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Title: The Confession of a Fool
Author: Strindberg, August, 1849-1912
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 "The Confession of a Fool" ***

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THE CONFESSION OF A FOOL

BY AUGUST STRINDBERG


TRANSLATED BY

ELLIE SCHLEUSSNER


BOSTON

SMALL, MAYNARD AND COMPANY

PUBLISHERS

1913



_Translated from the "Litterarisches Echo,"_

_August 15, 1911_

STRINDBERG'S WORKS

(BY I.E. PORITZKY, BERLIN)


The republication of _The Confession of a Fool_ represents the last
link in the chain of Strindberg's autobiographical novels. A German
version of the book was published as far back as 1893, but it was
mutilated, abbreviated, corrupted, and falsified to such an extent
that the attorney-general, misled by the revolting language, blamed
the author for the misdeeds of the translator and prohibited the sale
of the book. This was a splendid advertisement for this profound work,
but there were many who would have rejoiced if the translation had been
completely ignored. It distorted Strindberg's character and was the
cause of many prejudices which exist to this day.

Schering's new translation is an attempt to make reparation for this
crime. "It is impossible," he says, "that any attorney-general can now
doubt the high morality of this book." Strindberg himself has called
it a _terrible book_, and has regretted that he ever wrote it. He has
never published it in Swedish, his own language, because not only is
it too personal in character, but it also revealed a still bleeding
wound. It contains the relentless description of his first marriage, so
superbly candid an account, that one is reminded of the last testament
of a man for whom death has no longer any terror. We know from his
fascinating novel Separated, how painful the burden was which he had
to bear, and how terribly he suffered during the period of his first
marriage. So much so, indeed, that he had to write this book before he
could face the thought of death with composure. Doubtless, a man for
whom life holds no longer any charm would give us a genuinely truthful
account of his inner life, and there is no denying that a book which
takes its entire matter from the inner life is of vastly greater
importance and on an immeasurably higher level than a million novels,
be they written ever so well. The great importance of _The Confession
of a Fool_ lies in the fact that it depicts the struggle of a highly
intellectual man to free himself from the slavery of sexuality, and
from a woman who is a typical representative of her sex.

Apart from this, it is an intense joy from an artistic point of view to
follow the "confessor" through the book, as he looks at himself from
all sides in order to gain self-knowledge; that he conceals nothing
from us, not even those deep secrets which he would fain keep even in
the face of death. One sees Strindberg brooding over his own soul to
fathom its depths. He plumbs its hidden profoundnesses, he takes to
pieces the inner wheels of his mechanism, so as to know for himself and
to show us how he is made and what is the cause of the instinct which
drives him to confess and to create. He opens wide his heart and lets
us see that he carries in his breast his heaven and also his horrible
hell. We see angels and devils fighting in his soul for supremacy, and
the divine in him stepping between them with its creative Let there be!



THE CONFESSION OF A FOOL



PART I


I


It was on the thirteenth of May, 1875, at Stockholm.

I well remember the large room of the Royal Library which extended
through a whole wing of the Castle, with its beechen wainscoting, brown
with age like the meerschaum of a much-used cigar-holder. The enormous
room, with its rococo headings, garlands, chains and armorial bearings,
round which, at the height of the first floor, ran a gallery supported
by Tuscan columns, was yawning like a great chasm underneath my feet;
with its hundred thousand volumes it resembled a gigantic brain, with
the thoughts of long-forgotten generations neatly arranged on shelves.

A passage running from one end of the room to the other divided the
two principal parts, the walls of which were completely hidden by
shelves fourteen feet high. The golden rays of the spring sun were
falling through the twelve windows, illuminating the volumes of the
Renaissance, bound in white and gold parchment, the black morocco
bindings mounted with silver of the seventeenth century, the red-edged
volumes bound in calf of a hundred years later, the green leather
bindings which were the fashion under the Empire, and the cheap covers
of our own time. Here theologians were on neighbourly terms with
apostles of magic, philosophers hobnobbed with naturalists, poets and
historians dwelt in peace side by side. It reminded one of a geological
stratum of unfathomable depth where, as in a puddingstone, layer was
piled upon layer, marking the successive stages arrived at by human
folly or human genius.

I can see myself now. I had climbed on to the encircling gallery, and
was engaged in arranging a collection of old books which a well-known
collector had just presented to the library. He had been clever
enough to ensure his own immortality by endowing each volume with his
ex-libris bearing the motto "Speravit infestis."

Since I was as superstitious as an atheist, this motto, meeting my
gaze day after day whenever I happened to open a volume, had made an
undeniable impression on me. He was a lucky fellow, this brave man, for
even in misfortune he never abandoned hope.... But for me all hope was
dead. There seemed to be no chance whatever that my drama in five acts,
or six tableaux, with three transformation scenes on the open stage,
would ever see the footlights. Seven men stood between me and promotion
to the post of a librarian--seven men, all in perfect health, and four
with a private income. A man of twenty-six, in receipt of a monthly
salary of twenty crowns, with a drama in five acts stowed away in a
drawer in his attic, is only too much inclined to embrace pessimism,
this apotheosis of scepticism, so comforting to all failures. It
compensates them for unobtainable dinners, enables them to draw
admirable conclusions, which often have to make up for the loss of an
overcoat, pledged before the end of the winter.

Notwithstanding the fact that I was a member of a learned Bohemia,
which had succeeded an older, artistic Bohemia, a contributor to
important newspapers and excellent, but badly paying magazines, a
partner in a society founded for the purpose of translating Hartmann's
_Philosophy of the Unconscious_, a member of a secret federation
for the promotion of free love, the bearer of the empty title of a
"royal secretary," and the author of two one-act plays which had been
performed at the Royal Theatre, I had the greatest difficulty to make
ends meet. I hated life, although the thought of relinquishing it had
never crossed my mind; on the contrary, I had always done my best
to continue not only my own existence but also that of the race. It
cannot be denied that pessimism, misinterpreted by the multitude and
generally confused with hypochondria, is really a quite serene and
even comforting philosophy of life. Since everything is relatively
nothing, why make so much fuss, particularly as truth itself is mutable
and short-lived? Are we not constantly discovering that the truth of
yesterday is the folly of to-morrow? Why, then, waste strength and
youth in discovering fresh fallacies? The only proven fact is that we
have to die. Let us live then! But for whom? For what purpose? Alas!...

When Bernadotte, that converted Jacobite, ascended the throne and all
the rubbish which had been discarded at the end of the last century
was re-introduced, the hopes of the generation of 1860, to which I
belonged, were dashed to the ground with the clamorously advertised
parliamentary reform. The _two houses_, which had taken the place of
the _four estates_, consisted for the greater part of peasants. They
turned Parliament into a sort of town council, where everybody, on the
best of terms with everybody else, looked after his own little affairs,
without paying the least regard to the great problems of life and
progress. Politics were nothing more nor less than a compromise between
public and private interests. The last remnants of faith in what was
then "the ideal" were vanishing in a ferment of bitterness. To this
must be added the religious reaction which marked the period after the
death of Charles XV, and the beginning of the reign of Queen Sophia
of Nassau. There were plenty of reasons, therefore, to account for an
enlightened pessimism, reasons other than personal ones....

The dust caused by the rearrangement of the books was choking me. I
opened the window for a breath of fresh air and a look at the view
beyond. A delicious breeze fanned my face, a breeze laden with the
scent of lilac and the rising sap of the poplars. The lattice-work was
completely hidden beneath the green leaves of the honey-suckle and wild
vine; acacias and plane trees, well acquainted with the fatal whims
of a northern May, were still holding back. It was spring, though the
skeleton of shrub and tree was still plainly visible underneath the
tender young green. Beyond the parapet with its Delft vases bearing
the mark of Charles XII, the masts of the anchored steamers were
rising, gaily decorated with flags in honour of the May-day festival.
Behind them glittered the bottle-green line of the bay, and from
its wooded shores on either side the trees were mounting higher and
higher, gradually, like steps, pines and Scotch firs on one side and
soft green foliage on the other. All the boats lying at anchor were
flying their national colours, more or less symbolic of the different
nations. England with the dripping scarlet of the blood of her famous
cattle; Spain striped red and yellow, like the Venetian blinds of a
Moorish balcony; the United States with their striped bed-tick; the
gay tricolour of France by the side of the gloomy German flag with
its sinister iron cross close to the flagstaff, ever reminiscent of
mourning; the jerkinet of Denmark; the veiled tricolour of Russia. They
were all there, side by side, with outspread wings, under the blue
cover of the northern sky. The noise of carriages, whistles, bells
and cranes lent animation to the picture; the combined odours of oil,
leather, salt herrings and groceries mingled with the scent of the
lilac. An easterly wind blowing from the open sea, cooled by the drift
ice of the Baltic, freshened the atmosphere.

I forgot my books as soon as I turned my back to them and was leaning
out of the window, all my senses taking a delicious bath; below, the
guards were marching past to the strains of the march from Faust.
I was so intoxicated with the music, the flags, the blue sky, the
flowers, that I had not noticed the porter entering my office in the
meantime with the mail. He touched my shoulder, handed me a letter and
disappeared.

Hm!... a letter from a lady.

I hastily opened the envelope, anticipating some delightful adventure
... surely it must be something of that sort ... it was!

"Meet me punctually at five o'clock this afternoon before No. 65
Parliament Street. You will know me by the roll of music in my hand."

A short time ago a little vixen had made a fool of me, and I had sworn
to take advantage of the first favourable opportunity to revenge
myself. Therefore I was willing enough. There was only one thing which
jarred on me; the commanding, dictatorial tone of the note offended my
manly dignity. How could this unknown correspondent dare to attack me
unawares in this manner? What were they thinking of, these women, who
have such a poor opinion of us men? They do not ask, they command their
conquests!

As it happened I had planned an excursion with some of my friends for
this very afternoon. And, moreover, the thought of a flirtation in the
middle of the day in one of the principal streets of the town was not
very alluring.

At two o'clock, however, I went into the chemical laboratory where the
excursionists had arranged to assemble. They were already crowding
the ante-room: doctors and candidates of philosophy and medicine, all
of them anxious to learn the programme of the entertainment in store.
I had made up my mind in the meantime, and with many apologies refused
to be one of the party. They clamoured for my reasons. I produced my
letter and handed it to a zoologist who was looked upon as an expert in
all matters pertaining to love; he shook his head while perusing it.

