Part 7 out of 8
considerate either to his wife or his mother-in-law, but then his
nature is not a refined one. I did not say anything,--as if the
question of their going or staying mattered very little to me. But I
noticed that Aniela was conscious that her husband acted as a
mere puppet in my hands, and she felt ashamed for him and deeply
humiliated; but such was the resentment I had towards her that the
sight of it did me good.
For in truth I was deeply wounded, and I cannot forgive Aniela. If, on
the way from Vienna, I had not thought so much of that new compact, if
I had not made a wholesale sacrifice of all my desires, passions,
and senses, in fact of my whole nature, I should not have felt the
disappointment so acutely. But it fell out so cruelly that, when, out
of love for her, I was ready to change my whole being, when I climbed
to a height I had never reached before, only to be near her, she,
without any consideration or pity for me, wished to push me into the
very depth of despair and without considering for a moment what would
become of me! These thoughts poison even the pleasure afforded by
The future will bring some kind of solution, but I am too tired to
speculate upon it. The simplest solution would be inflammation of the
brain. It will come to that. I torment myself all the day, do not
sleep at night, smoke endless cigars to stupefy myself, and sit up
I have not written in my diary for two weeks. I went; with Kromitzki
to Vienna to conclude his business; after which he remained three days
and then left for the East. I had such violent headaches that I could
not write. Pani Celina's cure is completed, but we still remain at
Gastein because of the great heat.
Kromitzki's departure was a great relief to me, to Pani Celina,--whom
he irritates to such a degree that if he were not her son-in-law she
could not stand him at all,--and perhaps also to Aniela. The latter
cannot forgive him that he involved me in his affairs. He, not
supposing there could be anything between me and his wife except
social relations, made no secret of the loan. She opposed it
energetically, but could not tell him the reason,--perhaps from a
secret fear that after an explanation he might compel her to remain
where she is, and thus destroy the last shred of respect she has for
him. I am almost sure that since the sale of Gluchow, both she and her
mother distrust him, and in the secrecy of their hearts consider him
worse than he really is. In my opinion he is a spiritual upstart, with
a dry and wooden disposition, and incapable of any fine feeling or
subtle thought. There is no generosity in him; his mind is neither
deep, noble, nor sensitive; but in the general acceptance of the word
he is a decent member of society. A certain natural pedantry aids
him in this, which harmonizes with his money-making neurosis,--a
degenerated imaginativeness seeking expression in financial adventure.
Taking him all in all, he is so intensely repulsive to me--with his
eyeglass, oblique eyes, long legs, and sallow, hairless face--that I
doubt if I am capable of judging him objectively. Nevertheless I am
quite sure that unless he loses his own money I shall not lose mine.
But I put it down, in all sincerity, that I would rather he lost the
money, his senses, his life, and went altogether to perdition.
I am ill. I have seen very little of Aniela lately,--partly by reason
of my headaches, that kept me confined to my room, and partly because
I wished to let her feel how deeply she had injured and grieved me.
Not to see her cost me great self-denial, for my eyes want her as
they want the light. I have already mentioned that with all her
inflexibility, she has a certain weakness: she cannot bear that
anybody should be angry with her; it frightens her, and she tries
her best to conciliate those that are angry. She is then meek, sweet
tempered, and looks into one's eyes with the pleading expression of a
child who is afraid to be punished. This always moved me deeply and
was my delight, as it kept up the delusion that I had only to open my
arms and she would fall upon my neck, if only to soften my resentment.
I cannot get rid altogether of this delusion, although convinced of
its futility; and even now I cherish some hope in a corner of my
heart that when we come to make it up, something will happen between
us,--she will make a kind of submission and will draw closer to me. On
the other hand I see in this mutual irritation a tacit acknowledgment
on the part of Aniela that I have the right to love her; for if she
admits the resentment springing from love, she must admit the love
itself. It is a shadowy right, dim and vague as a dream, without shape
or substance; yet I cling to it, for it saves me from utter apathy and
I have received another letter from Clara Hilst. She must have divined
something; there is much pity and sympathy in her words, as if she
knew how wretched I am. I do not know and do not want to know, whether
she loves me as a sister or otherwise, I only feel that she loves me.
I answered her letter in the same hearty spirit, grateful for her
friendliness. She is going to Berlin now, and promises her appearance
in Warsaw for the winter. She wants me to come to Berlin, if only for
a few days. I will not go to Berlin, will not part from my troubles,
but shall be glad to see her again at Warsaw. With Aniela I speak only
of indifferent subjects, so as not to draw the attention of the elder
ladies to the state of things between us. When alone we are both
silent. I noticed several times that she was about to say something,
but seemed afraid; as regards myself I could only say, "I love you;"
and even that seems inadequate to express my feelings.
There is now resentment in my love. The thought is troubling my mind
that she has a narrow heart, and that in this lies the secret of her
unyieldingness. To-day, when I come to think it over more calmly, I go
back to the conviction that she has some feeling for me, composed of
gratitude, pity, and memories of the past; but it has no active power,
cannot rise above prejudice,--even to the avowal of its existence.
It does not respect itself, hides, is ashamed of itself, and in
comparison with mine is as the mustard-seed to those Alps which
surround us. From Aniela one may expect that she will restrict it
rather than let it grow. It is of no use to hope or watch for anything
from her; that conviction makes me very wretched.
Some time ago I had a faint hope that under the influence of
indignation against her husband, Aniela might come to me and say:
"Since you have paid for me, I am yours." Another of my delusions. Any
other woman, with exalted notions fed upon French novels, might have
acted thus; or one who wanted only a pretext to throw herself into a
lover's arms. No; Aniela will never do that, and if such a thought
came into my mind at all it is because I too have been fed upon those
pseudo-dramas of the feminine soul, which at bottom illustrate only
the desire to cast virtue adrift. There is but one thing which would
push Aniela into my arms, and that is her heart; but no artificial
scenes, no phrases or false pathos. There is not the slightest
possibility of her yielding to these.
If it be a great misfortune to love another man's wife, be she ever so
commonplace, it is an infinitely greater misfortune to love a virtuous
woman. There is something in my relations to Aniela of which I never
heard or read; there is no getting out of it, no end. A solution,
whether it be a calamity or the fulfilment of desire, is something,
but this is only an enchanted circle. If she remain immovable and I do
not cease loving her, it will be an everlasting torment, and nothing
else. And I have the despairing conviction that neither of us will
If she has a narrow heart it will not trouble her very much. As to
myself I desire nothing more ardently than to get free from bondage;
but I cannot get free. I say to myself, over and over again, that it
must be done; and I put forth all my strength, as the drowning man
does to save himself. At times I fancy that I have achieved some kind
of victory, when lo! I see her passing under my window, my eyes rest
upon her, and I experience a shock in my heart; the whole depth of
my feeling is revealed, as the flash of lightning tears asunder the
clouds and shows the depth of the sky. Ah me! what torture to have to
deal with virtue, cold and merciless as the letter of the law! Even if
Aniela had no heart I should still love her, as a mother would love a
child though it were deformed. Pity then grows all the stronger,--and
so does pain.
What an inadequate, mean standard is human intellect when it comes to
measure anything great, awesome, or very lofty. Reason, which serves
well enough in the everyday conditions of life, becomes a drivelling
fool, like Polonius, in exceptional cases. It seems to me that the
usual ethical code cannot be considered a standard by which to measure
great passions. To see in an immense feeling like mine only the
infringement of this or that law, not to see anything else, not to see
that it is an element and part of those higher forces that mock at
empty rules, a godlike, immeasurable, creative power on which rests
the All-Life, is a kind of blindness and littleness. Alas, Aniela thus
looks upon my love! I suppose she often thinks I must respect her for
her conduct; while I--God knows, I do not say it because it concerns
my own fate, but judging her quite impartially--despise her, or at
least try not to despise her for it, and say to her inwardly: "I
should respect you and worship you a thousandfold if you could look
upon the matter differently, not as regards our relations, but as
regards love in general."
There is something in Gastein very health-giving. To-day I noticed
that Aniela has gained quite a brown color from the mountain air, and
looks very well; which is all the more noteworthy, as she has had many
troubles and anxieties. One of her troubles was the difference arising
between her and her husband, the humiliation of his accepting a loan
from me, and my love, which distracts her mind and troubles her peace.
Notwithstanding all this, the delicate face is glowing with health.
There is more color in it than before we came here. I recall the
time when she seemed almost to fade away in my eyes. I remember how
horrified I was at the thought that her life might be in danger.
To-day that fear at least has ceased to haunt me. If I knew that in
the future there would be even less pity for me, that my feelings for
her would count for nothing, but that she would be happy and full
of health, I should say: "Let her be pitiless, let her slight my
feelings, provided she be well." In the composition of true feeling,
there is the desire for personal happiness, but there is also tender
thoughtfulness and affection.
Yesterday Aniela had donned one of her old dresses. I noticed it
at once, and the whole past stood before me. God only knows what a
turmoil there was within me.
My aunt has forgiven Aniela long ago. She loves her so much that if
I died she would still have somebody to cling to, provided Aniela
remained. To-day the dear old aunt was lamenting that Aniela had no
amusements, was sitting too much in the house and had seen nothing of
the beautiful scenery around except the road to Hofgastein. "If I were
only stronger on my feet I would go with you everywhere; your
husband ought to have shown you something of the country, and he was
continually tramping about by himself."
Aniela assured her that she was quite satisfied, and did not want more
"I have nothing to do," said I, in the most careless manner, "and walk
a great deal. I can accompany Aniela wherever she wants to go,
and show her all that is worth seeing,--at least in the nearest
neighborhood." Then I added, in a still more indifferent voice: "It
is considered quite the proper thing. In a place like this mere
acquaintances walk out together, not to say anything about near
Aniela did not say anything, but both the elder ladies were unanimous
in their opinion that I was right. To-morrow we are to go to the
We have entered into our compact, and henceforth a new life is to
begin for us both. It is not quite the same as I had shaped it, but
my future life must adapt itself to it. From now, everything will be
clear and definite between us. There will be nothing new, nothing to
be expected or looked out for, but at any rate I shall not be any
longer like a man who has no roof to shelter him.
Yesterday towards evening we went to the Schreckbruecke. The elder
ladies accompanied us as far as the Cascades; there they sat down on
the first bench they found, and we two went on alone. We both seemed
to feel that some serious conversation would take place. At first I
wanted to point out to her various places and tell her the names, but
had scarcely mentioned Schareck when it struck me as so incongruous
with the thoughts nearest our hearts that I grew silent. We could talk
only about our two selves, or else remain silent. And we walked on in
silence for a long time; this silence besides was necessary for me,
and gave me time to conquer that restlessness which seizes us when
we approach a great crisis. I got myself so far under control that I
resolved to speak of my love, with calmness and naturally, as if it
were a known and established fact. Experience had taught me that women
can be attuned to any disposition. Nothing influences the feminine
mind so much as the tone of conversation; and if the man in making a
proposal does it with the air of one who expects the earth to swallow
him as soon as he has uttered the words, that is, in terror and the
consciousness that he is doing something quite unheard of, that terror
and that consciousness communicate themselves very quickly to the
woman. Acting in the opposite way, the proposal loses much of its
impressiveness, but it goes smoother and creates less opposition.
