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´╗┐Title: Lost - 1898
Author: Bellamy, Edward, 1850-1898
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Lost - 1898" ***

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LOST

By Edward Bellamy

1898


The 25th of May, 1866, was no doubt to many a quite indifferent date,
but to two persons it was the saddest day of their lives. Charles
Randall that day left Bonn, Germany, to catch the steamer home to
America, and Ida Werner was left with a mountain of grief on her gentle
bosom, which must be melted away drop by drop, in tears, before she
could breathe freely again.

A year before, Randall, hunting for apartments, his last term at
the university just begun, had seen the announcement, "_Zimmer zu
vermiethen_," in the hall below the flat where the Werners lived. Ida
answered his ring, for her father was still at his government office,
and her mother had gone out to the market to buy the supper. She would
much rather her mother had been at home to show the gentleman the rooms;
but, knowing that they could not afford to lose a chance to rent them,
she plucked up courage, and, candle in hand, showed him through the
suite. When he came next day with his baggage, he learned for the first
time what manner of apartments he had engaged; for although he had
protracted the investigation the previous evening to the furthest
corner, and had been most exacting as to explanations, he had really
rented the rooms entirely on account of a certain light in which a set
of Madonna features, in auburn hair, had shown at the first opening of
the door.

A year had passed since this, and a week ago a letter from home had
stated that his father, indignant at his unexplained stay six months
beyond the end of his course, had sent him one last remittance, barely
sufficient for a steamer ticket, with the intimation that if he did not
return on a set day, he must thenceforth attend to his own exchequer.
The 25th was the last day on which he could leave Bonn to catch the
requisite steamer. Had it been in November, nature at least would have
sympathized; it was cruel that their autumn time of separation should
fall in the spring, when the sky is full of bounteous promise and the
earth of blissful trust.

Love is so improvident that a parting a year away is no more feared than
death, and a month's end seems dim and distant. But a week,--a week
only,--that even to love is short, and the beginning of the end. The
chilling mist that rose from the gulf of separation so near before them
overshadowed all the brief remnant of their path. They were constantly
together. But a silence had come upon them. Never had words seemed
idler, they had so much to say. They could say nothing that did not mock
the weight on their hearts, and seem trivial and impertinent because it
was exclusive of more important matter. The utmost they could do was
to lay their hearts open toward each other to receive every least
impression of voice, and look, and manner, to be remembered afterward.
At evening they went into the minster church, and, sitting in the
shadows, listened to the sweet, shrill choir of boys whose music
distilled the honey of sorrow; and as the deep bass organ chords gripped
their hearts with the tones that underlie all weal and woe, they looked
in each other's eyes, and did for a space feel so near that all the
separation that could come after seemed but a trifling thing.

It was all arranged between them. He was to earn money, or get a
position in business, and return in a year or two at most and bring her
to America.

"Oh," she said once, "if I could but sleep till thou comest again to
wake me, how blessed I should be; but, alas, I must wake all through the
desolate time!"

Although for the most part she comforted him rather than he her, yet at
times she gave way, and once suddenly turned to him and hid her face on
his breast, and said, trembling with tearless sobs:--

"I know I shall never see thee more, Karl. Thou wilt forget me in thy
great, far land and wilt love another. My heart tells me so."

And then she raised her head, and her streaming eyes blazed with anger.

"I will hover about thee, and if thou lovest another, I will kill her as
she sleeps by thy side."

And the woman must have loved him much who, after seeing that look of
hers, would have married him. But a moment after she was listening with
abject ear to his promises.

The day came at last. He was to leave at three o'clock. After the
noontide meal, Ida's mother sat with them and they talked a little about
America, Frau Werner exerting herself to give a cheerful tone to the
conversation, and Randall answering her questions absently and without
taking his eyes off Ida, who felt herself beginning to be seized with a
nervous trembling. At last Frau Werner rose and silently left the room,
looking back at them as she closed the door with eyes full of tears.
Then, as if by a common impulse, they rose and put their arms about each
other's necks, and their lips met in a long, shuddering kiss. The breath
came quicker and quicker; sobs broke the kisses; tears poured down
and made them salt and bitter, as parting kisses should be in which
sweetness is mockery. Hitherto they had controlled their feelings, or
rather she had controlled him; but it was no use any longer, for
the time had come, and they abandoned themselves to the terrible
voluptuousness of unrestrained grief, in which there is a strange,
meaningless suggestion of power, as though it might possibly be a force
that could affect or remove its own cause if but wild and strong enough.