"No good, that...." he muttered disconnectedly; "wants to be married
... would never sell herself ... family, my dear old chap ... straight
path ... but do what you like. You'll find us in the Park, later on,
if the spirit moves you to join us, and I have been wrong about the
lady...."

At the hour indicated I took up my position near the house mentioned,
and awaited the appearance of the unknown letter-writer.

The roll of music in her hand, what was it but a proposal of marriage?
It differed in no way from the announcements on the fourth page of
certain newspapers. I suddenly felt uneasy; too late--the lady had
arrived and we stood looking at each other.

My first impression--I believe in first impressions--was quite vague.
She was of uncertain age, between twenty-nine and forty, fantastically
dressed. What was she? Artist or blue-stocking? A sheltered woman or
one living a free and independent life? Emancipated or cocotte? I
wondered....

She introduced herself as the fiancée of an old friend of mine, an
opera singer, and said that he wished me to look after her while she
was staying in town. This was untrue, as I found out later on.

She was like a little bird, twittering incessantly. After she had
talked for half-an-hour I knew all about her; I knew all her emotions,
all her thoughts. But I was only half interested, and asked her if I
could do anything for her.

"I take care of a young woman!" I exclaimed, after she had explained
what she wanted. "Don't you know that I am the devil incarnate?"

"You only think you are," she replied; "but I know you thoroughly.
You're unhappy, that's all. You ought to be roused from your gloomy
fancies."

"You know me thoroughly? You really think so? I'm afraid all you know
is the now antiquated opinion your fiancé has of me."

It was no use talking, my "charming friend" was well informed and
knew how to read a man's heart, even from a distance. She was one of
those obstinate creatures who strive to sway the spirits of men by
insinuating themselves into the hidden depths of their souls. She
kept up a large correspondence, bombarded all her acquaintances with
letters, gave advice and warning to young people, and knew no greater
happiness than to direct and guide the destinies of men. Greedy of
power, head of a league for the salvation of souls, patroness of all
the world, she had conceived it her mission to save me!

She was a schemer of the purest water, with little intelligence but a
great deal of female impudence.

I began to tease her by making fun of everything, the world, men,
religion. She told me my ideas were morbid.

"Morbid! My dear lady, my ideas morbid? They are, on the contrary,
most healthy and of the latest date. But what about yours now? They
are relics of a past age, commonplaces of my boyhood, the rubbish of
rubbish, and you think them new? Candidly speaking, what you offer me
as fresh fruit is nothing but preserved stuff in badly soldered tins.
Away with it! It's rotten! You know what I mean."

She left me without a word of good-bye, furious, unable to control
herself.

When she had gone I went to join my friends in the Park, and spent the
evening with them.

I had not quite got over my excitement on the following morning when
I received a communication from her. It was a vainglorious letter
in which she overwhelmed me with reproaches, largely tempered by
forbearance and compassion; she expressed ardent wishes for my mental
health, and concluded by arranging a second meeting, and stating that
we ought to pay a visit to her fiancé's aged mother.

As I rather pride myself on my manners, I resigned myself to my fate;
but, determined to get off as cheaply as possible, I made up my mind to
appear perfectly indifferent to all questions relating to religion, the
world and everything else.

But how wonderful! The lady, dressed in a tightly fitting cloth dress,
trimmed with fur, and wearing a large picture hat, greeted me most
cordially; she was full of the tender solicitude of an elder sister,
avoided all dangerous ground, and was altogether so charming that our
souls, thanks to a mutual desire to please, met in friendly talk, and
before we parted a feeling of genuine sympathy had sprung up between us.

After having paid our call we took advantage of the lovely spring day
and went for a stroll.

I am not sure whether it was from an imperative desire to pay her out,
or whether I felt annoyed at having been made to play the part of a
confidant; whatever it was, the iniquitous idea occurred to me to
tell her, in strict confidence, that I was practically engaged to be
married; this was only half a lie, for I was really paying at that time
a good deal of attention to a certain lady of my acquaintance.

On hearing this, her manner changed. She talked to me like a
grandmother, began to pity the girl, questioned me about her character,
her looks, her social status, her circumstances. I painted a portrait
well calculated to excite her jealousy. Our eager conversation
languished. My guardian angel's interest in me waned when she suspected
a rival who might possibly be equally anxious to save my soul.

We parted, still under the influence of the chill which had gradually
arisen between us.

When we met on the following day we talked exclusively of love and my
supposed fiancée.

But after we had visited theatres and concerts for a week and taken
numerous walks together, she had gained her object. The daily
intercourse with her had become a habit of which I felt unable to break
myself. Conversation with a woman who is above the commonplace has an
almost sensual charm. The souls touch, the spirits embrace each other.

One morning, on meeting her as usual, I found her almost beside
herself. She was full of a letter which she had just received.
Her fiance was furiously jealous. She accused herself of having
been indiscreet; he was recommending her the utmost reserve in her
intercourse with me: he seemed to have a presentiment that the matter
would end badly.

"I can't understand such detestable jealousy," she said, deeply
distressed.

"Because you don't understand the meaning of the word 'love,'" I
answered.

"Love! Ugh!"

"Love, my dear lady, is consciousness of possession in its greatest
intensity. Jealousy is but the fear of losing what one possesses."

"Possesses! Disgusting!"

"Mutually possesses, since each possesses the other."

But she refused to understand love in that sense. In her opinion love
was something disinterested, exalted, chaste, inexplicable.

She did not love her fiancé, but he was head over ears in love with her.

When I said so she lost her temper, and then confessed that she had
never loved him.

"And yet you contemplate marrying him?"

"Because he would be lost if I didn't."

"Always that mania for saving souls!"

She grew more and more angry; she maintained that she was not, and
never had been, really engaged to him. We had caught each other lying;
what prospects!

There remained nothing for me to do now but to make a clean breast
of it, and contradict my previous statement that I was "as good as
engaged." This done, we were at liberty to make use of our freedom.

As she had now no longer any cause for jealousy, the game began afresh,
and this time we played it in deadly earnest. I confessed my love to
her--in writing. She forwarded the letter to her fiancé. He heaped
insults on my head--by post.

I told her that she must choose between him and me. But she carefully
refrained from doing so, for her object was to have me, him, and as
many more as she could get, kneeling at her feet and adoring her. She
was a flirt, a _mangeuse d'hommes_, a chaste polyandrist.

But, perhaps for want of some one better, I had fallen in love with
her, for I loathed casual love-affairs, and the solitude of my attic
bored me.

Towards the end of her stay in town I invited her to pay me a visit at
the library. I wanted to dazzle her, show myself to her in impressive
surroundings, so as to overawe this arrogant little brain.

I dragged her from gallery to gallery, exhibiting all my
bibliographical knowledge. I compelled her to admire the miniatures
of the Middle Ages, the autographs of famous men. I evoked the great
historical memories held captive in old manuscripts and prints. In the
end her insignificance came home to her and she became embarrassed.

"But you are a very learned man!" she exclaimed.

"Of course I am," I laughed.

"Oh, my poor old mummer!" she murmured, alluding to her friend, the
opera singer, her so-called fiancé.

But if I had flattered myself that the mummer was now finally disposed
of, I was mistaken. He was threatening to shoot me--by post; he accused
me of having robbed him of his future bride. I proved to him that he
could not have been robbed, for the simple reason that he had not
possessed anything. After that our correspondence ceased and gave way
to a menacing silence.

Her visit was drawing to an end. On the eve of her departure I received
a jubilant letter from her, telling me of an unexpected piece of good
luck. She had read my play to some people of note who had influence
with stage managers. The play had made such an impression on them that
they were anxious to make my acquaintance. She would tell me all the
details in the afternoon.

At the appointed hour I met her and accompanied her on a shopping
expedition to make a few last purchases. She was talking of nothing but
the sensation my play had created, and when I explained to her that I
hated patronage of any sort, she did her utmost to convert me to her
point of view. I paid little attention to her and went on grumbling.
The idea of ringing at unknown front doors, meeting strangers and
talking to them of everything except that which was nearest to my
heart, was hateful to me; I could not whine like a beggar for favours.
I was fighting her as hard as I could when suddenly she stopped before
a young, aristocratic-looking lady, very well, even elegantly dressed,
with movements full of softness and grace.

The lady, whom she introduced as Baroness X, said a few words to me
which the noise of the crowd rendered all but inaudible. I stammered
a reply, annoyed at having been caught in a trap set for me by a wily
little schemer. For I felt certain the meeting had been premeditated.

A few seconds more and the Baroness had gone, but not without having
personally repeated the invitation which my companion had already
brought me a little earlier in the afternoon.

The girlish appearance and baby face of the Baroness, who must have
been at least twenty-five years of age, surprised me. She looked like
a school-girl; her little face was framed by roguish curls, golden as
a cornfield on which the sun is shining; she had the shoulders of a
princess and a supple, willowy figure; the way in which she bowed her
head expressed at the same time candour, respect and superiority.

And this delicious, girlish mother had read my play without hurt or
injury? Was it possible?

She had married a captain of the Guards, was the mother of a little
girl of three, and took a passionate interest in the theatre, without,
however, having the slightest prospect of ever being able to enter
the profession herself; a sacrifice demanded from her by the rank and
position not only of her husband, but also of her father-in-law, who
had recently received the appointment of a gentleman-in-waiting.

This was the position of affairs when my love-dream melted away. A
steamer was bearing my lady-love into the presence of her mummer. He
would vindicate his rights now and take a delight in making fun of my
letters to her: just retribution for having laughed at his letters in
the company of his inamorata while she was staying here.

On the landing-stage, at the very moment of our affectionate farewell,
she made me promise to call on the Baroness without delay. These were
the last words we exchanged.

The innocent daydreams, so different from the coarse orgies of learned
Bohemia, left a void in my heart which craved to be filled. The
friendly, seemingly harmless intercourse with a gentlewoman, this
intercourse between two people of opposite sexes, had been sweet to
me after my long solitude, for I had quarrelled with my family and
was, therefore, very lonely. The love of home life, which my Bohemian
existence had deadened for a while, was reawakened by my relations
with a very ordinary but respectable member of the other sex. And,
therefore, one evening at six o'clock, I found myself at the entrance
gate of a house in North Avenue.