Besides, I had already told her of my love; all I wanted now was to
prevent Aniela from going off at a tangent at the first tender word;
in that case conversation would become impossible. It was necessary to
introduce the subject in order to establish our future relations on a
proper basis. Considering all this, I said in a very quiet voice:--
"You cannot have the slightest idea how deeply you hurt me by that
project of your departure. I know very well that the reasons you
gave were only ostensible, and that I was the cause of that sudden
resolution. In making your plans you forgot only one thing, and that
is what would become of me. That did not enter into your calculation
at all. Believe me, it was not your departure which would have hurt
me, so much as the thought that I count for nothing in your life. You
might say that you meant it for the best and wanted me to forget you.
Do not try that, for the remedy would be worse than you suppose."
Aniela's face in an instant was covered with burning blushes. It was
evident that my words had touched her to the quick. I do not know what
she would have said, on the spur of the moment, had not an accident
diverted her attention. Close to the road, there suddenly appeared one
of those cretins so common about Gastein. He was not a pleasant sight,
with that big head, immense goitre, and bestial expression of face. He
had risen so suddenly from amid the tall grasses that Aniela screamed
with terror. While she recovered herself and searched for some
money--I had forgotten my purse--several minutes elapsed. During that
time the impression my words had made upon her had grown less
vivid, and as we resumed our walk she said, in a sad voice, full of
"You have often been unjust to me, but never more so than now. You
think that it costs me nothing, that I have no heart; and yet I am not
a whit happier than you."
Her voice seemed to fail, and my pulses began to beat wildly. It
seemed to me that one more effort and I should force from her a
"Aniela!" I exclaimed, "for God's sake tell me what you mean!"
"I mean that since I am unhappy, you must allow me to remain honest.
Dear Leon, I beg you to have pity upon me. You do not know how unhappy
I am! I would sacrifice everything except my honesty. Do not ask me to
give up that last plank of salvation,--because it is not right, one is
not allowed to sacrifice that! Oh, Leon, Leon!"
She folded her hands and looked at me with eyes veiled by tears, and
her body trembling like an aspen leaf. I do not know, if I had taken
her into my arms she might have died afterwards from shame and sorrow,
but probably she would not have found the strength to resist. But at
that moment I forgot about my own self and saw only her. I threw at
her feet my senses, my passions, and my egoism. What did it all matter
where she was concerned? The beloved woman that defends herself with
tears, tears that do not flow for the sake of keeping up appearances
but from the depth of her sorrow, is invincible. I took both her
hands, kissed them with reverent love, and said:--
"It will be as you wish; I swear it upon the love I bear you."
We both could not speak for some time. To confess the truth, I felt at
this moment a better and nobler man than I had ever been before. I was
like one who has passed the crisis in a severe illness, is still very
weak and exhausted, but glad of the dawning life before him. Presently
I began to talk to her, quietly and gently, not only as a lover but as
the nearest friend, whose main object is the happiness of the being
that belongs to him.
"You do not want to stray from the right path," I said; "and I will
not lead you astray. You have changed me, and all the sorrows and
sufferings I endure have made a different man of me. Through you I
have come to understand the difference between love and passion. I
cannot promise that I shall cease to love you, for I cannot; I should
lie to you and to myself if I should promise that. I do not say it in
temporary exaltation, but as a man who has looked into his inmost self
and knows what is delusion and what truth. I will love you as if you
were dead,--I will love your soul. Do you agree to that, Aniela dear?
It is a sad love, but angelic. You can accept and return it. I make
my vow of faithfulness this moment, and it is as binding as if it had
been uttered before the altar. I shall never marry another woman; I
shall live for you only, and my soul will be yours. You too will love
me as if I had died. I do not ask for anything else; and you will not
refuse, because there is no sin. You have read Dante? Remember, he too
was married, and he loved Beatrice with the same love I ask from you;
he openly acknowledged the feeling, and the Church holds his poem as
almost a sacred thing. If you have that feeling for me in your heart,
give me your hand, and after that nothing will be able to come between
us or to mar our peace."
Aniela, after a momentary silence, gave me her hand. "I always had
that friendship for you." she said, "and I promise you from my heart
I winced at the word "friendship," which is too small for me, and does
not express our feelings. But I did not say anything. "The word 'love'
still frightens her," I said to myself; "she will get accustomed to it
by and by;" and since the thing is essentially the same, it was not
worth while to disturb the peace at which we had arrived through
stormy seas of misunderstandings, troubles, and sorrows. We are both
so tired that the rest is welcome and is worth making some little
Besides, it was a mere shadow, that disappeared in the joyful light of
the thought that the dear being belongs to me and is spiritually my
faithful wife. I would have given anything if to a question "Are you
really mine?" she had answered in the affirmative. I would have asked
the question a hundred times a day and never tired of the answer;
but at this moment I did not want to frighten her. I, who can make
allowance for so many things, understand that there are certain words
which, however expressive of the existing state of things they may be,
come with difficulty from a woman's lips,--especially from those of
such a woman as Aniela. Yet every word she said was a confession that
she loves me; and did she not consent that our souls should belong to
each other? What more could I wish for?
When we had gone as far as the Schreckbruecke, we turned back. On the
way we tried to look at our new position, as people look around a new
house and try to make themselves at home in it. This did not come easy
to either of us at first. Even this pleased me, for it seemed to me
that thus bride and bridegroom would feel a few hours after they were
joined in wedlock, while yet they had not had time to grow accustomed
to each other. Nevertheless I spoke a great deal about us both. I
explained to her the holiness and purity of such a union as ours. I
tried to inspire her with trust and confidence. She listened to
me with a bright, serene countenance, and now and then turned her
beautiful eyes towards me. The serenity of the weather corresponded
with the serenity of our souls. The sun had gone down behind the
mountains; and they shone now in their evening dress of purple. I
offered my arm to Aniela, which she accepted, and so we went together
in the soothing stillness of the evening. Suddenly I noticed that her
step had grown uncertain, as if she were afraid of something, and her
face became very white. It lasted only a minute, but her disturbance
was so evident that I got frightened for her, and began to ask what
had frightened her.
At first she did not want to tell me, but when I insisted she
confessed reluctantly that the unfortunate cretin had come into her
mind, and that for an instant she had felt afraid he might suddenly
jump up from the roadside.
"I do not know," she said, "why he should have made such a horrible
impression on me, and feel ashamed to have such silly nerves, but I
would not meet him again for anything in the world."
I soothed and comforted her, saying that nothing could happen to her
while I was by. She still kept looking uneasily at the roadside, but
presently our conversation dispersed the unpleasant impression.
It was dusk when we arrived at the Cascades, but the evening was
exceptionally warm. On the square before Straubinger's a great many
people were listening to some strolling harpists. I do not know why
this solitary mountain pass should have reminded me so strongly of
Italy. It recalled to my memory the evenings on the Pincio, when I
thought how happy I could be had I Aniela at my side. I now felt her
arm resting upon mine, and still more felt her soul close to my own.
And thus, full of sweet peacefulness, we returned home.
I thought to-day much about what Aniela had said to me on the way to
the Schreckbruecke. I was particularly struck by the exclamation which
burst from her lips: "You do not know how unhappy I am!" There was
such deep sorrow, such a wail in these words, and an involuntary
confession that she does not love her husband, cannot love him; and
also that her heart, in spite of all her efforts, belongs to me. If so
she has been as unhappy as I. I say "has been," because at present she
is not. Now she can say to herself: "I can remain true and keep my
faith; and for the rest, I trust to God."
It came into my mind that I had no right to expect Aniela to sacrifice
everything for me. It is not true that one sacrifices everything to
love. If, for instance, I had an encounter with Kromitzki and she
adjured me in the name of our love to ask his pardon on my bended
knees, I would not do it. It is a fantastic, senseless supposition,
yet at the very thought the blood mounts to my head. No, Aniela dear,
you are right; there are things we may not sacrifice even to love.
We went in the morning on the Windischgraetzhoehe. It is about three
quarters of an hour on foot, but I got a horse for Aniela, which I led
by the bridle. Walking at her side, I rested my hand on the horse's
neck and at the same time touched her dress. Mounting on the horse's
back, she held on to me for a moment and the old Adam woke up very
strong in me. To kill him, I should have to annihilate my body and
become a spirit. I bound myself to keep my senses and impulses under
control, and I am doing so; but I did not bind myself not to have
them. I might as well have bound myself not to breathe. If the touch
of Aniela's hand made no more impression upon me than if it were a
piece of wood it would prove that I did not love her any longer, and
then all pledges would be unnecessary. Saying to Aniela that my whole
nature had changed in contact with her, I did not intend to deceive
her, but had not exactly defined the change. The truth is I only keep
myself in check. I renounced complete happiness in order to secure a
part of it. I preferred to have Aniela in this way to not having her
at all, and I think that every one who knows the meaning of true love
will understand me easily. If the passions are dogs, as the poets say,
I have chained them up, will starve them into submission, but I cannot
prevent their straining at the chain or emitting an occasional howl.
I know to what I have pledged myself, and shall keep to it; there is
nothing else to do. In the face of Aniela's firmness of purpose there
is no room for any agreeing or disagreeing. The fear that she may take
back what she has given is enough curb for me. I rather exaggerate my
caution and wariness, so as not to frighten away the bird which I call
"spiritual love," and she calls "friendship." That word, which in the
first moment was merely a prick, enough to make me wince, is gradually
growing into a sore. At the time it seemed to me not expressive
enough, and now it appears to me too cautious, too full of conditions.
How strange that characteristic of feminine nature, not to call things
by their name. Yet I explained distinctly to Aniela what I was asking
for, and she understood me fully; and nevertheless she called the
feeling "friendship," as if she wanted to veil herself with it before
me, before herself and God.
Looking at it from another point, it is true that a feeling devoid of
all earthly substance may be called by any name. There is sadness and
bitterness in the thought. This caution, common to very pure-minded
women, is undoubtedly the outcome of their modesty, but it does not
permit them to be generous. I might go straight to Aniela and say
to her: "I have sacrificed to you one half of my existence, and you
grudgingly dole me out your words; is it right?" And I tell her so
inwardly with reproachful eyes. It is difficult to imagine love
without generosity, without a desire to make some sacrifices.
To-day on Windischgraetzhoehe we conversed together like two beings
closely connected by the ties of love and friendship, but there was
nothing in our speech that brother and sister might not have said to
each other. If we had made such an excursion before we had entered
into our compact, I should undoubtedly have taken some advantage of
it, kissed her hands or feet or even tried, if only for a moment, to
take her in my arms; to-day I walked quietly at her side, like one
who is afraid of the slightest frown. Partly I restrained myself on
purpose, thinking that in this way I should win her confidence and
favor. By this silence I meant to say: "You will not be disappointed
in me; I will take rather less than I have a right to,--so as not to
break our compact."