"Herr Randall, the carriage waits and you will lose the train," said
Frau Werner from the door, in a husky voice.

"I will not go, by God!" he swore, as he felt her clasp convulsively
strengthen at the summons. The lesser must yield to the greater, and
no loss or gain on earth was worth the grief upon her face. His father
might disinherit him, America might sink, but she must smile again. And
she did,--brave, true girl and lover. The devotion his resolute words
proved was like a strong nervine to restore her self-control. She smiled
as well as her trembling lips would let her, and said, as she loosed him
from her arms:--

"No, thou must go, Karl. But thou wilt return, _nicht wahr?_"

I would not venture to say how many times he rushed to the door, and,
glancing back at her as she stood there desolate, followed his glance
once more to her side. Finally, Frau Werner led him as one dazed to the
carriage, and the impatient driver drove off at full speed.

It is seven years later, and Randall is pacing the deck of an ocean
steamer, outward bound from New York. It is the evening of the first day
out. Here and there passengers are leaning over the bulwarks, pensively
regarding the sinking sun as it sets for the first time between them and
their native land, or maybe taking in with awed faces the wonder of the
deep, which has haunted their imaginations from childhood. Others are
already busily striking up acquaintances with fellow-passengers, and a
bridal pair over yonder sit thrilling with the sense of isolation from
the world that so emphasizes their mutual dependence and all-importance
to each other. And other groups are talking business, and referring to
money and markets in New York, London, and Frankfort as glibly as if
they were on land, much to the secret shock of certain raw tourists,
who marvel at the in-sensitiveness of men who, thus speeding between two
worlds, and freshly in the presence of the most august and awful form
of nature, can keep their minds so steadily fixed upon cash-books and
ledgers.

But Randall, as, with the habit of an old voyager, he already falls to
pacing the deck, is too much engrossed with his own thoughts to pay much
heed to these things. Only, as he passes a group of Germans, and the
familiar accents of the sweet, homely tongue fall on his ear, he pauses,
and lingers near.

The darkness gathers, the breeze freshens, the waves come tumbling out
of the east, and the motion of the ship increases as she rears upward to
meet them. The groups on deck are thinning out fast, as the passengers
go below to enjoy the fearsome novelty of the first night at sea, and to
compose themselves to sleep as it were in the hollow of God's hand. But
long into the night Randall's cigar still marks his pacing up and
down as he ponders, with alternations of tender, hopeful glow and sad
foreboding, the chances of his quest. Will he find her?

It is necessary to go back a little. When Randall reached America on his
return from Germany, he immediately began to sow his wild oats, and gave
his whole mind to it. Answering Ida's letters got to be a bore, and he
gradually ceased doing it. Then came a few sad reproaches from her, and
their correspondence ceased. Meanwhile, having had his youthful fling,
he settled down as a steady young man of business. One day he was
surprised to observe that he had of late insensibly fallen into the
habit of thinking a good deal in a pensive sort of way about Ida and
those German days. The notion occurred to him that he would hunt up her
picture, which he had not thought of in five years. With misty eyes and
crowding memories he pored over it, and a wave of regretful, yearning
tenderness filled his breast.

Late one night, after long search, he found among his papers a bundle of
her old letters, already growing yellow. Being exceedingly rusty in his
German, he had to study them out word by word. That night, till the sky
grew gray in the east, he sat there turning the pages of the dictionary
with wet eyes and glowing face, and selecting definitions by the test of
the heart. He found that some of these letters he had never before taken
the pains to read through. In the bitterness of his indignation, he
cursed the fool who had thrown away a love so loyal and priceless.

All this time he had been thinking of Ida as if dead, so far off in
another world did those days seem. It was with extraordinary effect that
the idea finally flashed upon him that she was probably alive, and now
in the prime of her beauty. After a period of feverish and impassioned
excitement, he wrote a letter full of wild regret and beseeching, and
an ineffable tenderness. Then he waited. After a long time it came back
from the German dead-letter office. There was no person of the name at
the address. She had left Bonn, then. Hastily setting his affairs in
order, he sailed for Germany on the next steamer.

