who is a sceptic in regard to faith, in regard to science,
conservatism, progress, and so on, has indeed difficulty in finding
anything to do.
In addition to all that, my aspirations are far greater than the
possibility of satisfying them. Life rests upon work; and therefore,
here people work at something or other. But it is the work of a
dray-horse, carting grain to the granary. I could not do it even if I
wished. I am a high-stepper, fit only for a carriage, and of no use on
sandy, rutty roads, where common horses do the work better and more
steadily. At the building of a house I could not carry the bricks, but
might do something in the ornamental line, but where it is a question
of four simple walls and a sound roof, artisans such as I are not
wanted. If at least I had a mighty impulse towards work, I still might
be able to force myself to do something. But in the main, it is only a
question of appearances. I wish to work in order to please the woman
I love. Aniela in regard to that has exalted notions, and it would
certainly please her. Moreover, for that very reason my vanity and
also my calculations urge me to bid for a prominent position, which
would raise my value in her eyes. I will see what can be done, and
in the meanwhile my purse will do the work for me. I shall have the
collection sent over, support various institutions, and give money
where it is wanted.
What a strange power there is in woman! She comes in contact with a
genius without portfolio, an exceptionally useless implement like me,
and then, without any preaching on her part, he feels himself in duty
bound to do all sorts of things he never dreamed of doing before.
The deuce take me if I ever thought of bringing my collections to
Paris or Vienna for the sake of a Parisian or Viennese. I am going
back to Ploszow; I long to be near my good spirit.
When I went away from Ploszow for some time, it was to bring Aniela
to some kind of decision. At Warsaw and on the way back to Ploszow, I
tried to guess what she had resolved upon. I knew she could not write
to her husband: "Come and take me away, for Ploszowski is making love
to me;" she would not have done so even if she hated me. There is too
much delicacy of feeling in her to do that. Putting aside that an
encounter between me and Kromitzki might be the consequence of such a
step, Aniela would have to leave her sick mother, who cannot go away
Aniela's position is indeed a difficult one, and I counted upon that
before I made my confession. The thought crossed my mind that she
might take it into her head to avoid me altogether, and shut herself
up in her mother's rooms. But I dismissed the thought. In the country
and under the same roof it would be quite impracticable, or at any
rate so conspicuous as to rouse the elder ladies' attention and
consequently act injuriously upon her mother's health. In truth I take
the utmost advantage of her position, but who that is in love does not
do the same? I foresaw that Aniela, even if she returns my love, will
not allow me in the future to repeat my avowal,--she will resist more
than any other married woman; for what with her principles and her
modesty, the slightest sign of yielding would appear to her an
incredible crime. But how can she prevent me from telling her my love?
There is only one way,--by getting from me a voluntary promise; I
guessed she would speak to me about it, and I was right.
When I arrived at Ploszow she seemed pale, and a little worn, but
looked at me with a resolute face. It was evident the dear child had
laid by a whole store of arguments to convince me with, and believed
that after displaying them there would be nothing for me but to remain
silent forever. Angelic delusion; to think there is only one truth in
the world. No! do not enter into any arguments with me, my Aniela, for
if I believe in any truth, it is the truth and right of love; besides,
I am too wily, and each argument will be turned inside out like a
glove and made into a weapon against yourself. Neither argument nor
reasoning, not even my pity will save you; for the whiter, the more
perfect and angelic you prove yourself, the more I shall love you, and
the more I love, the more desirable you will be to me. I have nothing
but crocodile tears for you, which will only sharpen my rapacity. Such
is the mazy circle of love. At the sight of Aniela I felt myself drawn
into that circle. In the afternoon, that same day, when Pani Celina
had fallen asleep on the veranda, Aniela motioned me to follow her
into the park. From the earnest expression of her face, I guessed that
the time had come for those arguments, and I followed her eagerly. As
we went farther from the veranda, I noticed that Aniela's animation
began to flag; she had grown paler and seemed frightened at her own
temerity; but she could not draw back now, and began in an unsteady
"If you only knew how unhappy I have been these last days--"
"Do you think I have been much happier?" I replied.
"I know you have not, and because of that I have a request to make.
You understand everything, and are so good and generous you will not
refuse what I ask you."
"Tell me, what do you want me to do?"