But one feels hurt all the same, when the sacrifice is accepted
promptly and cheerfully as soon as it is offered. Involuntarily one
says inwardly to the beloved woman: "Do not let yourself be outdone in
generosity." And I said so,--but in vain.
What is the result? A certain disappointment for myself. I used to
think if such a compact existed between us, I should have perfect
liberty within its boundaries; should be able to say, "I love you" as
often as I liked, and hear the same from her lips; and that this
would compensate me for all my torments, for the whole time of my
suffering,--in short that I should be king in that restricted kingdom;
but now it appears that my horizon gets narrower than ever, and doubts
arise within me that might be compressed in the query: "What have you
gained?" I try to chase the thoughts away. I have gained something. I
have gained the sight of a bright and happy face; I have gained the
smile; I have gained the delight of seeing her limpid eyes look
fearlessly into mine. If I feel cramped and not quite at home in the
new house, the reason is that I have not got used to it. Besides,
formerly I was without a roof to shelter me; and if I cannot always
see clearly what I have gained, I know perfectly well that I have lost
nothing. I shall never forget that.
My aunt begins to talk about going home. She is pining after her
beloved Ploszow. I asked Aniela if she would like to go. She said she
would; therefore I too am anxious to return. Formerly I attached some
vague, undefined hope to a change of place. Now I expect nothing; but
at Ploszow there are so many pleasant memories that I shall be glad to
see the place again.
The days flow now very evenly. I think much and I rest. My thoughts
are often sad, at times not without bitterness, but my soul was so
weary that I find this restfulness very soothing. It makes me feel
conscious how much better off I am than I used to be. I am mostly
with Aniela; we read together, and then discuss what we have read.
Everything I say to her is only a definition, a development of love;
everything tends in that direction; but strange to say I notice that
now I never speak of it directly, as if that feminine objection to
calling things by their proper names had also infected me. I do not
know why this is so, but it is a fact. And it grieves me,--sometimes
grieves me very much; and it pleases me, because I see that Aniela is
pleased, and what is more, loves me for it. In order to cement the
union of our souls, I have begun to speak much about myself so as not
to have any secrets from her. I am reticent only about such things as
might offend her delicacy of feeling or the purity of her thoughts.
I tried to initiate her into the workings of a spirit undermined by
scepticism and the want of a basis in life. I told her openly that I
had nothing to live for except her; told her also what was going on
within me after her marriage, what shocks had passed through my heart
and brain since my return to Ploszow; I spoke of this all the more
eagerly, as it was like a series of confessions, as it all meant:
"I loved you then, as I love you now, beyond expression." She was
deceived as to the meaning of these confidences and listened to them
as if there had been no question about her, with emotion, sympathy,
and possibly unconscious delight. I saw tears gathering in her eyes,
her breast heaved as if her whole spiritual being went out to me with
open arms saying: "Come to me; you have suffered enough and deserve
some happiness." And I reply with my eyes: "I do not ask, do not
remind you of anything; I am altogether at your mercy."
I made those confidences also for another reason, namely, to introduce
the habit of mutual confidence between us, and make her tell me what
was going on in her mind at the same time. But I could not manage
it. I tried to ask, but the words seemed to come from her with such
difficulty, there was such evident constraint and uneasiness, that I
left off asking. To be quite open with me, she would have to reveal
all she felt for me and what was her relation to her husband. I wanted
her to come to that; but her modesty and her loyalty for the absent
husband would not permit her to speak.
I understood all perfectly, but I could not help feeling very sore,
and my pessimism says: "It is you who pay the score; you give
everything, without getting anything in return; you are deceived in
thinking her soul belongs to you; even that soul remains a blank to
you; then what do you possess?"
I admit the truthfulness of the utterance, but still I count upon the
I am often reminded of the poet Mickiewicz's words, "Alas! it was only
a half-salvation!" But even if I did not see in that half-salvation
all that is wanting, I could not arrive at perfect peace. This would
be achieved only by not desiring anything more, in other words by
ceasing to love. There come upon me, more and more, moments of
despondency when I say to myself that this is only another enchanted
circle. I found some relief from torments I could bear no longer, that
is true; but relief is not the same as the removal of the pain. When
the famished Arab sucks pebbles instead of drinking water, he does not
satisfy his thirst; he only deceives it. Query: Do I deceive my self?
There are again two persons within me: the spectator and the actor;
and the one criticises and mocks the other. The sceptic Ploszowski,
the Ploszowski who has no settled and unshakable belief in the
existence of a soul, in love with a soul, appears simply ridiculous to
that critical number two. What is, after all, my relation with Aniela?
Sometimes I see in it merely the product of a diseased imagination. I
am now indeed like the bird that drags one wing on the earth. I have
doomed to paralysis one half of my being, live only half a life, and
love with half a love. It is a vain enterprise. To separate desire
from love is as impossible as to separate thought from existence.
Even religious feelings, the most ideal of all feelings, manifest
themselves by words, by songs, by kneeling, and kissing of sacred
objects; and I would deprive the love for a woman of all embodiment,
sever all connection with the earth, and make it live upon earth in a
transmundane shape! Love is a natural tendency and desire. What did I
take away from it? The tendency and the desire. I might as well have
gone to Aniela, and said to her, "Since I love you above everything, I
pledge myself to love you no longer."
There is some terrible mistake in this. I had truly lost my way in the
desert; no wonder that I saw a Fata Morgana.
Yesterday I felt oppressed and troubled by various thoughts. I could
not sleep. I left off plunging into the depths of pessimism, and
instead of that began to think of Aniela and call her image before my
eyes. This always soothes me. My imagination strained to the utmost
point brings her before me so lifelike that I fancy I could speak to
her. I recalled to memory the time I had met her first as a grown-up
girl. I saw the white, gauzy draperies studded with bunches of
violets, the bare shoulders, and the face a little too small but fresh
like a spring morning, and so original in the bold outline of the
eyebrows, the long lashes, and that soft down on either side of the
face. It seems to me as if I still heard her voice saying, "Do you not
recognize me, Leon?" I wrote at the time that her face appeared to me
like music translated into human features. There was in her at the
same time the charm of the maiden and the attraction of the woman. No
other woman ever fascinated me so strongly, and there must needs cross
my way a Circe-like Laura to lure me away from the one woman I could
love, almost my bride.
Nobody feels more than I that the words, "The spell thou hast cast
upon me lasts forever," are not a mere poetic fancy, but bitter
reality. Besides love and desire, I have for her an immense liking,
the tenderness of affection, and am drawn to her with the irresistible
force of the magnet to iron. And it cannot be otherwise, for she is
still the same Aniela, and is not changed in the least. It is the same
face of a little girl, with the charm of a woman, the same look, the
same eyelashes, brows, shoulders, and supple waist. She has now one
more charm,--that of the lost Paradise.
What a tremendous gulf between our relations in the past and those in
the present. When I think of the Aniela who was waiting, as for her
salvation, to hear from me the words, "Will you be mine?" I can
scarcely believe it to have been true. Reflecting upon that, I feel
like the ruined magnate who at one time scattered his wealth about,
dazzling the world by his splendor, and in later years lived upon
That night, when I thought about Aniela and evoked her image before my
eyes, it suddenly occurred to me that we had no portrait of her, and
a strong desire seized me to have her likeness. I grasped at the idea
with enthusiasm, and it made me feel so happy that it finally drove
all sleep from my eyes. "I shall have you," I said; "I shall be able
to look at you at any time, kiss your hands, your eyes, your lips; and
you will not be able to prevent it." I began at once to think how it
might be done. I could not go and say to Aniela, "Have your portrait
painted, and I will defray the expenses;" but with my aunt I could
always do what I liked, and a hint will be enough to make her wish for
Aniela's portrait. At Ploszow she has a whole collection of family
portraits, which are her pride, and my desperation, as some of them
are truly hideous; but my aunt will not have them removed out of
sight. Considering her deep attachment to Aniela, I was sure she would
be delighted with the idea of adding her picture to the collection. As
far as she is concerned I consider the thing done; but now came the
question whom to intrust with the execution of the portrait. I thought
it would be impossible to induce the ladies to take Paris on their
way; there I should have the choice between the accuracy and
objectivism of Bonnat, the bold breadth of Carolus Duran, and the
inimitable sweetness of Chaplin. Shutting my eyes, I imagined how each
of them would acquit himself of the task, and I was pleased with the
fancy. But I saw it was impracticable; I foresaw that my aunt would
insist upon a Polish painter. I should have no objection to that, for
I remembered seeing at the Warsaw and Cracow exhibition portraits as
excellent as from the brush of any foreign painter. I was only afraid
of the delay. As regards fancies, and also in many other things, there
is something eminently feminine in my composition. When I plan a thing
I want to get it done at once. As we were in Germany, not very far
from Munich and Vienna, I began to choose among the German painters.
I fixed upon two names: Lembach and Angeli. I had seen some fine
portraits by Lembach, but only men's; besides, I did not like his
self-assurance and sketchiness, which, as I am fond of French
painting, I can endure only from a Frenchman. Angeli's faces did not
altogether satisfy me, but I had to admit his delicacy of touch; and
that is just the thing wanted for Aniela's face. Besides, in order to
get Lembach we should have to go out of our way, and Angeli is on the
way,--a circumstance one is ashamed to confess, not wanting to be
regarded as a Philistine. But in this case I wanted to save time. "The
dead ride quick," as the poet says; but lovers ride quicker still.
Besides I should have chosen Angeli in any case, and finally decided
that he should paint Aniela's portrait. As a rule, I do not approve
of portraits in ball dress, but I resolved to have Aniela in a white
dress with violets. I want to have the delusion in looking at her that
she is the Aniela of the never-to-be-forgotten times. I do not want
anything to remind me that she is Pani Kromitzka. And besides, the
dress is dear to me as a memory.
I thought the night would never end, so impatient was I to speak
about it to my aunt. I changed my plan though, for if my aunt had the
portrait painted, she would insist upon a Polish painter. I decided
instead to offer Aniela's likeness to my aunt on her name's-day, which
is towards the end of October. Put in this way, Aniela cannot refuse.
Of course I shall have a copy for myself.
I scarcely slept at all, but look upon it as a satisfactory night, as
all the hours were occupied with these plans. I dozed a little towards
five, but was up and dressed at the stroke of eight. I went to
Straubinger's and sent a telegram to the Vienna Kuenstlerhaus
inquiring whether Angeli was at home, then returned to the villa
and found the ladies at the breakfast-table. I opened fire at once.
"Aniela," I said, "I have come to confess my guilt in regard to you.
Last night instead of sleeping I have disposed of your person, and it
now remains to be seen whether you will consent."
She looked at me with half-frightened eyes. Perhaps she fancied I was
going mad, or that in a fit of despair I had made up my mind to blurt
out the truth before the elder ladies; but seeing my calmness she
"How have you disposed of me?"