How ominous! It was the old house which had belonged to my father, the
house in which I had spent the most miserable years of my childhood,
where I had fought through the troubles and storms of adolescence,
where I had been confirmed, where my mother had died, and where a
stepmother had taken her place. I suddenly felt ill at ease, and my
first impulse was one of flight. I was afraid to stir up the memories
of the misery of my youth and early manhood. There was the courtyard
with its tall ash trees; how impatiently I used to wait for the tender
young green on the return of spring; there was the gloomy house, built
against a sand-quarry, the unavoidable collapse of which had lowered
the rents.

But in spite of the feeling of depression caused by so many melancholy
memories, I pulled myself together, entered, walked upstairs and rang
the bell. As I stood listening to the sound echoing through the house,
I had a feeling that my father would presently come and open the door
to me. But a servant appeared and disappeared again to announce me. A
few seconds afterwards I stood face to face with the Baron, who gave me
a hearty welcome. He was a man of about thirty years of age, tall and
strong, with a noble carriage and the perfect manners of a gentleman.
His full, slightly swollen face was animated by a pair of intensely
sad blue eyes. The smile on his lips was for ever giving way to an
expression of extraordinary bitterness, which spoke of disappointments,
plans miscarried, illusions fled.

The drawing-room, once upon a time our dining-room, was not furnished
in any particular style. The Baron, who bore the name of a famous
general, a Turenne or Condé of our country, had filled it with the
portraits of his ancestors, dating back to the Thirty Years' War;
heroes in white cuirasses with wigs of the time of Louis XIV. Amongst
them hung landscapes of the Düsseldorf school of painting. Pieces of
old furniture, restored and gilded, stood side by side with chairs and
easy-chairs of a more modern date. The whole room seemed to breathe an
atmosphere of peace and domestic love.

Presently the Baroness joined us; she was charming, almost cordial,
simple and kind. But there was a certain stiffness in her manner,
a suspicion of embarrassment which chilled me until I discovered a
reason for it in the sound of voices which came from an adjacent room.
I concluded that she had other visitors, and apologised for having
called at an inconvenient time. They were playing whist in the next
room, and I was forthwith introduced to four members of the family: the
gentleman-in-waiting, a retired captain, and the Baroness's mother and
aunt.

As soon as the old people had sat down again to play, we younger ones
began to talk. The Baron mentioned his great love of painting. A
scholarship, granted him by the late King Charles XV, had enabled him
to pursue his studies at Düsseldorf. This fact constituted a point of
contact between us, for I had had a scholarship from the same king,
only in my case it had been granted for literary purposes.

We discussed painting, the theatre, the personality of our patron.
But gradually the flow of conversation ceased, largely checked by the
whist players, who joined in every now and then, laying rude fingers on
sensitive spots, tearing open scarcely healed wounds. I began to feel
ill at ease in this heterogeneous society and rose to go. The Baron and
his wife, who accompanied me to the door, dropped their constrained
manner as soon as they were out of earshot of the old people. They
asked me to a friendly dinner on the following Saturday, and after a
little chat in the passage we parted as old friends.



II


Punctually at three o'clock on the following Saturday I started
for the house in North Avenue. I was received like an old friend
and unhesitatingly admitted to the intimacies of the home. Mutual
confidences added a delightful flavour to the meal. The Baron, who was
dissatisfied with his position, belonged to a group of malcontents
which had arisen under the new rule of King Oscar. Jealous of the great
popularity which his late brother had enjoyed, the new ruler took
pains to neglect all plans fostered by his predecessor. The friends
of the old order, its frank joviality, its toleration and progressive
endeavour, stood aside, therefore, and formed an intellectual
opposition without, however, taking any part in party politics. While
we sat, evoking the ghosts of the past, our hearts were drawn together.
All prejudices nursed in the heart of the commoner against the
aristocracy, which since the parliamentary reform of 1865 had gradually
receded more and more into the background, vanished and gave place to a
feeling of sympathy for the fallen stars.

The Baroness, a native of Finland, was a new-comer in Sweden, and not
sufficiently informed to take part in our conversation. But as soon as
dinner was over she went to the piano and began to sing, and both the
Baron and I discovered that we possessed an hitherto unsuspected talent
for the duets of Wennerberg.

The hours passed rapidly.

We amused ourselves by casting the parts and reading a short play
which had just been played at the Royal Theatre.

But suddenly our spirits flagged and the inevitable pause ensued; that
awkward pause which is sure to occur after exhaustive efforts to shine
and make conquests. Again the memories of the past oppressed me and I
grew silent.

"What's the matter?" asked the Baroness.

"There are ghosts in this house," I replied, trying to account for my
silence. "Ages ago I lived here--yes, yes, ages ago, for I am very old."

"Can't we drive away those ghosts?" she asked, looking at me with a
bewitching expression, full of motherly tenderness.

"I'm afraid we can't; that's the privilege of some one else," laughed
the Baron; "she alone can banish the gloomy thoughts. Come now, you are
engaged to Miss Selma?"

"No, you are mistaken, Baron; it was love's labour lost."

"What! is she bound to some one else?" asked the Baron, scrutinising my
face.

"I think so."

"Oh, I'm sorry! That girl's a treasure. And I'm certain that she is
fond of you."

And forthwith the three of us began to rail against the unfortunate
singer, accusing him of attempting to compel a woman to marry him
against her will. The Baroness tried to comfort me by insisting that
things were bound to come right in the end, and promised to intercede
for me on her next trip to Finland, which was to take place very
shortly.

"No one shall succeed," she assured me, with an angry flash in her
eyes, "in forcing that dear girl into a marriage of which her heart
doesn't approve."

It was seven o'clock as I rose to go. But they pressed me so eagerly to
spend the evening with them that I almost suspected them of being bored
in each other's company, although they had only been married for three
years, and Heaven had blessed their union with a dear little girl. They
told me that they expected a cousin, and were anxious that I should
meet her and tell them what I thought of her.

While we were still talking, a letter was handed to the Baron. He tore
it open, read it hastily, and, with a muttered exclamation, handed it
to his wife.

"Incredible!" she exclaimed, glancing at the contents, and, after a
questioning look at her husband, she continued: "She's my own cousin,
you know, and her parents won't permit her to stay at our house because
people have been gossiping."

"It's preposterous!" exclaimed the Baron. "A mere child, pretty,
innocent, unhappy at home, who likes being with us, her near relatives
... and people gossiping! Bah!"

Did a sceptic smile betray me? His remark was followed by a dead
silence, a certain confusion, badly concealed under an invitation to
take a turn round the garden.

I left after supper, about ten o'clock, and no sooner had I crossed the
threshold than I began to ponder on the happenings of that eventful day.

In spite of every appearance of happiness, and notwithstanding their
evident affection, I felt convinced that my friends harboured a very
formidable skeleton in their cupboard. Their wistful eyes, their fits
of absent-mindedness, something unspoken, but felt, pointed to a hidden
grief, to secrets, the discovery of which I dreaded.

Why in the world, I asked myself, do they live so quietly, voluntary
exiles in a wretched suburb? They were like two shipwrecked people in
their eagerness to pour out their hearts to the first comer.

The Baroness in particular perplexed me. I tried to call up
her picture, but was confused by the wealth of contradictory
characteristics which I had discovered in her, and from which I had to
choose. Kindhearted, amiable, brusque, enthusiastic, communicative and
reserved, cold and excitable, she seemed to be full of whims, brooding
over ambitious dreams. She was neither commonplace nor clever, but she
impressed people. Of Byzantine slenderness, which allowed her dress
to fall in simple, noble folds, like the dress of a St. Cecilia, her
body was of bewitching proportions, her wrists and ankles exquisitely
beautiful. Every now and then the pale, somewhat rigid features of her
little face warmed into life and sparkled with infectious gaiety.

It was difficult to say who was master in the house. He, the soldier,
accustomed to command, but burdened with a weak constitution, seemed
submissive, more, I thought, from indifference than want of will-power.
They were certainly on friendly terms, but there was none of the
ecstasy of young love. When I made their acquaintance they were
delighted to rejuvenate themselves by calling up the memories of the
past before a third person. In studying them more closely, I became
convinced that they lived on relics, bored each other, and the frequent
invitations which I received after my first call proved that my
conclusions were correct.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the eve of the Baroness's departure for Finland I called on her to
say good-bye. It was a lovely evening in June. The moment I entered the
courtyard I caught sight of her behind the garden railings; she was
standing in a shrubbery of aristolochias, and the transcendent beauty
of her appearance came upon me almost with a shock. She was dressed in
a white _piqué_ dress, richly embroidered, the masterpiece of a Russian
serf; her chain, brooches and bangles of alabaster seemed to throw
a soft light over her, like lamplight falling through an opalescent
globe. The broad green leaves threw death-like hues on her pale face,
with its shining coal-black eyes.

I was shaken, utterly confused, as if I were gazing at a vision. The
instinct of worship, latent in my heart, awoke, and with it the desire
to proclaim my adoration. The void which had once been filled by
religion ached no longer; the yearning to adore had reappeared under
a new form. God was deposed, but His place was taken by woman, woman
who was both virgin and mother; when I looked at the little girl by
her side, I could not understand how that birth had been possible, for
the relationship between her and her husband seemed to put all sexual
intercourse out of the question; their union appeared essentially
spiritual. Henceforth this woman represented to me a soul incarnate, a
soul pure and unapproachable, clothed with one of those radiant bodies
which, according to the Scriptures, clothe the souls of the dead. I
worshipped her--I could not help worshipping her. I worshipped her just
as she was, as she appeared to me at that moment, as mother and wife;
wife of a particular husband, mother of a particular child. Without her
husband my longing to worship could not have been satisfied, for, I
said to myself, she would then be a widow, and should I still worship
her as such? Perhaps if she were mine--my wife?... No! the thought was
unthinkable. And, moreover, married to me, she would no longer be the
wife of this particular man, the mother of this particular child, the
mistress of this particular house. Such as she was I adored her, I
would not have her otherwise.