The incidents of the voyage were a blank in his mind. On reaching Bonn,
he went straight from the station to the old house in ------strasse.
As he turned into it from the scarcely less familiar streets leading
thither, and noted each accustomed landmark, he seemed to have just
returned to tea from an afternoon lecture at the university. In every
feature of the street some memory lurked, and, as he passed, threw
out delaying tendrils, clutching at his heart. Rudely he broke away,
hastening on to that house near the end of the street, in each of whose
quaint windows fancy framed the longed-for face. She was not there,
he knew, but for a while he stood on the other side of the street,
unmindful of the stares and jostling of the passers-by, gazing at the
house-front, and letting himself imagine from moment to moment that her
figure might flit across some window, or issue from the door, basket
in hand, for the evening marketing, on which journey he had so often
accompanied her. At length, crossing the street, he inquired for the
Werner family. The present tenants had never heard the name. Perhaps the
tenants from whom they had received the house might be better informed.
Where were they? They had moved to Cologne. He next went to the Bonn
police-office, and from the records kept there, in which pretty much
everything about every citizen is set down, ascertained that several
years previous Herr Werner had died of apoplexy, and that no one of the
name was now resident in the city. Next day he went to Cologne, hunted
up the former tenants of the house, and found that they remembered
quite distinctly the Werner family, and the death of the father and
only breadwinner. It had left the mother and daughter quite without
resources, as Randall had known must probably have been the case. His
informants had heard that they had gone to Dusseldorf.

His search had become a fever. After waiting seven years, a delay of
ten minutes was unendurable. The trains seemed to creep. And yet, on
reaching Diisseldorf, he did not at once go about his search, but said
to himself:--

"Let me not risk the killing of my last hope till I have warmed myself
with it one more night, for to-morrow there may be no more warmth in it."

He went to a hotel, ordered a room and a bottle of wine, and sat over it
all night, indulging the belief that he would find her the next day. He
denied his imagination nothing, but conjured up before his mind's eye
the lovely vision of her fairest hour, complete even to the turn of
the neck, the ribbon in the hair, and the light in the blue eyes. So he
would turn into the street. Yes, here was the number. Then he rings the
bell. She comes to the door. She regards him a moment indifferently.
Then amazed recognition, love, happiness, transfigure her face. "Ida!"
"Karl!" and he clasps her sobbing to his bosom, from which she shall
never be sundered again.

The result of his search next day was the discovery that mother and
daughter had been at Diisseldorf until about four years previous,
where the mother had died of consumption, and the daughter had removed,
leaving no address. The lodgings occupied by them were of a wretched
character, showing that their circumstances must have been very much
reduced.

There was now no further clue to guide his search. It was destined that
the last he was to know of her should be that she was thrown on the
tender mercies of the world,--her last friend gone, her last penny
expended. She was buried out of his sight, not in the peaceful grave,
with its tender associations, but buried alive in the living world;
hopelessly hid in the huge, writhing confusion of humanity. He lingered
in the folly of despair about those sordid lodgings in Diisseldorf, as
one might circle vainly about the spot in the ocean where some pearl of
great price had fallen overboard.

After a while he roused again, and began putting advertisements for Ida
into the principal newspapers of Germany, and making random visits to
towns all about to consult directories and police records. A singular
sort of misanthropy possessed him. He cursed the multitude of towns and
villages that reduced the chances in his favor to so small a thing. He
cursed the teeming throngs of men, women, and children, in whose mass
she was lost, as a jewel in a mountain of rubbish. Had he possessed the
power, he would in those days, without an instant's hesitation, have
swept the bewildering, obstructing millions of Germany out of existence,
as the miner washes away the earth to bring to light the grain of gold
in his pan. He must have scanned a million women's faces in that weary
search, and the bitterness of that million-fold disappointment left its
trace in a feeling of aversion for the feminine countenance and figure
that he was long in overcoming.

Knowing that only by some desperate chance he could hope to meet her in
his random wanderings, it seemed to him that he was more likely to be
successful by resigning as far as possible all volition, and leaving
the guidance of the search to chance; as if Fortune were best disposed
toward those who most entirely abdicated intelligence and trusted
themselves to her. He sacredly followed every impulse, never making up
his mind an hour before at what station he should leave the cars, and
turning to the right or left in his wanderings through the streets of
cities, as much as possible without intellectual choice. Sometimes,
waking suddenly in the middle of the night, he would rise, dress with
eager haste, and sally out to wander through the dark streets, thinking
he might be led of Providence to meet her. And, once out, nothing but
utter exhaustion could drive him back; for how could he tell but in
the moment after he had gone, she might pass? He had recourse to every
superstition of sortilege, clairvoyance, presentiment, and dreams.
And all the time his desperation was singularly akin to hope. He dared
revile no seeming failure, not knowing but just that was the necessary
link in the chain of accidents destined to bring him face to face with
her. The darkest hour might usher in the sunburst. The possibility that
this was at last the blessed chance lit up his eyes ten thousand times
as they fell on some new face.