"I wanted it to be a surprise for you, dear aunt, but I do not see
how it could be done in secret, and so I must tell you what present I
intend to give you for your name's-day;" and I told them what I had in
my mind. My aunt, who has an excellent portrait of me, painted some
years ago, was greatly delighted, and thanked me warmly. I saw that
Aniela was not less pleased, and that was enough for me. There and
then a lively discussion sprung up as to when and by whom the portrait
was to be painted, and the question of dress, so dear to the feminine
heart, had to be gone into with all details. I had a ready answer for
all questions and saw my chance of getting something else besides the
"It will not take much time," I said. "I have sent a telegram to
Angeli, and I do not think it will delay our journey much. Aniela will
give Angeli five or six sittings, and as you would have to stop at
Vienna in any case to see Notnagel, there is no loss of time. The
dress can be painted from a model, and the face will be finished in
five sittings. But we must send at once Aniela's photograph and a lock
of her hair. The hair I must have at once. Then Angeli will be able to
make the rough sketch, and later on put in the finishing touches."
I counted upon the fact that none of the ladies knew much about
portrait-painting. I wanted the hair for myself, not for Angeli, to
whom it would have been of use only if he painted Aniela's portrait
from a photograph, to which he would not have consented. But I spoke
as if the whole portrait depended on that lock of hair. Two hours
after breakfast I received an answer to my telegram. Angeli is in
Vienna, where he is just finishing the portrait of the Princess M. I
wrote to him at once and sent him Aniela's photograph; then went out
to Aniela, who was walking in the garden.
"And your hair?" I said; "I want to send the letter by the two-o'clock
She went at once into her room, and shortly afterwards returned with
a lock of hair. My hand shook a little as I took it from her, but my
eyes looked straight into hers and said in that glance:--
"Do you not guess that I want it for myself, that it will be for me
the most precious treasure?"
Aniela did not say anything, but blushed like a girl who listens for
the first time to words of love. She had guessed it. I thought that
for one touch of those lips it would be worth while giving one's life.
My love for her becomes so strong at times that it is akin to pain.
I have now a small part of her physical being. I got it by cunning. I
the man of the world, the sceptic, I who enter into myself and analyze
every thought, have come to practise little tricks and devices,
like Goethe's Siebel. But I say to myself, "At the worst I am only
sentimental and ridiculous." Who knows whether the second self that
reduces everything to consciousness with cold criticism is not more
foolish and more ridiculous? Analysis is like the pulling to pieces of
a flower. It spoils the beauty of life, therefore, its happiness--the
only sensible thing in life.
After the completion of Pani Celina's cure we waited for weeks till
the heat in the plains should have grown less intense, and at last the
weather broke and again delayed our journey. There has been an almost
Egyptian darkness for three days. The clouds which have been gathering
on the summits, breeding snow and rain, have descended from the
heights and enveloped Gastein as in a wet blanket. There is such a
mist that in the middle of the day I have to pick my way carefully
from Straubinger's to our villa. Everything is wrapped in a thick
veil,--the houses, the trees, the mountains, and cascades. The shapes
of things dissolve and disappear in the moist clouds that weigh upon
everything, and also upon the human mind. We light the lamps at two
o'clock in the afternoon. The ladies have finished packing, and we
should have gone in spite of the mist, but the road is torn up by the
mountain torrents beyond Hofgastein. Pani Celina again suffers from
headaches, and my aunt, after receiving a letter from Chwastowski
about the harvest, walks with heavy steps about the room, talking to
herself and scolding Chwastowski. Aniela looked pale and out of sorts
in the morning. She had a bad night and dreamed about the cretin she
had seen near the Schreckbruecke. She woke up, and could not go to
sleep again; she spent the rest of the night in nervous terror. It is
very strange what an impression the wretched cripple has made upon
her. I tried by cheerful conversation to make her forget about the
incident, in which I succeeded. Since our compact on the Schreckbruecke
she is without comparison brighter, more cheerful, and happier.
As regards myself, seeing Aniela thus contented, I cannot find it in
my heart to complain, though it often occurs to me that our relation
is mainly based upon there being no relation at all. When I entered
into the compact I knew what I was doing and what shape our feeling
would take; but now that shape seems to be getting more intangible and
undefined, and wrapped up in a mist like that which enfolds Gastein. I
have a presentiment that Aniela will not grant me what is due to
me, and I dare not remind her about anything. I dare not, because a
struggle is too exhausting, especially a struggle for the woman we
love. I have been engaged in this struggle half a year and not gained
anything; and I feel so weary that I prefer the truce, such as it is,
to a renewal of my former warfare. There is also another reason. If
this state of things does not exactly answer to my expectations, it
pleases and conciliates Aniela. She fancies I love her in a nobler
way, therefore she appreciates, I dare not say loves, me more and
more. In spite of the absence of all outward signs, I see it and it
gives me courage; I say to myself, "If her feeling increases, only
persevere, and a time may come when it will be stronger than her power
People generally, and women especially, fancy that the so-called
Platonic love is a peculiar species of love, very rare and very noble.
It is simply a confusion of ideas. There may be such a thing as
Platonic relations, but Platonic love is as much nonsense as dark
light. Even love for the dead consists of a longing after their bodily
presence as well as their souls. Among the living this feeling is
I did not want to say an untruth when I told Aniela I would love her
as if she were dead; but resignation does not exclude all hope. In
spite of all my disappointments, in spite of the consciousness that my
hopes are vain, I still nourish in a corner of my heart the hope that
the present state of affairs is only a halting-place on the way
to love. I may repeat to myself over and over again, "Delusion!
delusion!" but I cannot get rid of it until I get rid of my desire.
They are inseparable. I agreed to the compact because I could not help
myself, because I preferred this to nothing at all; but I consider it,
almost unconsciously, as a diplomatic move which aims at complete, not
half happiness. What makes me nevertheless thoughtful, surprises, and
grieves me, and what I simply cannot understand, is that on this line
even I am defeated. My victories lie in the dim, far-off future; but
in the present, in spite of all my cunning, experience of life, strong
feelings, and diplomacy, I am defeated by a being infinitely more
simple than I, less skilled in life's tactics, less cautious and
calculating in the course she takes. It is a defeat; there is no other
word for it. What is our present relation? Nothing more than the
relation of brother and sister, which she wished for and which I did
not wish. Formerly I fought with the storm and often came to grief,
but I steered my own bark. Now Aniela steers for us both; we go more
smoothly and more evenly, but I feel I am going where I did not wish
to go. I now understand why she put out her hand at once, when I
mentioned Dante's love for Beatrice. She wanted to lead me. Has she
calculated everything beforehand more carefully and profoundly than I?
No; I do not know anybody less capable of any calculation, therefore
I cannot admit the idea; yet I cannot get rid of the consciousness,
bordering upon the mystical, that some one has calculated it for her.
It is all very strange, and the strangest thing of all is that I
forged the fetters which bind me; I myself contrived to bring about
a relation so foreign to my nature, my views, and my most ardent
desires. If somebody had foretold to me, before I knew Aniela, that
I should hit upon such devices, it would have made me laugh at the
prophet and at myself. I, and Platonic relations! Even now I feel
sometimes inclined to laugh and jeer at myself. But I cannot; it is
sheer misery that has brought me to that pass.
We leave here to-morrow. The sky is clearing up and there is a
westerly breeze that promises fine weather. The mist has gathered into
long, whitish billows, that hang on the mountain sides, and like
huge leviathans are slowly rolling down. I went with Aniela on the
Kaiserweg. This morning the question arose in my mind what would
happen if the existing state of things ceased to satisfy Aniela. I
have no right to overstep the boundary, and I am afraid to do so;
suppose she too thought the same? Her innate modesty and shyness in
themselves would prove an almost insurmountable barrier; and if, added
to that, she thought the mutual agreement as binding for her as for
me, we should never come to an understanding; we should suffer in
Reflecting upon this, I understood the futility of such fears. She, to
whom even that Platonic relation appears too broad, who consciously or
unconsciously restricts, and does not even grant me what is due to me
within these limits, should be the first to acknowledge any greater
rights. And yet the human soul, even if in hell, will never lose hope
altogether. In spite of the self-evident impossibility, I resolved to
make myself safe by giving Aniela to understand that if I considered
the agreement as binding, it was not the same with her.
I wanted to say many other things, especially that she was doing me a
great wrong, and that my soul yearned to hear a word of love from her
lips, not once but many times, and that only thus I should be able to
remain on those lofty heights whereon she condemned me to dwell. But
that morning she was so gay, so cheerful and kind to me, that I had
not the heart to disturb her peace. Yesterday I could not understand
how a being so full of simplicity had got me under her power and
conquered me even on those fields I thought my exclusive domain.
To-day it seems clearer to me; and I have a ready and very sad
hypothesis,--she loves me less than I love her.
I knew a man who had the trick of repeating in all his sentences,
"Never mind me." It would not be strange if I began to do the same.
For when I feel, as I do sometimes, a desire to get rid of some words
that almost burn my tongue, the sudden thought that I might mar her
cheerfulness, drive away the smile, and change her good disposition,
renders me mute. Ah me! how often this does happen!
The thought that I love Aniela more than she loves me has crossed my
mind a hundred times; one day I think of it in one way, the next in
another. I am straying among my thoughts and look at the matter in a
different light every day. At one time it seems to me that she does
not care for me very much, in fact is incapable of any strong feeling;
and again, I not only think but am conscious that she has one of the
deepest and most loving hearts I ever met in the world. I have always
plenty of proofs either way. Thus I say to myself: "If her love
increases, three, four, ten times as much, will there not come a time
when it will grow stronger than her resistance?" Yes. Then it is only
a question of how great her feeling is? No. For if the feeling were
small she would not have suffered so much, and I have seen her suffer
almost as much as I did myself. Against all reasoning I have one
answer: "I have seen."
To-day a sentence escaped her which I shall remember, for it is an
answer to my doubts. She would not have said this had I spoken about
us and our love. But I spoke in a general way, as I now always do.
I argued that it lay in the nature of feeling to be connected with
action; that love produces acts of will. When I had finished she said
"Not always. One may suffer."
Of course one may suffer. With these few words she had crushed my
arguments and filled my heart with reverence for her. In moments like
these I am happy and unhappy, as again it seems to me that she loves
me as I love her, but will remain pure before God, and men, and
herself. And I shall not be able to shake that temple. When all is
said and done this analysis of her heart and feelings does not lead to
any certainty. I am always walking in the dark. To my philosophical
and social "I do not know" there is now added a personal
consideration, far more serious; for this "I do not know" threatens my
I forged myself the chain which binds me to Aniela, and there is no
hope whatever that it ever will be broken. I love her despairingly,
and it is a question whether my love be not a disease. If I were
younger, less shattered in mind and nerves,--in short, of a more
normal disposition,--I might, seeing the hopelessness, try to break
that chain. As it is, I do not make even an effort. I love as a man
with diseased nerves, a man who is close upon mania; love as old
men do, clinging to love with all their might, as it is for them
a question of life. Thus one may cling to a branch overhanging a
This one thing has blossomed in my life, consequently its growth is so
out of all proportion. A phenomenon like this is easy to understand
and will repeat itself the oftener, the more people there are like me;
that is, hyper-analytical sceptics inclined to hysteria, with a great
nothingness in their souls, and a strong neurosis in their veins. This
modern product of our epoch, drawing to its end, may not love at all,
or may look upon love as mere licentiousness; but if it happen that
all the forces of one's life centre in one feeling, and come under the
sway of his neurosis, the predilection will become as ineradicable as
any other chronic disease. Physiologists have not fully understood
this, still less novelists, who occupy themselves with the analysis of
the modern human soul.