Was it because of the melancholy recollections which the house always
awakened in me, or was it because of the instincts of the commoner who
never fails to admire the upper classes, the purer blood?--a feeling
which would die on the day on which she stood less high--the adoration
which I had conceived for her resembled in every point the religion
from which I had just emancipated myself. I wanted to adore, I was
longing to sacrifice myself, to suffer without hope of any other reward
but the ecstasies of worship, self-sacrifice and suffering.

I constituted myself her guardian angel. I wanted to watch over her,
lest the power of my love should sweep her off her feet and engulf her.
I carefully avoided being alone with her, so that no familiarity which
her husband might resent should creep in between us.

But to-day, on the eve of her departure, I found her alone in the
shrubbery. We exchanged a few commonplaces. But presently my excitement
rose to such a pitch that it communicated itself to her. Gazing at her
with burning eyes, I saw the desire to confide in me forming itself in
her heart. She told me that the thought of a separation from husband
and child, however short, made her miserable. She implored me to spend
as much of my leisure with them as I could, and not to forget her while
she was looking after my interests in Finland.

"You love her very much--with all your heart, don't you?" she asked,
looking at me steadfastly.

"Can you ask?" I replied, depressed by the painful lie.

For I had no longer any doubt that my May dream had been nothing more
than a fancy, a whim, a mere pastime.

Afraid of polluting her with my passion, fearful of entangling her
against my will in the net of my emotions, intending to protect her
against myself, I dropped the perilous subject and asked after her
husband. She pulled a face, evidently interpreting my somewhat strange
behaviour quite correctly. Perhaps, also--the suspicion rose in my mind
much later--he found pleasure in the thought that her beauty confused
me. Or, maybe, she was conscious at that moment of the terrible power
she had acquired over me, a Joseph whose coldness was only assumed,
whose chastity was enforced.

"I'm boring you," she said smilingly; "I'd better call for
reinforcements."

And with a clear voice she called to her husband, who was in his room
upstairs.

The window was thrown open and the Baron appeared, a friendly smile on
his open countenance. A few minutes later he joined us in the garden.
He was wearing the handsome uniform of the Guards and looked very
distinguished. With his dark-blue tunic, embroidered in yellow and
silver, his tall, well-knit figure, he formed an exquisite contrast
to the slender woman in white who stood at his side. They were really
a strikingly handsome couple; the charms of the one served but to
heighten those of the other. The sight of them was an artistic treat, a
brilliant spectacle.

After dinner the Baron proposed that we should accompany his wife on
the steamer as far as the last customs station. This proposal, to
which I gladly agreed, seemed to give the Baroness a great deal of
pleasure; she was delighted with the prospect of admiring the Stockholm
Archipelago from the deck of a steamer on a beautiful summer night.

At ten o'clock on the following evening we met on board the steamer a
short time before the hour of starting. It was a clear night; the sky
was a blaze of brilliant orange, the sea lay before us, calm and blue.

We slowly steamed past the wooded shores, in a light which was neither
day nor night, but had the qualities of both, and impressed the
beholder as being sunrise and sunset at the same time.

After midnight our enthusiasm, which had been kept alive by the
constantly changing panorama and the memories which it called up,
cooled a little. We were fighting against an overwhelming desire to
sleep. The early dawn found us with pallid faces, shivering in the
morning breeze. We suddenly became sentimental; we swore eternal
friendship; it was fate that had thrown us together--we dimly discerned
that fatal bond which was to connect our lives in the future. I was
beginning to look haggard, for I had not yet regained my strength after
an attack of intermittent fever; they treated me like an ailing child;
the Baroness wrapped her rug round me and made me drink some wine,
all the while talking to me with a mother's tenderness. I let them
have their way. I was almost delirious with want of sleep; my pent-up
feelings overflowed; this womanly tenderness, the secret of which none
but a motherly woman knows, was a new experience to me. I poured out
on her a deluge of respectful homage; over-excited by sleeplessness, I
became lightheaded, and gave the reins to my poetical imagination.

The wild hallucinations of the sleepless night took shape, vague,
mystic, unsubstantial; the power of my suppressed talent revealed
itself in light visions. I spoke for hours, without interruption,
drawing inspiration from two pairs of eyes, which gazed at me
fascinated. I felt as if my frail body was being consumed by the
burning fire of my imagination. I lost all sense of my corporeal
presence.

Suddenly the sun rose, the myriads of islets which seem to be swimming
in the bay appeared enveloped in flames; the branches of the pines
glowed like copper, the slender needles yellow as sulphur; the
window-panes of the cottages, dotted along the shore, sparkled like
golden mirrors; the columns of smoke rising from the chimneys indicated
that breakfasts were being cooked; the fishing-boats were setting
sail to bring in the outspread nets; the seagulls, scenting the small
herring underneath the dark green waves, were screaming themselves
hoarse. But on the steamer absolute silence reigned. The travellers
were still fast asleep in their cabins, we alone were on deck. The
captain, heavy with sleep, was watching us from the bridge, wondering,
no doubt, what we could be talking about.

At three o'clock in the morning the pilot cutter appeared from behind a
neck of land, and parting was imminent.

Only a few of the larger islands now separated us from the open sea;
the swell of the ocean was already distinctly discernible; we could
hear the roar of the huge breakers on the steep cliffs at the extreme
end of the land.

The time to say good-bye had arrived. They kissed one another, he and
she, full of painful agitation. She took my hand in hers and pressed it
passionately, her eyes full of tears; she begged her husband to take
care of me, and implored me to comfort him during her absence.

I bowed, I kissed her hand without a thought of the proprieties,
oblivious of the fact that I was betraying my secret.

The engines stopped, the steamer slowed down, the pilot took up his
position between decks. Two steps towards the accommodation ladder--I
descended, and found myself at the side of the Baron in the pilot
cutter.

The steamer towered above our heads. Leaning against the rail, the
Baroness looked down upon us with a sad smile, her innocent eyes
brimming over with tears. The propeller slowly began to move, the giant
got under way again, her Russian flag fluttering in the breeze. We were
tossing on the rolling waves, waving our handkerchiefs. The little face
grew smaller and smaller, the delicate features were blotted out, two
great eyes only remained gazing at us fixedly, and presently they too
were swallowed up like the rest. Another moment and only a fluttering
bluish veil, attached to a Japanese hat, was visible, and a waving
white handkerchief; then only a white spot, a tiny white dot; now
nothing but the unwieldy giant, wrapped in grey smoke....

We went ashore at the Pilots and Customs Station, a popular summer
resort. The village was still asleep; not a soul was on the
landing-stage, and we turned and watched the steamer altering her
course to starboard, and disappearing behind the rocky island which
formed the last bulwark against the sea.

As the steamer disappeared the Baron leaned against my shoulder, and I
fancied I could hear a sob; thus we stood for a while without speaking
a word.

Was this excessive grief caused by sleeplessness--by the exhaustion
following a long vigil? Had he a presentiment of misfortune, or was it
merely the pain of parting with his wife? I couldn't say.

We went to the village, depressed and taciturn, in the hope of getting
some breakfast. But the inn was not yet astir. We walked through the
street and looked at the closed doors, the drawn blinds. Beyond the
village we came upon an isolated spot with a quiet pool. The water was
clear and transparent, and tempted us to bathe our eyes. I produced
a little case and took from it a clean handkerchief, a toothbrush, a
piece of soap and a bottle of eau de Cologne. The Baron laughed at my
fastidiousness, but, nevertheless, availed himself gratefully of the
chance of a hasty toilet, borrowing from me the necessary implements.

On returning to the village I noticed the smell of coal-smoke coming
from the direction of the alder trees on the shore. I implied by a
gesture that this was a last farewell greeting brought by the wind from
the steamer. But the Baron pretended not to understand my meaning.

He was a distressing sight at breakfast, with his big, sleepy head
sunk on his breast, and his swollen features. Both of us suffered
from self-consciousness; he was in a gloomy mood and kept up an
obstinate silence. Once he seized my hand and apologised for his
absent-mindedness, but almost directly afterwards he relapsed into
gloom. I made every effort to rouse him, but in vain; we were out of
harmony, the tie between us was broken. An expression of coarseness
and vulgarity had stolen into his face, usually so frank and pleasant.
The reflection of the charm, the living beauty of his beloved wife had
vanished; the uncouth man had appeared.

I was unable to guess at his thoughts. Did he suspect my feelings? To
judge from his behaviour he must have been a prey to very conflicting
emotions, for at one minute he pressed my hand, calling me his best,
his only friend, at the next he seemed oblivious of my presence.

I discovered with a feeling of dismay that we only lived in her and for
her. Since our sun had set we seemed to have lost all individuality.

I determined to shake him off as soon as we got back to town, but he
held on to me, entreating me to accompany him to his house.

When we entered the deserted home, we felt as if we had entered a
chamber of death. A moisture came into our eyes.

Full of confusion and embarrassment, I did not know what to do.

"It's too absurd," I said at last, laughing at myself; "here are a
captain of the Guards and a royal secretary whimpering like----

"It's a relief," he interrupted me.

He sent for his little girl, but her presence only aggravated the
bitter feeling of regret at our loss.

It was now nine o'clock in the morning. He had come to the end of his
powers of endurance, and invited me to take a nap on the sofa while he
went to lie down on his bed. He put a cushion under my head, covered
me with his military cloak and wished me a sound sleep, thanking me
cordially for having taken compassion on his loneliness. His brotherly
kindness was like an echo of his wife's tenderness; she seemed to fill
his thoughts completely.

I sank into a deep sleep, dimly aware, at the moment before losing
consciousness, of his huge form stealing to my improvised couch with a
murmured question as to whether I was quite comfortable.

It was noon when I awoke. He was already up. He hated the idea of being
alone, and proposed that we should breakfast together in the Park. I
readily fell in with his suggestion.

We spent the day together, talking about all sorts of things, but every
subject led us back to her on whose life our own lives seemed to have
been grafted.



III


I spent the two following days alone, yearning for the solitude of my
library, the cellars of which, once the sculpture rooms of the museum,
suited my mood. The large room, built in the rococo style and looking
on to the "Lions' Court," contained the manuscripts. I spent a great
deal of time there, reading at haphazard anything which seemed old
enough to draw my attention from recent events. But the more I read,
the more the present melted into the past, and Queen Christine's
letters, yellow with age, whispered into my ears words of love from the
Baroness.