But at last he found himself back in Bonn, with the feverish infatuation
of the gambler, which had succeeded hope in his mind, succeeded in turn
by utter despair! His sole occupation now was revisiting the spots which
he had frequented with her in that happy year. As one who has lost a
princely fortune sits down at length to enumerate the little items of
property that happen to be attached to his person, disregarded before
but now his all, so Randall counted up like a miser the little store of
memories that were thenceforth to be his all. Wonderfully, the smallest
details of those days came back to him. The very seats they sat in at
public places, the shops they entered together, their promenades and the
pausing-places on them, revived in memory under a concentrated inward
gaze like invisible paintings brought over heat.

One afternoon, after wandering about the city for some hours, he turned
into a park to rest. As he approached his usual bench, sacred to him
because Ida and he in the old days had often sat there, he was annoyed
to see it already occupied by a pleasant-faced, matronly looking German
woman, who was complacently listening to the chatter of a couple of
small children. Randall threw himself upon the unoccupied end of the
bench, rather hoping that his gloomy and preoccupied air might cause
them to depart and leave him to his melancholy reverie. And, indeed, it
was not long before the children stopped their play and gathered timidly
about their mother, and soon after the bench tilted slightly as she
relieved it of her substantial charms, saying in a cheery, pleasant
voice:--

"Come, little ones, the father will be at home before us."

It was a secluded part of the garden, and the plentiful color left her
cheeks as the odd gentleman at the other end of the bench turned with
a great start at the sound of her voice, and transfixed her with a
questioning look. But in a moment he said:--

"Pardon me, madame, a thousand times. The sound of your voice so
reminded me of a friend I have lost that I looked up involuntarily."

The woman responded with good-natured assurances that he had not at all
alarmed her. Meanwhile Randall had an opportunity to notice that, in
spite of the thick-waisted and generally matronly figure, there were,
now he came to look closely, several rather marked resemblances to Ida.
The eyes were of the same blue tint, though about half as large, the
cheeks being twice as full. In spite of the ugly style of dressing it,
he saw also that the hair was like Ida's; and as for the nose, that
feature which changes least, it might have been taken out of Ida's own
face. As may be supposed, he was thoroughly disgusted to be reminded of
that sweet girlish vision by this broadly moulded, comfortable-looking
matron. His romantic mood was scattered for that evening at least, and
he knew he should not get the prosaic suggestions of the unfortunate
resemblance out of his mind for a week at least. It would torment him as
a humorous association spoils a sacred hymn.

He bowed with rather an ill grace, and was about to retire, when a
certain peculiar turn of the neck, as the lady acknowledged his salute,
caught his eye and turned him to stone. Good God! this woman was Ida!

He stood there in a condition of mental paralysis. The whole fabric of
his thinking and feeling for months of intense emotional experience had
instantly been annihilated, and he was left in the midst of a great void
in his consciousness out of touching-reach of anything. There was no
sharp pang, but just a bewildered numbness. A few filaments only of
the romantic feeling for Ida that filled his mind a moment before
still lingered, floating about it, unattached to anything, like vague
neuralgic feelings in an amputated stump, as if to remind him of what
had been there.

All this was as instantaneous as a galvanic shock the moment he had
recognized--let us not say Ida, but this evidence that she was no
more. It occurred to him that the woman, who stood staring, was in
common politeness entitled to some explanation. He was in just that
state of mind when, the only serious interest having suddenly dropped
out of the life, the minor conventionalities loom up as peculiarly
important and obligatory.

"You were Fraiilein Ida Werner, and lived at No.-- ------strasse in
1866, _nicht wahr?_"

He spoke in a cold, dead tone, as if making a necessary but distasteful
explanation to a stranger.

"Yes, truly," replied the woman curiously; "but my name is now Frau
Stein," glancing at the children, who had been staring open-mouthed at
the queer man.

"Do you remember Karl Randall? I am he."

The most formal of old acquaintances could hardly have recalled himself
in a more indifferent manner.

"_Herr Gott im Himmel!_" exclaimed the woman, with the liveliest
surprise and interest "Karl! Is it possible? Yes, now I recognize you.
Surely! surely!"