Vienna, 25 August.
We arrived to-day at Vienna. On the way I listened to a conversation
between my aunt and Pani Celina, of which I took note, as it seemed to
make an extraordinary impression upon Aniela. We four were alone in
the railway carriage; we were discussing the portrait, and especially
the question whether the white dress would not have to be abandoned,
as the making of it would take up too much time. Suddenly Pani Celina,
whose mind is full of reminiscences and dates, which she quotes in and
out of season, turned to Aniela and said:--
"It is just two months to-day since your husband arrived at Ploszow,
is it not?"
"I believe so," replied Aniela.
At the same instant she grew very red and tried to hide her confusion
by taking down one of her bags from the rack. The blush had not gone
from her face when she turned round again, and there was in her face
an expression of acute pain. The ladies did not notice it, for they
were deep in a discussion as to the exact date of Kromitzki's arrival;
but I had noticed it and it grated upon my nerves, for it reminded me
that that very day she had to submit to his caresses. I was furious,
and at the same time ashamed for that blush of hers. In my love there
are many great thorns, but there are also a multitude of small,
hideous ones. Before that unlucky remark of Pani Celina's I felt
almost happy because I had the illusion that I was travelling with
Aniela as my affianced wife. Now in one moment the good disposition
fled. I felt resentment towards Aniela, and I showed it in my manners.
She noticed it at once, and when we arrived at Vienna and were left
alone for a moment, she asked:--
"Are you angry with me about something?"
"No, but I love you," I said curtly.
Her face grew sad. She thought, perhaps, that I had grown tired of the
peaceful current of our life, and the old Leon had come back again.
I felt angry with her, but angrier still with myself, that all my
philosophy and consciousness did not serve to give me the mastery over
the slightest sensations.
I went at once to Angeli, but when I arrived at his studio it was
six o'clock and the studio was closed. Aniela will be rested, and
to-morrow I will go with her. I have changed my idea. I do not want
her in a ball-dress, showing her arms and shoulders; I will have her
as she is every day, and as I love her most.
In the evening Doctor Chwastowski came to see us. He looks very well,
and as strong as a giant.
I had a very nasty dream. I begin with it the description of the day.
I am not one to attach any meaning to dreams, and I am convinced
that a healthy brain could not produce such stuff. Sleeplessness has
troubled me now for some time, but yesterday I had scarcely closed my
eyes when I fell into a heavy sleep. I do not know at what time I had
that dream; it must have been towards morning, for when I awoke it
was broad daylight, and I could not have dreamed long. I saw a great
quantity of cockchafers and black beetles crawl from under the
mattress and along the sides of the bed. They were as big as
matchboxes. Presently I saw them crawling up the wall. Strange how
realistic dreams can be; I distinctly heard the rustling of their
feet on the paper. Raising my eyes I noticed big clusters of beetles
hanging from the ceiling; but they were of a different kind,
much larger, with black and white spots. On some of them I could
distinguish the white belly, with two rows of feet on either side
which looked like ribs. In my dream they seemed quite in their place,
and yet horrible. They filled me with loathing, but I was neither
astonished nor afraid. Only after I had awoke the loathing became
unbearable and changed into a kind of fear,--fear of death. It was the
first time I had that sensation, and that fear of death took such a
form. "Who knows," I thought, "what hideous shapes are awaiting me in
the darkness, on the other side of life?" Later on I remembered that I
had seen some similar beetles in an entomological collection, but
at the time they seemed to me something unnatural, belonging to an
intangible after-life. I jumped up and raised the blind, and the sight
of daylight calmed me at once. The streets were already alive with the
traffic of the early morning,--vegetable carts drawn by dogs, servants
going to market, and laborers to their work. The sight of the normal
human life is the best remedy against phantasms like these. I feel now
an immense necessity for light and life. The final conclusion of all
this is that I am not well. My tragedy undermines me like a cancer. I
see white threads in my hair; this might have come in the course of
nature; but my face, especially in the morning, has a waxen hue, and
my hands are getting transparent. I am not getting thin, it is rather
the opposite, but I am conscious of anaemia as I am conscious of my
psychical state, and I feel that my vital powers are passing through a
crisis, and that some calamity is threatening me.
I shall never go mad. I cannot even imagine how I could ever lose
control over myself. Besides, a celebrated physician, and what is
more an intelligent man, told me that at a certain point of developed
consciousness this was quite impossible. I think he has written a book
about it. But without going mad I may be on the eve of some portentous
nervous disease; and as I know a little what that means, I say
sincerely that any other would be preferable.
I have not much faith in doctors, especially in those that trust to
physic, but I may take some advice if only to please my aunt. I know
one remedy, which would be infallible; if Kromitzki died and I could
marry Aniela I should speedily get well. A disease springing from
nerves must be cured through nerves. But she will not be my physician,
even if my life is in danger.
I went with Aniela and my aunt to Angeli's studio. The first sitting
took place to-day. How right I was in saying that she is one of the
most beautiful women I ever met in life, because there is nothing
commonplace in her beauty. Angeli looked at her with manifest
pleasure, as if he had before him a noble piece of art. He was in
excellent spirits, drew the outline with enthusiasm, and did not
conceal at all the reason of his satisfaction. "In my profession," he
said, "a model like this is very rare indeed. With such a sitter it is
delightful to work. What a face! what expression!"
The expression was by no means so charming as usual, because Aniela is
a shy little creature; she felt confused, bewildered, and it evidently
cost her an effort to keep a natural pose. Angeli understood that.
"It will be easier the next time," he said; "like everything else, one
must get accustomed to it." And he repeated several times: "This will
be something like a portrait."
He looked also with a pleased countenance at my aunt, who has noble
features and a singularly commanding presence. The way she met Angeli
was in itself a treat. It was the off-hand manner of the _grande
dame_, always in good taste, but evidently not making much of him.
Angeli, who is used to flattery and homage, and at the same time
a clever man, judged her aright, and I saw he was amused by her
We had decided upon a black silk dress, very elegantly made. It shows
off Aniela's figure to perfection, its suppleness and rounded curves.
I can neither think nor write about it calmly. Angeli, addressing
Aniela, repeatedly called her "Mademoiselle." Feminine nature, even an
angelic one, has still its little weaknesses. I noticed that my dear
love was pleased, and still more so when I told Angeli of his mistake,
and he said:--
"But I shall always fall into the same mistake; looking at madame it
is impossible not to make the mistake."
And indeed with those vivid blushes mantling in her face she was
On our way out, when a little distance from my aunt, I whispered to
"Aniela, do you know yourself how beautiful you are?"
She did not say anything, but lowered her eyelashes, as she always
does in such a case. Nevertheless, I noticed that during the rest
of the day there was a shade of unconscious coquetry in her manner
towards me. Angeli's words and mine had attuned her to that
disposition. She knows I admire her, that never woman was admired
more, and it pleases her. I not only admired her, but I said inwardly,
rather shouted to myself: "To the deuce with all compacts. I love you
without limits and restrictions."
In the evening we went to the opera to hear Wagner's "Fliegende
Hollander." I scarcely heard anything at all, or rather, heard and saw
only through her. I asked of Wagner: "What impression do you make upon
her? Does your music enter her soul and make her inclined to love me?
Do you transport her into higher spheres, where love is the highest
law?" That is the only thing that interests me. Women perhaps cannot
love so exclusively. They always reserve part of their soul for
themselves, for the world and its sensations.
My aunt expressed a wish to depart. She is anxious to be back at
Ploszow, and says that her presence here is not necessary, and that
in fact we should get on better without her; that we should not be
obliged to consider her and could devote all our time to the portrait.
We all protested a little, and maintained that a lady of her years
ought not to travel alone. Though reluctantly, I considered it my duty
to offer my companionship. I confess that I awaited her reply with
a certain trepidation; but the dear old lady said, with great
"Don't think of it even. Suppose Celina should fall ill again, who
would look after them, or accompany Aniela to the studio? She must not
go alone." She shook her finger playfully at Aniela, and with a frown
on her brow, and smiling mouth she added: "I don't quite trust that
painter, he looks at her more than his work requires; and she sees it
too and is pleased with it,--I know her little ways."
"But aunty, he is not a young man," said Aniela, laughingly kissing
My aunt muttered: "Little coaxing rogue, he is not a young man, you
say? but he pays you compliments all the same. Leon, you must keep
your eye on them."
I relinquished the journey to Ploszow with delight, yielding to my
aunt's convincing reasons. Pani Celina insisted upon her taking the
maid, at least, who had gone with them to Gastein. My aunt refused at
first, but consented when Aniela pointed out that they would do very
well without a maid in the hotel. She gave orders at once to have her
things packed. She is very quick in her decisions and wants to go
to-morrow by an early train. I teased her during dinner, saying that
she liked her horses better than all of us together. "Foolish boy,"
she said, "don't talk nonsense;" then forgot herself, and began
soliloquizing about the horses. The sitting was a very long one
to-day. Aniela posed much better. The face is already laid in.
My aunt left us this morning. Pani Celina, who went with us to the
studio, could scarcely restrain an exclamation of horror when she saw
Aniela's face on the picture. She has no idea about painting and the
different phases a picture has to go through, and fancied the face
would remain thus. I had to set her mind at rest. Then Angeli, who
guessed what was the matter, laughed and said that what she saw before
her was only the chrysalis, from which the butterfly would come forth
"I believe it will be one of the best portraits I ever painted," he
said; "for a long time I have not worked so _con amore_."
I hope his words will prove true. After the sitting I went to get
tickets for the opera. When I returned I found Aniela alone, and
suddenly temptation seized me with the force of a hurricane. I thought
if she would come into my arms, now was the moment; and at the very
thought I felt myself growing pale, my pulses beat wildly, I trembled
and caught my breath. The room was in semi-darkness, veiled by heavy
curtains. I made superhuman efforts to conquer the irresistible power
that pushed me towards her. It seemed as if a hot wave emanating from
her enfolded me, and that she too must feel the same storm in her
breast. "I must take her in my arms, kiss her eyes and lips," a voice
within me seemed to say, "though I were to perish for it afterwards."
She noticed at once my unusual state; there was a momentary terror in
her eyes, but she collected herself at once and said quickly:--
"You must be my guardian now in mamma's absence. There was a time when
I used to be afraid of you; but now I trust you and feel quite at ease
I kissed her hands and said in a choking voice: "Oh, Aniela, if you
knew what is passing within me!"