To avoid the company of inquisitive friends, I shunned my usual
restaurant. I could not bear the thought of degrading my tongue by
confessing my new faith before those scoffers; they should never know.
I was jealous of my own personality, which was henceforth consecrated
to her only. As I went through the streets, I had a vision of acolites
walking before me, their tinkling bells announcing to the passers-by
the approach of the Holy of Holies enshrined in the monstrance of my
heart. I imagined myself in mourning, deep mourning for a queen, and
longed to bid the crowd bare their heads at the passing of my stillborn
love, which had no chance of ever quickening into life.

On the third day I was roused from my lethargy, by the rolling of drums
and the mournful strains of Chopin's Funeral March. I rushed to the
window and noticed the captain marching by at the head of his Guards.
He looked up at my window and acknowledged my presence with a nod and a
smile. The band was playing his wife's favourite piece, at his orders,
and the unsuspicious musicians had no inkling that they played it in
her honour for him and for me, and before an even less auspicious
audience.

Half-an-hour later the Baron called for me at the library. I took him
through the passages in the basement, overcrowded with cupboards and
shelves, into the manuscript room. He looked cheerful, and at once
communicated to me the contents of a letter he had received from his
wife. All was going on well. She had enclosed a note for me. I devoured
it with my eyes, trying hard to hide my excitement. She thanked me
frankly and graciously for having looked after "her old man"; she said
she had felt flattered by my evident grief at parting, and added that
she was staying with my "guardian angel," to whom she was getting more
and more attached. She expressed great admiration for her character,
and, in conclusion, held out hopes of a happy ending. That was all.

So she was in love with me, this "guardian angel" of mine! This
monster! The very thought of her now filled me with horror. I was
compelled to act the part of a lover against my will; I was condemned
to play an abominable farce, perhaps all my life long. The truth of the
old adage that one cannot play with fire without burning one's fingers
came home to me with terrible force. Caught in my own trap, I pictured
to myself in my wrath the detestable creature who had forced herself
upon me: she had the eyes of a Mongolian, a sallow face, red arms.
With angry satisfaction I recalled her seductive ways, her suspicious
behaviour, which more than once had set my friends wondering what
species of woman it was with whom I was seen so constantly walking
about the parks and suburbs.

The remembrance of her tricks, her attentions, her flattering tongue,
gave me a kind of vicious pleasure. I remembered a way she had of
pulling out her watch and showing a little bit of dainty underclothing.
I remembered a certain Sunday in the Park. We were strolling along the
broad avenues when she all at once proposed that we should walk through
the shrubbery. Her proposal irritated me, for the shrubbery had an evil
reputation, but she answered all my objections with a short "Bother
propriety!"

She wanted to gather anemones under the hazel bushes. She left me
standing in the avenue and disappeared behind the shrubs. I followed,
confused. She sat down in a sheltered spot under an alder tree,
spreading out her skirts and showing off her feet, which were small
but disfigured by bunions. An uncomfortable silence fell between
us. I thought of the old maids of Corinth.... She looked at me with
an expression of childlike innocence ... she was safe from me, her
very plainness saved her, and, moreover, I took no pleasure in easy
conquests.

Every one of these details, which I had always put away from me as
odious, came into my mind and oppressed me, now that there seemed a
prospect of winning her. I prayed fervently for the comedian's success.

But I had to be patient and hide my feelings.

While I was reading his wife's note, the Baron sat down at the table,
which was littered with old books and documents. He was playing with
his carved ivory baton, absent-mindedly, as if he were conscious of
his inferiority in literary matters. He defeated all my attempts
to interest him in my work with an indifferent, "Yes, yes, very
interesting!"

Abashed by the evidences of his rank, his neckpiece, the sash, the
brilliant uniform, I endeavoured to readjust the balance by showing off
my knowledge. But I only succeeded in making him feel uncomfortable.

The sword versus the pen! Down with the aristocrat, up with the
commoner! Did the woman, when later on she chose the father of
her children from the aristocracy of the brain, see the future,
clairvoyantly, without being conscious of it?

In spite of his constant efforts to treat me as his equal, the Baron,
without admitting it even to himself, was always constrained in my
presence. At times he paid due deference to my superior knowledge,
tacitly acknowledging his inferiority to me in certain respects; at
other times he would ride the high horse; then a word from the Baroness
was sufficient to bring him to his senses. In his wife's eyes the
inherited coat of arms counted for very little, and the dusty coat
of the man of letters completely eclipsed the full-dress uniform of
the captain. Had he not been himself aware of this when he donned a
painter's blouse and entered the studio at Düsseldorf as the least
of all the pupils? In all probability he had, but still there always
remained a certain refinement, an inherited tradition, and he was by no
means free from the jealous hatred which exists between students and
officers.

For the moment I was necessary to him, as I shared his sorrow, and
therefore he invited me to dine with him.

After the coffee he suggested that we should both write to the
Baroness. He brought me paper and pen, and compelled me to write to
her, against my will; I racked my brain for platitudes under which to
hide the thoughts of my heart.

When I had finished my letter I handed it to the Baron and asked him to
read it.

"I never read other people's letters," he answered, with hypocritical
pride.

"And I never write to another man's wife without that man's full
knowledge of the correspondence."

He glanced at my letter, and, with an enigmatical smile, enclosed it in
his own.

I saw nothing of him during the rest of the week, until I met him one
evening at a street corner. He seemed very pleased to see me, and we
went into a café to have a chat.

He had just returned from the country, where he had spent a few days
with his wife's cousin. Without ever having met that charming person, I
was easily able to draw a mental picture of her from the traces of her
influence on the Baron's character. He had lost his haughtiness and his
melancholy. There was a gay, somewhat dissipated look on his face, and
he enriched his vocabulary by a few expressions of doubtful taste; even
the tone of his voice was altered.

"A weak mind," I said to myself, "swayed by every emotion; a blank
slate on which the lightest of women may write sense or folly,
according to her sweet will."

He behaved like the hero in comic opera; he joked, told funny tales
and was in boisterous spirits. His charm was gone with his uniform;
and when, after supper, slightly intoxicated, he suggested that we
should call on certain female friends of his, I thought him positively
repulsive. With the exception of the neckpiece, the sash and the
uniform, he really possessed no attractions whatever.

When his intoxication had reached its climax, he lost all sense
of shame and began to discuss the secrets of his married life. I
interrupted him indignantly and proposed that we should go home. He
assured me that his wife allowed him full license during her absence.
At first I thought this more than human, but later on it confirmed the
opinion I had formed of the Baroness's naturally frigid temperament. We
parted very early, and I returned to my room, my brain on fire with the
indiscreet disclosure which I had been made to listen to.

This woman, although apparently in love with her husband, after a union
of three years not only permitted him every freedom, but did so without
claiming the same right for herself. It was strange, unnatural, like
love without jealousy, light without shade. No! it was impossible;
there must be another cause. He had told me the Baroness was naturally
cold. That, too, seemed strange. Or was she really an embodiment of
the virgin mother, such as I had already dimly divined? And was not
chastity, purity of the soul, so closely linked to refinement of
manners, a characteristic, an attribute of a superior race? I had not
been deceived, then, in my youthful meditations when a young girl
roused my admiration without in the least exciting my senses. Beautiful
childish dreams! Charming ignorance of woman, that problem unspeakably
more complex than a bachelor ever dreams of!

At last the Baroness returned, radiant with health; the memories
awakened by meeting again the friends of her girlhood seemed to have
rejuvenated her.

"Here is the dove with the olive branch," she said, handing me a letter
from my so-called sweetheart.

With anything but genuine enjoyment I waded through the presumptuous
twaddle, the effusions of a heartless blue-stocking, anxious to win
independence by marriage--any marriage, and while I was reading I made
up my mind to put an end to the matter.

"Do you know for certain," I asked the Baroness, "whether the lady is
engaged to the singer or not?"

"Yes and no."

"Has she given him her word?"

"No."

"Does she want to marry him?"

"No."

"Do her parents wish it?"

"No."

"Why is she so determined to marry him, then?"

"Because ... I don't know."

"Is she in love with me?"

"Perhaps she is."

"Then she is simply a husband-hunter. She has but one thought, to make
a bargain with the highest bidder. She doesn't know what love is."

"What is love?"

"A passion stronger than all others, a force of nature absolutely
irresistible, something akin to thunder, to rising floods, a waterfall,
a storm----"

She gazed into my eyes, forgetting the reproaches which, in the
interest of her friend, had risen to the tip of her tongue.

"And is your love for her a force like that?" she asked. I had a strong
impulse to tell her everything.

But, supposing I did?... The bond between us would be broken, and,
without the lie which protected me from my criminal passion, I should
be lost.

Afraid of committing myself, I asked her to drop the subject. I said
that my cruel sweetheart was dead as far as I was concerned, and that
all that remained for me to do was to forget her.

The Baroness did her utmost to comfort me, but she did not cloak the
fact that I had a dangerous rival in the singer, who was on the spot
and in personal contact with his lady-love.

The Baron, evidently bored by our conversation, interrupted us
peevishly, telling us that we should end by burning our fingers.

"This meddling with other people's love affairs is utter folly!" he
exclaimed, almost rudely; the Baroness's face flushed with indignation.
I hastily changed the subject to avoid a scene.

The ball had been set rolling. The lie, originally a mere whim, grew.
Full of apprehension and shame, I told myself fairy tales which I ended
in believing. In them I played the part of the ill-starred lover, a
part which came easy enough, for with the exception of the object of my
tenderness, the fairy tales agreed in every detail with reality.

I was indeed caught in my own net. One day, on returning home, I found
"her" father's card. I returned his call at once. He was a little old
man, unpleasantly like his daughter, the caricature of a caricature.
He treated me in every way as he would his prospective son-in-law. He
inquired about my family, my income, my prospects. It was a regular
cross-examination. The matter threatened to become serious.

What was I to do? Hoping to divert his attention from me, I made myself
as insignificant as possible in his eyes. The reason of his visit to
Stockholm was obvious. Either he wanted to shake off the singer, whom
he disliked, or the lady had made up her mind to honour me with her
hand if an expert should approve of her bargain.

I showed myself from my most unpleasant side, avoided every opportunity
of meeting him, refused even an invitation to dinner from the Baroness;
I tired my unlucky would-be father-in-law out by giving him the slip
again and again, pleading urgent duty at the library, until I had
gained my purpose, and he departed before the appointed time.