She clapped one hand to her bosom, and dropped on the bench to recover
herself. Fleshy people, overcome by agitation, are rather disagreeable
objects. Randall stood looking at her with a singular expression of
aversion on his listless face. But, after panting a few times, the woman
recovered her vivacity and began to ply him vigorously with exclamations
and questions, beaming the while with delighted interest. He answered
her like a schoolboy, too destitute of presence of mind to do otherwise
than to yield passively to her impulse. But he made no inquiries
whatever of her, and did not distantly allude to the reason of his
presence in Germany. As he stood there looking at her, the real facts
about that matter struck him as so absurd and incredible that he could
not believe them himself.

Pretty soon he observed that she was becoming a little conscious in her
air, and giving a slightly sentimental turn to the conversation. It was
not for some time that he saw her drift, so utterly without connection
in his mind were Ida and this comfortable matron before him; and when he
did, a smile at the exquisite absurdity of the thing barely twitched the
corners of his mouth, and ended in a sad, puzzled stare that rather put
the other out of countenance.

But the children had now for some time been whimpering for supper and
home, and at length Frau Stein rose, and, with an urgent request that
Randall should call on her and see her husband, bade him a cordial
adieu. He stood there watching her out of sight, with an unconscious
smile of the most refined and subtle cynicism. Then he sat down and
stared vacantly at the close-cropped grass on the opposite side of the
path. By what handle should he lay hold of his thoughts?

That woman could not retroact and touch the memory of Ida. That dear
vision remained intact. He drew forth his locket, and opening it gazed
passionately at the fair girlish face, now so hopelessly passed away. By
that blessed picture he could hold her and defy the woman. Remembering
that fat, jolly, comfortable matron, he should not at least ever again
have to reproach himself with his cruel treatment of Ida. And yet why
not? What had the woman to do with her? She had suffered as much as if
the woman had not forgotten it all. His reckoning was with Ida,--was
with her. Where should he find her? In what limbo could he imagine her?
Ah, that was the wildering cruelty of it. She was not this woman, nor
was she dead in any conceivable natural way so that her girlish spirit
might have remained eternally fixed. She was nothing. She was nowhere.
She existed only in this locket, and her only soul was in his heart, far
more surely than in this woman who had forgotten her.

Death was a hopeful, cheerful state compared to that nameless
nothingness that was her portion. For had she been dead, he could still
have loved her soul; but now she had none. The soul that once she had,
and, if she had then died, might have kept, had been forfeited by living
on, and had passed to this woman, and would from her pass on further
till finally fixed and vested in the decrepitude of age by death. So,
then, it was death and not life that secured the soul, and his sweet
Ida had none because she had not died in time. Ah! had not he heard
somewhere that the soul is immortal and never dies? Where, then, was
Ida's? She had disappeared utterly out of the universe. She had been
transformed, destroyed, swallowed up in this woman, a living sepulchre,
more cruel than the grave, for it devoured the soul as well as the
body. Pah! this prating about immortality was absurd, convicted of
meaninglessness before a tragedy like this; for what was an immortality
worth that was given to her last decrepit phase of life, after all its
beauty and strength and loveliness had passed soulless away? To be aught
but a mockery, immortality must be as manifold as the manifold phases of
life. Since life devours so many souls, why suppose death will spare the
last one?

But he would contend with destiny. Painters should multiply the face in
his locket. He would immortalize her in a poem. He would constantly keep
the lamp trimmed and burning before her shrine in his heart. She should
live in spite of the woman.

But he could now never make amends to her for the suffering his cruel,
neglectful youth had caused her. He had scarcely realized before how
much the longing to make good that wrong had influenced bis quest of
her. Tears of remorse for an unatonable crime gathered in his eyes. He
might, indeed, enrich this woman, or educate her children, or pension
her husband; but that would be no atonement to Ida.

And then, as if to intensify that remorse by showing still more clearly
the impossibility of atonement, it flashed on him that he who loved Ida
was not the one to atone for an offense of which he would be incapable,
which had been committed by one who despised her love. Justice was a
meaningless word, and amends were never possible, nor can men ever make
atonement; for, ere the debt is paid, the atonement made, one who is not
the sufferer stands to receive it; while, on the other hand, the one who
atones is not the offender, but one who comes after him, loathing his
offense and himself incapable of it. The dead must bury their dead. And,
thus pondering from personal to general thoughts, the turmoil of his
feelings gradually calmed, and a restful melancholy, vague and tender,
filled the aching void in his heart.





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