She replied, with sadness and compassion: "I know; you are so good,
and all the nobler."
For a moment I still fought with myself; but she disarmed me,--I did
not dare. During the remainder of the day she tried to compensate me
for my restraint. Never had I seen in her eyes so much affection and
such tenderness. Is this not perhaps the best way, after all? Perhaps
in this guise the feeling will grow stronger and conquer her at last.
I do not know, I begin to lose my head. But following this road I
sacrifice every day my love for love's sake.
Something very strange and terrifying has happened. During the
sitting, while posing quietly, Aniela suddenly shuddered, her face
grew very red and then turned as white as snow. Both Angeli and I were
terribly frightened. He interrupted his work at once and asked Aniela
to rest; I brought her a glass of water. After a few moments she grew
better and wanted to resume the pose; but I saw that it cost her some
effort and that she still seemed dazed. Perhaps she was tired. The
weather is very hot to-day and the streets are like a baker's oven. We
went back much sooner than the day before, and I noticed that she had
not recovered her usual spirits. During dinner she grew suddenly very
red. Pani Celina asked whether she felt indisposed. She assured us
that nothing was the matter with her. To my offer to go and bring
a doctor, she replied with unusual vivacity, and with a touch of
irritation, that there was no need for it, that she was not ill.
During the remainder of the day she was pale, the black eyebrows
contracted every now and then, and there was an expression of
sternness in her face. She was more indifferent to me than yesterday,
and I fancied she avoided my eyes. I cannot make out what it means. I
am very restless, and shall not be able to sleep; or if I go to sleep
I shall have dreams such as I had before.
There is something mysterious going on around me. Towards noon I
knocked at the room of the ladies, to let Aniela know it was time to
go to the studio; but they were not there. The hotel servant told me
they had ordered a carriage two hours before and driven into town. A
little surprised at that, I resolved to wait for their return. Half
an hour later they came in, but Aniela gave me her hand silently and
passed at once into her room. A quick glance at her face told me it
was troubled. I thought she had only gone to change her dress, when
Pani Celina said:--
"My dear Leon, please go to Angeli and apologize for Aniela; her
nerves are so shaken that she cannot possibly sit for him."
"What is the matter with her?" I asked, anxiously.
Pani Celina seemed at a loss what to say, and at last replied: "I do
not know; I took her to the doctor, but we did not find him at home. I
left my card and asked him to call on us at the hotel; that is all I
can tell you."
I could not get anything more out of her. I took a cab and drove at
once to Angeli's studio. When I told him that Aniela could not come
it seemed to me as if he looked suspicious. Perhaps the troubled
expression of my face had something to do with it. It crossed my mind,
"Suppose he suspects us to have changed our minds, and that we do not
want the portrait any longer?" He does not know us; he might even
think that some money difficulties are the cause of my anxiety.
To guard against such suspicions, I made up my mind to pay him in
advance. When he heard of this, he protested vehemently and said he
never accepted payment until the picture was finished; but I replied
that I was only the depositary of the sum, and as I might be called
away at any moment, I would rather get rid of the trouble. After some
more discussion, which bored me, it was settled according to my wish.
We agreed that the sitting should take place at the same hour the day
following, and in case Pani Kromitzka was still unable to attend I
would let him know before ten. When back at the hotel, I went at once
to the ladies. Aniela was in her room. Pani Celina said the doctor had
just gone away, but did not say anything conclusive; only advised her
to keep quiet and avoid emotion. I do not know why, but I fancied I
saw again in her face the same hesitation. Possibly it comes only from
her anxiety about Aniela, which I can well understand, as I feel the
When in my own room I reproached myself bitterly for having been, at
least partly, the cause of this; as all this struggle between her love
and her duty could not but act perniciously upon her health. Thinking
of all this, I had a sensation which might be summed up in a few
words: "Better I should perish than that she should suffer." I thought
with terror that she would not come down to dinner, as if something
serious, God knows what, had depended upon it. Fortunately she did
come down; but she still avoided my eyes, and there was the same
mysterious something in the air. First she grew confused at seeing me,
and then made an effort to be her usual self, but failed. She made
upon me the impression of a person that tries to conceal a trouble.
She must have been paler too than usual, for though she cannot be
called dark she almost looked like a brunette.
I racked my brain to guess what could have happened. Was it anything
connected with Kromitzki; and if so, what could it be? Perhaps my
money is in danger. The deuce take the money! All I possess may
perish, rather than that Aniela should have a moment of anxiety. I
must get at the bottom of the mystery to-morrow. I am quite sure it
has to do with Kromitzki; but what can he have done? He has not sold
another Gluchow, for the simple reason that there is not another to
Berlin, 5 September.
I am at Berlin, because escaping from Vienna I had to go somewhere. I
could not go to Ploszow, because she will be there. I was so convinced
that no human power could tear me from her that the very idea of
separation seemed to me a wild impossibility. But no! It is always the
unexpected that happens, for I have gone away, and everything is at
an end. I am at Berlin. I feel as if I had an engine in my head, the
wheels of which keep whirring incessantly. This hurts me; but I am
not mad. I know everything and remember everything. My physician was
right; it is only weak heads that come to grief. Besides, it could not
happen to me, because insanity sometimes means happiness.
Yet at times I fancy that my brain is bursting bounds. What is there
more natural than that a married woman should have children? But to me
that natural order seems so monstrous that it well-nigh maddens me.
Yet a thing cannot be at the same time in the order of nature and
a monstrosity. No brain can withstand that. What does it mean? I
understand that those whom fate means to crush are crushed by some
great, overwhelming calamity. With me it is different. I am rent
asunder by an ordinary, natural event,--and the more natural, the more
terrible it is. One contradicts the other. She is not responsible,--I
understand that because I am not mad. She is still virtuous, and yet
I could have sooner forgiven her any other crime. And I cannot, God
knows I cannot forgive you, because I loved you so much. And believe
me, there is not another woman in the whole world I scorn so much as I
scorn you. For, after all, it comes to this: you had two lovers, one
for Platonic love and the other for matrimonial love. There is in me a
wild desire to laugh, and at the same time to dash my head against the
wall. I had not foreseen that a way could be found to tear me from
you; and yet there is one, and it has proved effective.
When I come to think that all is at an end between us, and that I have
left her forever, I can scarcely believe it. There is no Aniela for me
any more. Then what is there? Nothing. Then why do I live? I do not
know. It is not out of curiosity to know whether a son or a daughter
will be born to Pan Kromitzki. I always think of it as the most
natural thing in the world, and my head seems nigh to bursting. It
is very strange! I ought to have been prepared for that, and yet the
thought never entered my head. I should have sooner expected a stroke
of lightning to fell me down. Yet Kromitzki was with her at Ploszow;
they were together in Vienna, and afterward in Gastein.
And I put it all down to her nerves, to her deep feelings! What
egregious foolishness! Since I could bear to see the two together, I
ought to be able to put up with the consequences. Alas, it is not
my reason that revolts, it is my nerves that quiver under these
consequences. There are people in whom these two forces dwell in
harmony; within me they worry each other like dogs. That is another
of my misfortunes. How is it I never thought of it? It ought to have
struck me that if there were any terrible coincidence, any blow more
painful than another, it would be reserved for me.
Sometimes it seems to me as if I were hunted by a Providence that, not
satisfied by the logic of facts that contain in themselves a Nemesis,
took a special delight in fastening personally upon me. There are
many others who love their neighbors' wives, and they do not suffer,
because they love less honestly, more thoughtlessly. Is there any
justice in that? No, it is not that. There is no self-conscious
thought in the ordering of these things; they happen by chance and by
virtue of necessity.
The thought still pursues me that as a rule human tragedy is the
outcome of exceptional events and calamities, and mine comes from a
natural event. Really I do not know which is worst. The natural order
of things seems to me past bearing.
I have heard that a man struck by lightning stiffens, but does not
fall down at once. I too keep up, sustained by that thunderbolt that
struck me, but I feel myself falling. As soon as it grows dark in the
evening something strange takes place within me. I feel so oppressed
that it costs me an effort even to sigh; it seems as if the air could
not get to my lungs, and that I breathe with only a part of them.
During the night, and also in the day, a sudden nameless terror seizes
me,--terror of nothing in particular. I feel as if something horrible
was going to happen, something worse than death. Yesterday I put the
question to myself: "What would become of me if, in this foreign town,
I suddenly forgot my name and where I lived, and wandered on and on in
darkness without knowing where I was going?"
These are sick fancies. Besides, in such a case that would happen to
my body which has already happened to my soul; for in a moral sense I
do not know where I dwell,--I walk in darkness, aimlessly, in a kind
of madness. I am afraid of everything, except of death. Strictly
speaking, I have a strange sensation as if it were not that I am
afraid, but as if fear dwelt in me, as a separate being,--and I
tremble; I cannot bear darkness now. In the evening I go out and walk
in the streets, lighted by electric lamps, until I am thoroughly
tired. If I met anybody I knew, I should escape, if to the other end
of the world; but crowds have become a necessity to me. When the
streets are getting empty I feel terrified. The thought of night fills
me with nameless fear. And how long they seem, these nights!
I have continually a metallic taste in my mouth. I felt it for the
first time that night when I came home and found Kromitzki waiting
for me; the second time I felt it when Pani Celina told me the "great
news." What a day! I had gone to ask how Aniela was, when the doctor
had seen her for the second time. There was not the slightest
suspicion in my mind; I did not understand anything even when Pani
Celina said: "The doctor says that those are purely nervous symptoms,
and have nothing to do with her state."
Seeing that I did not understand, she said, with a certain
"I must tell you the great news."
And she told me the "great news." When I heard it I felt the metallic
taste in my mouth, and a cold sensation in my brain, exactly as I had
felt that evening I met Kromitzki unexpectedly. I went into my room.
I remember among other things that I felt an immense desire to
laugh. That ideal being, for whom even Platonic love seemed to be
impermissible, and who instead of "love" used the word "friendship!" I
felt a desire to laugh, and at the same time to dash my head against
I preserved nevertheless a mechanical self-possession. It came from
the consciousness that everything was over and done with; that I
must go--that there was nothing for it but to go. That consciousness
transformed me into an automaton, doing by routine everything that
was necessary for my departure. I was even conscious of keeping up
appearances. Why? I do not know, as this did not matter now to me any
longer. Most likely it was an instinctive action of the brain, which
for months had been trained in concealing the truth and keeping up
appearances. I told Pani Celina that I had seen a doctor, and that he
said there was something amiss with my heart, and ordered me to go to
Berlin without delay,--and she believed it.
Not so Aniela. I saw her eyes dilated with terror, and in her face the
expression of a degraded martyr; and there were two persons within me:
one who said, "Is it her fault?" and another who despised her. Oh, why
did I love her so much?
It is almost two weeks since I left. They must be at Ploszow by this
time. I wrote to-day a letter to my aunt, because I was afraid
she might be uneasy about me and come here to look after me. I am
sometimes astonished to find there is still somebody that cares what
becomes of me.