Did my rival ever guess to whom he was indebted for his matrimonial
misery when he married his bride-elect? No doubt he never knew, and
proudly imagined that he had ousted me.

An incident which to some extent affected our destiny was the sudden
departure of the Baroness and her little daughter to the country. It
was in the beginning of August. For reasons of health she had chosen
Mariafred, a small village on the Lake of Mälar, where at the moment
the little cousin happened to be staying with her parents.

This hurried departure on the day after her home-coming struck me as
very extraordinary; but, as it was none of my business, I made no
comment. Three days passed, then the Baron wrote asking me to call. He
appeared to be restless, very nervous and strange. He told me that the
Baroness would be back almost immediately.

"Indeed!" I exclaimed, more astonished than I cared to show.

"Yes!... her nerves are upset, the climate doesn't suit her. She has
written me an unintelligible letter which frightens me. I have never
been able to understand her whims ... she gets all sorts of fantastic
ideas into her head. Just at present she imagines that you are angry
with her!"

"I!"

"It's too absurd!" he continued, "but don't take any notice of it
when she returns; she's ashamed of her moods; she's proud, and if she
thought you disapproved of her, she would only commit fresh follies."

"It has come at last," I said to myself; "the catastrophe is imminent!"
And from that moment my thoughts were bent on flight, for I had no
desire to figure as the hero of a romance of passion.

I refused the next invitation, making excuses which were badly invented
and wrongly understood. The result was a call from the Baron; he
asked me what I meant by my unfriendly conduct? I did not know what
explanation to give, and he took advantage of my embarrassment and
exacted a promise from me to join them in an excursion.

I found the Baroness looking ill and worn out; only the black eyes
in the livid face seemed alive and shone with unnatural brilliancy. I
was very reserved, spoke in indifferent tones and said as little as
possible.

On leaving the steamer, we went to a famous hotel where the Baron had
arranged to meet his uncle. The supper, which was served in the open,
was anything but gay. Before us spread the sinister lake, shut in by
gloomy mountains; above our heads waved the branches of the lime trees,
the blackened trunks of which were over a hundred years old.

We talked commonplaces, but our conversation was dull and soon
languished. I fancied that I could feel the after-effects of a quarrel
between my hosts, which had not yet been patched up and was on the
verge of a fresh outbreak. I ardently desired to avoid the storm, but,
unfortunately, uncle and nephew left the table to discuss business
matters. Now the mine would explode!

As soon as we were alone the Baroness leaned toward me and said
excitedly--

"Do you know that Gustav is angry with me for coming back unexpectedly?"

"I know nothing about it."

"Then you don't know that he'd been building on meeting my charming
cousin on his free Sundays?"

"My dear Baroness," I exclaimed, interrupting her, "if you want to
bring charges against your husband, hadn't you better do it in his
presence?"

... What had I done? It was brutal, this harsh, uncompromising rebuke,
flung into the face of a disloyal wife in defence of a member of my own
sex.

"How dare you!" she cried, amazed, changing colour. "You're insulting
me!"

"Yes, Baroness, I am insulting you."

All was over between us, for ever.

As soon as her husband returned she hastened towards him, as if
she were seeking protection from an enemy. The Baron noticed that
something was wrong, but he could not understand her excitement.

I left them at the landing-stage, pretending that I had to pay a visit
at one of the neighbouring villas.

I don't know how I got back to town. My legs seemed to carry a lifeless
body; the vital node was cut, I was a corpse walking along the streets.

Alone! I was alone again, without friends, without a family, without
anything to worship. It was impossible for me to recreate God. The
statue of the Madonna had fallen down; woman had shown herself behind
the beautiful image, woman, treacherous, faithless, with sharp claws!
When she attempted to make me her confidant, she was taking the first
step towards breaking her marriage vows; at that moment the hatred of
her sex was born in me. She had insulted the man and the sex in me, and
I took the part of her husband against her. Not that I flattered myself
with being a virtuous man, but in love man is never a thief, he only
takes what is given to him. It is woman who steals and sells herself.
The only time when she gives unselfishly is when she betrays her
husband. The prostitute sells herself, the young wife sells herself;
the faithless wife only gives to her lover that which she has stolen
from her husband.

But I had not desired this woman in any other way than as a friend.
Protected from me by her child, I had always seen her invested with the
insignia of motherhood. Always seeing her at the side of her husband, I
had never felt the slightest temptation to indulge in pleasures which
are gross in themselves, and ennobled only by entire and exclusive
possession.

I returned to my room annihilated, completely crushed, more lonely than
ever, for I had dropped my Bohemian friends from the very outset of my
relations with the Baroness.



IV


I occupied in those days a fairly large attic with two windows which
looked on the new harbour, the bay and the rocky heights of the
southern suburbs. Before the windows, on the roof, I had managed
to create a garden of tiny dimensions. Bengal roses, azaleas and
geraniums provided me in their turn with flowers for the secret cult
of my Madonna with the child. It had become a daily habit with me to
pull down the blinds towards the evening, arrange my flower-pots in a
semicircle, and place the picture of the Baroness, with the lamplight
full on it, amongst them. She was represented on this portrait as a
young mother, with somewhat severe, but deliciously pure features, her
delicate head crowned with a wealth of golden hair. She wore a light
dress which reached up to her chin and was finished off with a pleated
frill; her little daughter, dressed in white, was standing on a table
by the side of her, gazing at the beholder with pensive eyes. How many
letters "to my friends" had I not written before this portrait and sent
off on the following morning addressed to the Baron! These letters
were at that time the only channel into which I could pour my literary
aspirations, and my inmost soul was laid bare in them.

To open a career for the erratic, artistic soul of the Baroness, I had
tried to encourage her to seek an outlet for her poetic imagination
in literary work. I had provided her with the masterpieces of
all literatures, had taught her the first principles of literary
composition by furnishing endless summaries, commentaries and
analyses, to which I added advice and practical illustrations. She had
been only moderately interested, for she doubted her literary talent
from the outset. I told her that every educated person possessed the
ability to write at least a letter, and was therefore a poet or author
_in posse_. But it was all in vain; the passion for the stage had taken
firm hold of her obstinate brain. She insisted that she was a born
elocutionist, and, because her rank prevented her from following her
inclination and going on the stage (an ardently desired contingency),
she posed as a martyr, heedless of the disastrous consequences which
threatened to overtake her home life. Her husband sympathised with my
benevolent efforts, undertaken in the hope of saving the domestic peace
of the family from shipwreck. He was grateful, although he had not the
courage to take an active and personal interest in the matter. The
Baroness's opposition notwithstanding, I had continued my efforts and
urged her in every letter to break the fateful spell which held her,
and make an effort to write a poem, a drama, or a novel.

"Your life has been an eventful one," I said to her in one of my
letters; "why not make use of your own experience?" And, quoting from
Börne, I added, "Take paper and pen and be candid, and you are bound to
become an authoress."

"It's too painful to live an unhappy life all over again," she had
replied. "I want to find forgetfulness in art; I want to merge my
identity into characters different from my own."

I had never asked myself what it was that she wanted to forget. I knew
nothing of her past life. Did she shrink from allowing me to solve the
riddle? Was she afraid of handing me the key to her character? Was
she anxious to hide her true self behind the personalities of stage
heroines, or did she hope to increase her own magnitude by assuming the
identities of her superiors?

When I had come to the end of my arguments, I suggested that she should
make a start by translating the works of foreign authors; I told her
this would help to form her style and make her known to publishers.

"Is a translator well paid?" she asked.

"Fairly well," I replied, "if she knows her business."

"Perhaps you will think me mercenary," she continued, "but work for its
own sake doesn't attract me."

Like so many women of our time, she was seized with the mania of
earning her own living. The Baron made a grimace plainly indicative of
the fact that he would far rather see her taking an active interest
in the management of her house and servants, than contributing a few
shillings towards the expenses of a neglected home.

Since that day she had given me no peace, begging me to find her a good
book and a publisher.

I had done my utmost, and had succeeded in procuring for her two
quite short articles, destined for "Miscellaneous Items" in one of
the illustrated magazines, which did not, however, remunerate its
contributors. For a whole week I heard nothing of the work, which
could easily have been accomplished in a couple of hours. She lost her
temper when the Baron teasingly called her a sluggard; in fact, she was
so angry that I saw he had touched a very sore spot, and stopped all
further allusions, afraid of making serious mischief between the couple.

This was how matters stood at the time of my rupture with her.

... I sat in my attic with her letters before me on the table. As I
re-read them, one after the other, my heart ached for her. She was a
soul in torment, a power wasted, a voice unable to make itself heard,
just like myself. This was the secret of our mutual sympathy. I
suffered through her as if she were a diseased organ grafted on my
sick soul, which had itself become too blunted and dull to sense the
pleasure of exquisite pain.

And what had she done that I should deprive her of my sympathy? In a
moment of jealousy she had complained to me of her unhappy marriage.
And I had repulsed her, I had spoken harshly to her, when I ought to
have reasoned with her; it would not have been an impossible task, for
hadn't her husband told me that she allowed him every licence?

I was seized with an immense compassion for her; no doubt, in her
soul lay, shrouded in profound mystery, fateful secrets, physical and
psychical aberrations. It seemed to me that I should be guilty of
a terrible wrong if I let her come to ruin. When my depression had
reached its climax I began a letter to her, asking her to forgive me.
I begged her to forget what had happened, and tried to explain the
painful incident by a misunderstanding on my part. But the words would
not come, my pen refused to obey me. Worn out with fatigue, I threw
myself on my bed.

The following morning was warm and cloudy, a typical August morning.
At eight o'clock I went to the library, melancholy and depressed. As I
had a key, I was able to let myself in and spend three hours in perfect
solitude before the general public began to arrive. I wandered through
the passages, between rows of books on either side, in that exquisite
solitude which is not loneliness, in close communion with the great
thinkers of all times. Taking out a volume here and there, I tried to
fix my mind on some definite subject in order to forget the painful
scene of yesterday. But I could not banish the desecrated image of the
fallen Madonna from my mind. When I raised my eyes from the pages,
which I had read without understanding a word, I seemed to see her, as
in a vision, coming down the spiral staircase, which wound in endless
perspective at the back of the galleries. She lifted the straight folds
of her blue dress, showing her perfect feet and slender ankles, looking
at me furtively, with a sidelong glance, tempting me to the betrayal
of her husband, soliciting me with that treacherous and voluptuous
smile which I had yesterday seen for the first time. The apparition
awakened all the sensuality which had lain dormant in my heart for the
last three months, for the pure atmosphere which surrounded her had
kept away from me all lascivious thoughts. Now all the passion which
burnt in me concentrated itself on a single object. I desired her. My
imagination painted for me the exquisite beauty of her white limbs. I
selected a work on art which contained illustrations of all the famous
sculptures in the Italian museums, hoping to discover this woman's
formula by systematic scientific research. I wanted to find out species
and genus to which she belonged. I had plenty to choose from.

Was she Venus, full-bosomed and broad-hipped, the normal woman, who
awaits her lover, sure of her triumphant beauty?

No!

Juno, then, the fertile mother, who keeps her regal charms for the
marriage-bed?

By no means!

Minerva, the blue-stocking, the old maid, who hides her flat bosom
under a coat of mail?

On no account!

Diana then, the pale goddess of night, fearful of the sun, cruel in her
enforced chastity, more boy than girl, modest because she needs must be
so--Diana, who could not forgive Actæon for having watched her while
bathing? Was she Diana? The species, perhaps, but not the genus!

The future will speak the last word! With that delicate body, those
exquisite limbs, that sweet face, that proud smile, that modestly
veiled bosom, could she be yearning for blood and forbidden fruit?
Diana? Yes, unmistakably Diana!

I continued my research; I looked through a number of publications on
art stored up in this incomparable treasure-house of the State, so as
to study the various representations of the chaste goddess.

I compared; like a scientist, I proved my point, again and again
rushing from one end of the huge building to the other to find the
volumes to which I was being referred.

The striking of a clock recalled me from the world of my dreams; my
colleagues were beginning to arrive, and I had to enter on my daily
duties.

I decided to spend the evening at the club with my friends. On entering
the laboratory, I was greeted with deafening acclamations, which raised
my spirits. The centre of the room was occupied by a table dressed
like an altar, in the middle of which stood a skull and a large bottle
of cyanide of potassium. An open Bible, stained with punch spots, lay
beside the skull. Surgical instruments served as bookmarkers. A number
of punch-glasses were arranged in a circle all round. Instead of a
ladle a retort was used for filling the glasses. My friends were on the
verge of intoxication. One of them offered me a glass bowl containing
half-a-pint of the fiery drink, and I emptied it at one gulp. All the
members shouted the customary "Curse it!" I responded by singing the
song of the ne'er-do-wells--

              Deep potations
              And flirtations
        Are life's only end and aim ...

After this prelude an infernal row arose, and, amid shouts of applause,
I delivered myself of a stream of vulgar platitudes, abusing and
insulting women in high-flown verses, mixed with anatomical terms.
Intoxicated with the coarse suggestions, the vulgar profanation, I
surpassed myself in heaping insults on the head of my Madonna. It
was the morbid result of my unsatisfied longing. My hatred for the
treacherous idol broke out with such virulence that it afforded me a
sort of bitter comfort. My messmates, poor devils, acquainted with love
in its lowest aspect only, listened eagerly to my vile denunciations of
a lady of rank, who was utterly beyond their reach.

The drunkenness increased. The sound of men's voices delighted my ears
after I had passed three months amid sentimental whining, mock modesty
and hypocritical innocence. I felt as if I had torn off the mask,
thrown back the veil under which Tartuffe concealed his cupidity. In
imagination I saw the adored woman indulging every whim and caprice,
merely to escape the boredom of a dull existence. All my insults, my
infamous invectives and abuse I addressed to her, furious with the
power in me which successfully strove against my committing a crime.

At this moment the laboratory appeared to me to be a hallucination of
my over-excited brain, the temple of monstrous orgies in which all
the senses participated. The bottles on the shelves gleamed in all
the colours of the rainbow: the deep purple of red lead; the orange
of potash, the yellow of sulphur, the green of verdigris, the blue of
vitriol. The atmosphere was thick with tobacco smoke; the smell of
the lemons, used in brewing the punch, called up visions of happier
countries. The piano, intentionally out of tune and badly treated,
groaned Beethoven's march in a manner which made it unrecognisable. The
pallid faces of the revellers see-sawed in the blue-black smoke which
rose from, the pipes. The lieutenant's sash, the black beard of the
doctor of philosophy, the physician's embroidered shirt front, the
skull with its empty sockets; the noise, the disorder, the abominable
discords, the lewd images evoked, bewildered and confused my maddened
brain, when suddenly, with one accord, there arose a cry uttered by
many voices--

"To the women, you men!"

The whole assembly broke into the song--

            Deep potations
            And flirtations
       Are life's only end and aim ...

Hats and overcoats were donned, and the whole horde trooped out.
Half-an-hour later we had arrived at our destination. The fires in
the huge stoves spluttered and crackled, stout was ordered, and the
saturnalias, which rendered the remainder of the night hideous, began.



V


When I awoke on the following morning in my own bed in broad daylight,
I was surprised to find that I had regained complete mastery over
myself. Every trace of unhealthy sentimentality had disappeared; the
cult of the Madonna had been forgotten in the excesses of the night. I
looked upon my fantastic love as a weakness of the spirit or the flesh,
which at the moment appeared to me to be one and the same thing.

After I had had a cold bath and eaten some breakfast, I returned to my
daily duties, content that the whole matter was at an end. I plunged
into my work, and the hours passed rapidly.

It was half-past twelve when the porter announced 'the Baron.

"Is it possible?" I said to myself, "and I had been under the
impression that the incident was closed!"

I prepared myself for a scene.

The Baron, radiant with mirth and happiness, squeezed my hand
affectionately. He had come to ask me to join in another excursion
by steamer, and see the amateur theatricals at Södertälje, a small
watering-place.

I declined politely, pleading urgent business.

"My wife," he recommenced, "would be very pleased if you could manage
to come.... Moreover, Baby will be one of the party...." Baby, the
much-discussed cousin....

He went on urging me in a manner at once irresistible and pathetic,
looking at me with eyes so full of melancholy that I felt myself
weakening. But instead of frankly accepting his invitation, I replied
with a question--

"The Baroness is quite well?"

"She wasn't very well yesterday; in fact, she was really ill, but she
is better since this morning. My dear fellow," he added after a slight
pause, "what passed between you the night before last at Nacka? My wife
says that you had a misunderstanding, and that you are angry with her
without any reason."

"Really," I answered, a little taken aback, "I don't know myself.
Perhaps I had a little too much to drink. I forgot myself."

"Let's forget all about it then, will you?" he replied briskly, "and
let us be friends as before. Women are often strangely touchy, as you
know. It's all right, then; you'll come, won't you? To-day at four.
Remember, we are counting on you...."

I had consented!...

Unfathomable enigma! A misunderstanding!... But she had been ill!...
Ill with fear ... with anger ... with....

The fact that the little unknown cousin was about to appear upon the
scene added a new interest, and with a beating heart I went on board
the steamer at four o'clock, as had been arranged.

The Baroness greeted me with sisterly kindness.

"You're not angry with me because of my unkind words?" she began. "I'm
very excitable...."

"Don't let us speak about it," I replied, trying to find her a seat
behind the bridge.

"Mr. Axel ... Miss Baby!..."

The Baron was introducing us. I was looking at a girl of about
eighteen, of the soubrette type, exactly what I had imagined. She
was small, very ordinary-looking, dressed simply, but with a certain
striving after elegance.

But the Baroness! Pale as death, with hollow cheeks, she looked more
fragile than ever. Her bangles jingled at her wrists; her slender neck
rose from her collar, plainly-showing the blue arteries winding towards
the ears which, owing to the careless way in which she had arranged her
hair, stood out from her head more than usual. She was badly dressed,
too. The colours of her frock were crude, and did not blend. I could
not help thinking that she was downright plain, and, as I looked at
her, my heart was filled with compassion, and I cursed my recent
conduct towards her. This woman a coquette? She was a saint, a martyr,
bearing undeserved sorrow.

The steamer started. The lovely August evening on the Lake of Mälar
tempted one to peaceful dreams.

Was it accidental or intended? The little cousin and the Baron were
sitting side by side at a distance sufficiently great to prevent our
overhearing each other. Leaning towards her, he talked and laughed
incessantly, with the gay, rejuvenated face of an accepted lover.

From time to time he looked at us, slyly, and we nodded and smiled back.

"A jolly girl, the little one, isn't she?" remarked the Baroness.

"It seems so," I answered, uncertain how to take her remark.

"She knows how to cheer up my melancholy husband. I don't possess that
gift," she added, with a frank and kindly smile at the group.

And as she spoke the lines of her face betrayed suppressed sorrow,
tears held back, superhuman resignation; across her features glided,
cloud-like, those incomprehensible reflections of kindness, resignation
and self-denial, common to pregnant women and young mothers.

Ashamed of my misinterpretation of her character, tortured by remorse,
nervous, I suppressed with difficulty the tears which I felt rising to
my eyes.

"But aren't you jealous?" I asked, merely for the sake of saying
something.

"Not at all," she answered, quite sincerely and without a trace of
malice. "Perhaps you'll think it strange, but it's true. I love my
husband; he is very kind-hearted; and I appreciate the little one, for
she's a nice girl. And there is really nothing wrong between them.
Shame on jealousy, which makes a woman look plain; at my age one has to
be careful."

And, indeed, she looked so plain at that moment that it wrung my
heart. Acting thoughtlessly, on impulse, I advised her, with fatherly
solicitude, to put a shawl round her shoulders, pretending that I was
afraid of her catching cold. She let me arrange the fleecy fabric round
her face, framing it, and transforming her into a dainty beauty.

How pretty she was when she thanked me smilingly! A look of perfect
happiness had come into her face; she was grateful like a child begging
for caresses.

"My poor husband! How glad I am to see him a little more cheerful! He
is full of trouble!... If you only knew!"

"If I'm not indiscreet," I ventured, "then, for Heaven's sake, tell
me what it is that makes you so unhappy. I feel that there is a great
sorrow in your life. I have nothing to offer you but advice; but, if I
can in any way serve you, I entreat you to make use of my friendship."