There are men who lead astray other men's wives, deceive them, and
afterwards throw them aside and quietly resume their every-day life.
I have never done any such thing, and if Aniela had been my victim I
should have wiped the dust from off her path; no human power could
have torn me from her. There are greater crimes than mine, but upon
me has fallen such a burden that it gives me the impression of an
exceptional punishment; and I cannot help thinking that my love must
have been a terrible crime.
This is a kind of instinctive fear, against which scepticism is no
safeguard. And yet by all moral laws it must be admitted that it would
be a greater offence to lead a woman to ruin without love, and do from
calculation what I did from a deep love. Surely the responsibility
cannot be greater for an immense, overpowering feeling than for a mean
No! therefore my love is, above all, an awful calamity. A man free
from prejudices can imagine how he would feel if he were swayed by
prejudice; so, too, a man who doubts may imagine how he could pray if
he had the faith. I not only have the feeling, but it breaks forth
into a complaint, almost like a sincere prayer, and I say: "If I am
guilty, O God! I have been punished severely, and a little mercy might
be shown to me." But I cannot even imagine in what shape that mercy
could come to me now! It is impossible!
They must have gone back to Ploszow by this time. I still think of
Aniela very often, for we cannot wipe out the past; especially when we
have nothing to look for in the future; and I have nothing, nothing
at all. If I had faith I might become a priest; if I were a man who
denies the existence of God I might become a convert. But within me
the organs with which we believe are withered, as sometimes a limb
withers. I do not know anything except that in my sorrows I do not
find comfort in religion.
When Aniela married Kromitzki, I thought everything between us was
over. I was mistaken. It is only now I have the full conviction that
everything is over; for now we are divided not only by our will and
my departure, but by something that is beyond us, by forces of nature
independent of us. We are like two parallel lines that can never meet,
though we wish for it ever so much. On Aniela's line there will be
suffering, but there will be also new worlds, a new life; on mine
there is nothing but solitude. She doubtless understands that as well
as I. I wonder whether sometimes she says to herself: "It is I who,
without intending it, have ruined that man." It does not matter much
to me, and yet I should like to know that she is sorry for me. Maybe
she will feel a little sorry until her child is born. After that all
her feelings will flow into one channel, and, for her, I shall not
exist any longer. That also is a law of nature,--an excellent law.
I saw to-day on an advertisement in big letters the name of Clara
Hilst. I now remembered that she had told me in her last letter that
she was going to Berlin. She is here, and she is going to give several
concerts. At the time, the news neither pleased nor displeased me.
Now, in proportion as my nervous restlessness increases, the sensation
grows more distinct, and takes a twofold shape: the thought that she
is near acts soothingly on me, but the thought is sufficient, and I
would rather not see her; and when I say to myself that I ought to
call on her it gives me an unpleasant sensation. Clara has that
inquisitive solicitude that wants to know everything and asks
questions. She has a strong leaning towards romantic situations, and
the firm belief that friendship is a remedy for all evils. For me to
make confidences is simply impossible. I often, lack the strength even
to think of what has happened.
Why do I wake up in the morning? Why do I exist? And what do I care
for acquaintances or people in general? I did not go to see Clara,
because she can have nothing to say to me that could possibly interest
me, and it wearies me beforehand. The whole world is as entirely
indifferent to me as I am to the world.
I did well to write to my aunt. If I had not done so she would have
come here. She writes thus:--
"Your letter came to hand the same day that Celina and Aniela arrived.
How are you now, my dearest boy? You say that you are all right, but
is that really and truly so? What did the doctors in Berlin say, and
how long do you think of remaining there? Send me a telegram whether
you are still there, and I will come to you at once. Celina says you
went away so suddenly that she and Aniela were terribly frightened. If
you had not mentioned that the doctor most likely will advise a sea
voyage, I should have started off at once after receiving your letter.
It is only some fifteen hours by rail, and I feel stronger than ever.
The congestions I used to have have not returned. I am very anxious
about you, and do not like the idea of the sea at all. You are used to
that sort of thing, but I shudder at the thought of ships and storms.
Celina is quite well, and Aniela fairly so. I hear that you have been
told the news. Before leaving Vienna they consulted a specialist, and
he said there was no doubt whatever about Aniela's state. Celina is
overjoyed, and I too am glad. Perhaps this will induce Kromitzki
to give up his speculations and settle at home. Aniela will now be
altogether happy, having an aim in life. She looked rather tired
and as if oppressed when she came back, but that may be only the
consequence of the journey.
"Sniatynski's child has been very bad with croup, but is better now."
Reading my aunt's letter gave me the impression that there is no room
for me among them, especially near Aniela. Even my memory will soon
become unpleasant to her.
I cannot imagine myself as living a year or two hence. What shall I
do? Such utter aimlessness ought to debar one from life. Properly
speaking, there is no room for me anywhere.
I did not go to see Clara, but met her in the Friedrichsstrasse.
Seeing me she grew pale from joy and emotion, and greeted me with
such effusion that it pleased and pained me at the same time. I was
conscious that my cordiality towards her was a mere outward form, and
that I did not derive any pleasure from the meeting. When she had
recovered from the surprise at meeting me thus unexpectedly, she
scrutinized my face anxiously. Truly I must have presented a strange
sight; and my hair has become much grayer too. She began to inquire
after my health, and in spite of my friendship for her, I felt that
to see her often would be more than I could stand. I resolved to put
myself on guard against this; I told her that I did not feel very
well, and was shortly going away to a warmer climate. She tried to
persuade me to come and see her; than asked after my aunt, Pani
Celina, and Aniela. I put her off with general remarks. I thought to
myself that she perhaps is the only being who would have understood
me, and yet I felt that I could not open my heart to her.
Nevertheless I am still susceptible to human kindness. At moments,
when those honest blue eyes of Clara's looked into mine with such
kindliness and such keen scrutiny, as if they wanted to look into my
very soul, her goodness humiliated me so that I felt a desire to weep.
Clara, in spite of my effort to seem as usual, noticed that I was
changed, and with quick feminine intuition she guessed that I speak,
live, almost think mechanically, and that my soul is half dead within
me. She left off all searchings and inquiries, but became very tender.
I saw that she was afraid of wearying me. She also tried to make
me understand that in the tenderness she was showing there was no
concealed intention of winning my regard, but only the desire to
comfort me. And it did comfort me, but I could not help feeling very
tired. My mind is not capable of any concentration, any effort to
maintain a conversation, even with a friend. And besides, since the
one aim of my life has vanished from my eyes, everything appears to me
so empty that I have continually the question in my mind: "What is the
use of it? what can it matter now?"
Never in my life have I passed a more terrible night. I had a
sensation of terror, as if I descended by endless steps into deeper
and deeper darkness, full of horrible, indefined, moving shapes. I
made up my mind to leave Berlin; I cannot breathe under that heavy,
leaden sky. I will go back to Rome, to my house on the Babuino, and
settle there for good. I think my accounts with Aniela and the world
in general may be considered as closed, and henceforth I will quietly
vegetate at Rome until my time comes. Anything for tranquillity!
Yesterday's visit to Clara convinced me that even if I wished it, I
cannot live with others, since I have nothing wherewith to repay their
kindness. I am excluded from general life and stand outside, and
though I am conscious of the indescribable solitude, I have no wish to
go back. The idea of Rome and my hermitage on the Babuino smiles upon
me; it is a pale, sorrowful smile, but I prefer it to anything else.
There I spread my wings to fly out into the world, and thither I go
back with broken wings,--to wait for the end.
I am writing mostly in the morning, for at night I always descend
to those dark regions wherein fear dwells. To-day I shall go to the
concert and say good-by to Clara. To-morrow I depart. On the way I may
stop at Vienna, perhaps see Angeli, but am not certain. I am never
certain how I shall feel, or what I shall do the next day.
I received to-day a note from Clara, in which she asks me to come and
see her after the concert. I shall go to the concert because there are
so many healthy-minded people there that I feel safer in their midst;
and they do not tire me, as they are personally unknown to me; I see
only the crowd. But I shall not go to Clara. She is too kind. It is
said of persons dying from starvation that for some time before their
death they cannot bear the sight of food. In the same way my spiritual
organism cannot stand sympathy and kindness. It cannot bear memories
either. It is a very small thing, but I know now why that visit to
Clara was such a trial to my nerves. She uses the same scent I brought
from Vienna for Aniela. I have noticed the same thing before, that
nothing recalls to the mind a certain person so distinctly as when one
inhales the perfume she is in the habit of using.
I have broken down at last. I caught a chill yesterday coming from
the concert-room, where the air was very close. I did not put on my
overcoat, and when I arrived at the hotel I was chilled to the bone.
Every breath I draw gives me a sensation as if my lungs in
expanding came in contact with two rows of needles hidden under the
shoulder-blade. I feel alternately very hot and very cold. I am
continually thirsty. At times I feel so weak that I could not go
downstairs. There is no question now about going away; I could not get
into the carriage without help. While writing I hear my own breath
coming three times as quick and loud as usual. I am quite certain that
but for my nerves the sudden chill would not have done me any harm,
but in my present state of nervous prostration I have lost all power
of resistance. It is undoubtedly inflammation of the lungs.
I shall keep up as long as I can. In the morning as soon as I felt
ill, I wrote to my aunt, telling her I was all right, and would leave
Berlin in a few days. In a few days, if I am still conscious, I shall
write the same. I asked her to send all letters and telegrams to my
banker here. I shall take care that nobody at Ploszow knows about my
illness. How very fortunate I said good-by to Clara yesterday.
I am worse than yesterday. I am feverish and at times conscious that
my thoughts wander, but I have not lain down. When I shut my eyes the
border line between the real and the outcome of my sick brain seems to
vanish altogether. But I have still control over my senses. I am only
afraid the fever will overpower me and I shall lose consciousness
The thought comes now and then into my mind that I, a man more richly
endowed by fate than so many others, who could have a home, a family,
be surrounded by loving hearts, sits here lonely and in sickness, in
a strange place, with nobody near him to give him a glass of water.
Aniela would be near me too--I cannot go on.
I resume my writing after an interval of three weeks. Clara has left
me. Seeing me on a fair way to recovery she went to Hanover and
promised to come back in ten days. She nursed me during the whole
time of my illness. It was she who brought a doctor to me. I should
probably have died but for her. I do not remember whether it was the
third or fourth day of my illness she came here. I was conscious, but
at the same time as indifferent as if it were not to me that she had
come, or as if her being there were an every-day occurrence. She came
with the doctor, whose thick, curly, white hair attracted my attention
and fascinated me. After examining me he asked me several questions,
first in German, then in French; and though I understood what he said,
I did not feel the slightest inclination to answer, could not make an
effort,--as if my will-power had been struck down by the disease, as
well as the body.
They worried me that day with cupping, and then I remained quiet
without any sensations. Sometimes I thought that I was going to die,
but this did not trouble me any more than what was going on around me.
Perhaps in severe illness, even when conscious, we lose the sense of
proportion between great and small matters, and for some reason or
other our attention is mainly fixed upon small things. Thus, for
instance, besides the doctor's curly hair, I was greatly interested in
seeing them push back the upper and lower bolt of the door of the room
adjoining mine, which Clara intended to occupy. I remember that I
could not take my eyes off that door, as if something depended on
whether it would open or not. Presently the surgeon came in who was to
look after me under Clara's supervision. He began to say something to
me, but Clara motioned him to be silent.
I am still very tired, and must leave off.
My nerves have quieted down during that long illness. I have none of
those terrors that haunted me before. I only wish Clara would come
back as quickly as possible. It is not so much a longing for her
presence, as the selfishness of the convalescent, who feels that
nothing can replace her tender care and nursing. I know she will not
dwell close to me any longer; but her presence soothes me. Weakness
and helplessness cling to the protecting power as a child clings to
its mother. I am convinced that no other woman would have done for me
what Clara did; other women would have thought more of the proprieties
than of saving a man's life. Thinking of this, bitterness rises in my
throat, and there is one name on my lips--But those are things better
left alone, as long as I have not strength enough to think about them.
Clara used to sleep fully dressed on the sofa in the room next to
mine, with the door open. Whenever I moved she was at once at
my bedside: I saw her by night, leaning over my bed, her hair
disarranged, and eyes winking with sleeplessness and fatigue. She
herself measured out my physic, and raised my head from the pillow.
When, in moments of consciousness, I wanted to thank her, she put a
finger to her lips as a sign that the doctor had enjoined quietness. I
do not know how many nights she spent at my bedside. She looked very
tired in the daytime, and, when sitting near me in an armchair,
sometimes dozed off in the middle of a sentence. Waking up she smiled
at me, and dozed again. At nights she walked to and fro in her own
room, in order to keep awake; but so softly that I could not have
known it but for the shadow moving on the wall, which I saw through
the open door. Once, when she was near me, not knowing how to express
my gratitude, I raised her hand to my lips; she stooped down quickly,
and, before I could prevent it, kissed my hand. But I must confess
that I was not always so grateful. Sick people as a rule are fanciful
and irritable; I felt irritated at her being so tall. I felt a kind of
resentment that she was not like Aniela; for so long a time I had been
in the habit of acknowledging grace and beauty only in so far as they
approached the grace and beauty of that other one.
Sometimes, looking at Clara, I irritated myself inwardly by the most
singular thought that she is beautiful, not because nature meant
her to be beautiful,--not by right of her race,--but by a fortunate
accident of birth. Sometimes other beautiful feminine heads made
upon me the same impression. These are subtle shades which only very
delicate and sensitive nerves can perceive.
There were moments, especially at night, when, looking at Clara's face
grown thin and tired with watching me, I had a delusion that I saw the
other one. This happened when she was sitting in the half-light, a
certain distance from my bed. This delusion was fostered by fever and
a sick brain, for which impossibilities do not exist. Sometimes my
mind wandered and I called Clara by that other's name, spoke to her as
if she were Aniela. I remember it as if in a dream.
The banker B. sent me some letters written by my aunt. She asks me
about my plans for the future. She writes even about the crops, but
nothing about the inmates of Ploszow. I do not even know whether they
be alive or dead. What an irritating way of writing letters. What do I
care about the crops, and about the whole estate? I replied at once,
and could not disguise my displeasure.
To-day I received a telegram from Kromitzki addressed to Warsaw. My
aunt, instead of sending its contents in another telegram, put it into
an envelope, and sent it by post. Kromitzki entreats me to save my own
money and his whole future by sending him another twenty-five thousand
roubles. Beading this I merely shrugged my shoulders. What do I care
now for Kromitzki or my money? Let it go with the rest! If he only
knew the reason I helped him the first time, he would not ask me now.
Let him bear his losses as quietly as I bear mine. Moreover, there is
awaiting him the "great news;" that ought to comfort him. Rejoice as
much as you can; have as many children as you like; but if you think I
am going to provide for their future, you ask a little too much.
If at least she had not sacrificed me with such inconsiderate egoism
to her so-called "principles." But enough of this; my brain cannot
stand it,--let me at least be ill in peace.
They cannot let me alone,--found me even here. Again for two days I
had no peace; again I press both hands against my head to stop that
whirring sound in my brain. I think again of Ploszow and of her,
and of the solitude that is awaiting me. It is a fearful thing
when suddenly something goes out of our life for which we lived
exclusively. I do not know whether illness has weakened my brain, but
I simply cannot understand various phenomena that I perceive within
myself. It seems as if jealousy had outlived my love.
It is a twofold jealousy,--a jealousy not only of facts, but of
feelings. I am torn by the thought that the child which is to be born
will take Aniela's heart from me, and what is more, and concerns me
most, it will bring her closer to Kromitzki. I would not have her now
if she were free; but I cannot bear the thought of her loving her
husband. I would give all that remains of life if nobody would love
her, and she not love anybody any more. Under such conditions life
might be endurable still.
If what is now in my mind does not save me, I shall again fall ill, or
perhaps go mad. I am making up my accounts. Is there anything owing to
me from life? Nothing. What is awaiting me in the future? Nothing. If
so, there is no reason why I should not make a present of myself
to somebody whom that present would make happy. For my life, my
intellect, my abilities,--for the whole of my own self I would not
give a stiver. Moreover, I do not love Clara; but if she loves me, and
sees her happiness in me, it would be cruel to refuse her what I hold
so very cheap. I should consider it my duty to tell her what she is
taking; worse for her if it does not discourage her,--but that will be
This plan attracts me chiefly for one reason,--namely, it widens the
gulf that separates me from the other one. I will prove to her that,
as she has taken her own way, I am able to take mine. Then there will
be an end of it. But I am thinking of her still! I notice it, and
it puts me into a rage. Perhaps it is hatred now; but it is not
Pani Kromitzka probably fancied that I tore myself away forced by
circumstances; she will see now that it was also my wish. And the
thicker the wall I raise up between us, the sooner I shall be able to
banish her from my mind. As to Clara, I repeat that I do not love her;
but she loves me. Moreover, I owe her a debt of gratitude. During my
illness there were moments when I considered Clara's devotedness a
piece of German sentimentality, and yet the other one would not have
found courage enough for such sentimentality. It would be more in
accordance with her exalted virtue to let a man die than to see
him without his necktie; this is a freedom reserved for the lawful
husband. Clara did not care anything about such things; she gave up
for me her music, exposed herself to trouble, sleepless nights, and
possibly to the world's comments, and stood by me. I contracted
towards her a debt, and am going to pay it. I pay it badly and in
bad faith; for I offer to her what I do not value myself,--the mere
remnants of what was once a man. But if she values it, let it be hers.
To my aunt it will be a disappointment; it will hurt her family pride
and patriotic feelings. Yet, if my aunt could but know what has been
lately going on in my heart, she would prefer this matrimonial scheme
to that other love; I have not the slightest doubt as to that. What
does it matter that Clara's ancestors were most probably weavers? I
have no prejudices; I have only nerves. Any casual view I take tends
rather towards liberalism. Sometimes I fancy that people professing to
be liberals are more narrow in their views than conservatives; but, on
the other hand, liberalism itself is resting on a larger basis than
conservatism, and more in accord with Christ's teachings; but I am
wholly indifferent to both parties. It is scarcely worth speaking or
reasoning about them. Real unhappiness shows us the emptiness of mere
partisan hair-splittings. Involuntarily I fall to thinking, "How will
Aniela receive the news of my resolve?" I have been so accustomed to
feel through her that the painful habit still clings to me.
This morning I sent the letter to Clara. To-morrow I shall have a
reply, or perhaps Clara herself will come tonight. In the afternoon
they sent me a second despatch from Kromitzki. It expresses as much
despair as a few words can contain. Things seem to have turned out
very badly, indeed; even I did not think ruin would come so quickly.
Some unexpected circumstances must have intervened that even Kromitzki
could not have foreseen. The loss I incur does not make a great
difference to me; I shall always be what I was,--but Kromitzki? Why
should I deceive myself? There lurks somewhere in a corner of my heart
a certain satisfaction at his ruin,--if only for the reason that these
two will be now entirely dependent on us; that is, upon my aunt, who
is the administrator of the Ploszow estate, and myself. In the mean
while I do not intend to reply at all. If I changed my intention
it would be to send him my congratulation at the expected family
increase. Later on it will be different. I will secure their future;
they shall have enough to live upon and more.
Clara has not arrived, and up to this moment there is no answer. This
is the more strange as she used to write every day, inquiring after my
health. Her silence would not surprise me if I thought she wanted even
ten minutes to make up her mind. I shall wait patiently; but it would
be better if she did not put it off. I feel that if I had not sent off
that letter, I should send now another like it; but if I could take it
back I should probably do so.
This is what Clara writes:--
Dear Monsieur Leon,--Upon receiving your letter I felt so foolishly
happy that I wanted to start for Berlin at once. But it is because I
love you sincerely that I listened to the voice which said to me that
the greatest love ought not to be the greatest egoism, and that I had
no right to sacrifice you for myself.
You do not love me, Monsieur Leon. I would give my life were it
otherwise; but you do not love me. Your letter has been written in a
moment of impulse and despair. From the first instant of meeting you
in Berlin I noticed that you were neither well in body nor easy in
your mind, and it troubled me; the best proof of this is that although
you had wished me good-by, I sent every day to the hotel inquiring
whether you had gone, until I was told you were ill. Afterwards,
nursing you in your illness, I became convinced that my second fear
had been also right, and that you had some hidden sorrow, one of those
painful disappointments, after which it is difficult to be reconciled
Now I have a conviction--and God knows how heavily it weighs upon
my heart--that you want to bind your life to mine in order to drown
certain memories, to forget and put a barrier between you and the
past. In the face of that is it possible that I could agree to what
you ask? In refusing your hand, the worst that can happen to me is
that I shall feel very unhappy, but I shall not have to reproach
myself with having become a burden and a dead weight upon you. I have
loved you from the first time we met, therefore it is nothing new
to me; and I have got used to the sorrow which is the inevitable
consequence of separation and the hopeless certainty that my love will
never be returned. But even if my life be sad, I can weep either with
tears in the usual woman-fashion, or through my music as an artist. I
shall always have that comfort at least, that when you think of me it
will be as a dear friend or sister. With this I can live. But if I
were your wife and came to see that you regretted your impulsiveness,
were not happy, perhaps learned to hate me, I should certainly
die. Besides, I say to myself: "What have you done to deserve such
happiness?" It is almost impossible to imagine perfect happiness. Can
you understand that one may love somebody with all one's heart in a
humble spirit? I can understand it, for I love thus.
What I am going to say seems to me overbold, yet I do not feel it in
my heart to give up hope altogether. Do not be angry with me; God is
merciful, and the human soul is so athirst for happiness that it would
fain leave a door open for it to enter. If you ask me again in half a
year, a year, or any time in life the same question, I shall consider
myself rewarded for all I have suffered, and for the tears I am
shedding even at this moment.