My poor friends were in financial difficulties: the phantom of
ruin--that ghastly nightmare!--was threatening them. Up to now the
Baron's inadequate income had been supplemented by his wife's dowry.
But they had recently discovered that the dowry existed on paper only,
it being invested in worthless shares. The Baron was on the point of
sending in his papers, and looking out for a cashier's billet in a bank.

"That's the reason," she concluded, "why I want to make use of the
talent I possess, for then I could contribute my share to the necessary
expenses of the household. It's all my fault, don't you see? I'm to
blame for the difficulties in which he finds himself; I've ruined his
career...."

What could I say or do in such a sad case which went far beyond my
power of assistance? I attempted to smooth away her difficulties, to
deceive myself about them.

I assured her that things would come all right, and, in order to
allay her fears, I painted for her the picture of a future without
cares, full of bright prospects. I quoted the statistics of national
economy to prove that better times were coming in which her shares
would improve; I invented the most extraordinary remedies; I conjured
up a new army organization which would bring in its train unexpected
promotion for her husband.

It was all pure invention, but, thanks to my power of imagination,
courage and hope returned to her, and her spirits rose.

After landing, and while we were waiting for the commencement of the
play, we went for a walk in the Park. I had not, as yet, exchanged
one word with the cousin. The Baron never left her side. He carried
her cloak, devoured her with his eyes, bathed her in a flood of
words, warmed her with his breath, while she remained callous and
self-possessed, with vacant eyes and hard features. From time to
time, without apparently moving a muscle of her face, she seemed to
say things to which the Baron replied with shrieks of laughter, and,
judging from his animated face, she must have been indulging pretty
freely in repartee, innuendoes and double-entendres.

At last the doors opened, and we went in to take our seats, which had
not been reserved.

The curtain rose. The Baroness was blissfully happy to see the stage,
smell the mingled odours of painted canvas, raw wood, rouge and
perspiration.

They played _A Whim_. A sudden indisposition seized me, the result
of the distressing memories of my vain efforts to conquer the stage,
and also, perhaps, the consequence of the excesses of the previous
night. When the curtain fell, I left my seat and made my way to the
restaurant, where I refreshed myself with a double-absinthe, and
remained until the performance was over.

My friends met me after the play, and we went to have supper together.
They seemed tired, and unable to hide their annoyance at my flight.
Nobody spoke a word while the table was being laid. A desultory
conversation was started with the greatest difficulty. The cousin
remained mute, haughty, reserved.

We discussed the menu. After consulting with me, the Baroness ordered
_hors d'oeuvres_. Roughly--too roughly for my unstrung nerves, the
Baron countermanded the order. Lost in gloomy thoughts, I pretended not
to hear him, and called out "_Hors d'oeuvres_ for two!" for her and for
me, as she had originally ordered.

The Baron grew pale with anger. There was thunder in the air, but not
another word was spoken.

I inwardly admired my courage in thus answering a rudeness with an
insult, bound to have serious consequences in any civilised country.
The Baroness, encouraged by the way in which I had stood up for her,
began teasing me in order to make me laugh. But in vain. Conversation
was impossible; nobody had anything to say, and the Baron and I
exchanged angry glances. In the end my opponent whispered a remark in
his neighbour's ear; in reply she made a grimace, nodded, pronounced a
few syllables without moving her lips, and regarded me scornfully.

I felt the blood rising to my head, and the storm would have burst
there and then if an unexpected incident had not served as a lightning
conductor.

In an adjacent room a boisterous party had been strumming the piano
for the last half-hour; now they began singing a vulgar song, with the
doors standing wide open.

The Baron turned to the waiter: "Shut that door," he said curtly.

The door had hardly been closed when it was again burst open. The
singers repeated the chorus, and challenged us with impertinent remarks.

The moment for an explosion had arrived.

I jumped up from my chair; with two strides I was at the door and
banged it in the faces of the noisy crew. Fire in a powder-barrel could
not have had a more rousing effect than my determined stand against the
enemy.

A short struggle ensued, during which I kept hold of the door-handle.
But the door yielded to the vigorous pull from the other side, and I
was dragged towards the howling mob, who threw themselves upon me,
eager for a hand-to-hand tussle.

At that moment I felt a touch on my shoulder, and heard an indignant
voice asking "these gentlemen whether they had no sense of honour, that
they attacked in a body one single opponent?"...

It was the Baroness who, under the stress of a strong emotion,
forgetting the dictates of convention and good manners, betrayed warmer
feelings than she probably was aware of.

The fight was over. The Baroness regarded me with searching eyes.

"You're a brave little hero," she said. "I was trembling for you."

The Baron called for the bill, asked to see the landlord and requested
him to send for the police.

After this incident perfect harmony reigned amongst us. We vied in
expressions of indignation about the rudeness of the natives. All the
suppressed wrath of jealousy and wounded vanity was poured on the heads
of those uncouth louts.

And later on, as we sat drinking punch in one of our own rooms, our old
friendship burst into fresh flames; we forgot all about the police,
who, moreover, had failed to put in an appearance.

On the following morning we met in the coffee-room, full of high
spirits, and in our inmost hearts glad to have done with a disagreeable
business, the consequences of which it would have been difficult to
foretell.

After the first breakfast we went for a walk on the banks of the canal,
in couples, and with a fair distance between us. When we had arrived at
a lock where the canal made a strong curve, the Baron waited and turned
to his wife with an affectionate, almost amorous smile.

"D'you remember this place, Marie?" he asked.

"Yes, yes, my dear, I remember," she answered, with a mingled
expression of passion and sadness.

Later on she explained his question to me.

"It was here where he first told me of his love ... one evening, under
this very birch-tree, while a brilliant shooting-star flashed across
the sky."

"That was three years ago," I completed her explanation, "and you are
reviving old memories already. You live in the past because the present
doesn't satisfy you."

"Oh, stop!" she exclaimed; "you've taken leave of your senses.... I
loathe the past, and I am grateful to my husband for having delivered
me from a vain mother whose doting tyranny was ruining me. No, I adore
my husband, he's a loyal friend to me...."

"As you like, Baroness; I'll agree with anything, to please you."

At the stated hour we went on board to return to town, and after a
delightful passage across the blue sea, with its thousands of green
islands, we arrived in Stockholm, where we parted.

I had made up my mind to return to work, determined to tear this love
out of my heart, but I soon found that I had reckoned without forces
much stronger than myself. On the day after our excursion I received
an invitation to dinner from the Baroness; it was the anniversary of
her wedding-day. I could not think of a plausible excuse, and, although
I was afraid of straining our friendship, I accepted the invitation.
To my great disappointment, I found the house turned upside down,
undergoing the process of a general cleaning; the Baron was in a bad
temper, and the Baroness sent her apologies for the delayed dinner. I
walked up and down the garden with her irritable, hungry husband, who
seemed unable to control his impatience. After half-an-hour's strenuous
effort my powers of entertaining him were exhausted, and conversation
ceased. He took me into the dining-room.

Dinner was laid, and the appetisers[1] had been put on the table, but
the mistress of the house was still invisible.

"If we took a snack standing," said the Baron, "we should be able to
wait."

Afraid of offending the Baroness, I did my utmost to dissuade him, but
he remained obstinate, and being, as it were, between two fires, I was
compelled to acquiesce in his proposal.

At last the Baroness entered: radiant, young, pretty; she was dressed
in a diaphanous silk frock, yellow, like ripe corn, with a mauve
stripe, reminiscent of pansies; this was her favourite combination of
colours. The well-cut dress suited her girlish figure to perfection,
and emphasised the beautiful contour of the shoulders and the curve of
the exquisitely modelled arms.

I handed her my bunch of roses, wishing her many happy returns of the
day; I also took good care to put all the blame for our rude impatience
on the Baron.

When her eyes fell on the disordered table, she pursed up her lips
and addressed a remark to her husband which was more stinging than
humorous; he was not slow to reply to the undeserved rebuke. I threw
myself into the breach by recalling the incidents of the previous day
which I had already discussed with the Baron.

"And what d'you think of my charming cousin?" asked the Baroness.

"She's very amiable," I replied.

"Don't you agree with me, my dear fellow, that the child is a perfect
treasure?" exclaimed the Baron, in a voice which expressed parental
solicitude, sincere devotion and pity for this imp of Satan, supposed
to be martyred by imaginary tyrants.

But in spite of the stress laid by her husband on the word "child," the
Baroness continued mercilessly--

"Just look how that dear Baby has changed the style in which my husband
does his hair!"

The parting which the Baron had been accustomed to wear had indeed
disappeared. Instead of it, his hair was dressed in the manner of the
young students, his moustache waxed--a style which did not suit him.
Through an association of ideas, my attention was drawn to the fact
--which, however, I kept to myself--that the Baroness, too, had adopted
from the charming cousin certain details of dressing her hair, of
wearing her clothes, of manner even. It made me think of the elective
affinities of the chemists, in this case acting on living beings.

The dinner dragged on, slowly and heavily, like a cart which has lost
its fourth wheel, and wearily lumbers along on the three remaining
ones. But the cousin, henceforth the indispensable complement of our
quartet, which, without her, was beginning to be out of harmony, was
expected to come later on and take coffee with us.

At dessert I proposed a toast to the married couple, in conventional
terms, without spirit or wit, like champagne which has grown flat.

Husband and wife, animated by the memories of the past, kissed
tenderly, and, in mimicking their former fond ways, became
affectionate, amorous even, just as an actor will feel genuinely
depressed when he has been feigning tears.

Or was it that the fire was still smouldering underneath the ashes,
ready to burst into fresh flames if fanned by a skilful hand? It was
impossible to guess how matters stood.

After dinner we went into the garden and sat in the summer-house, the
window of which looked on to the street. Digestive processes did not
favour conversation. The Baron stood at the window, absent-mindedly
watching the street, in the hope of catching a glimpse of the cousin.
Suddenly he darted off like an arrow, evidently with the intention of
going to meet the expected guest.

Left alone with the Baroness, I at once became embarrassed; I was not
naturally self-conscious, but she had a queer way of looking at me and
paying me compliments on certain details of my appearance. After a
long, almost painful silence, she burst out laughing, and pointing in
the direction in which the Baron had disappeared, she exclaimed--

"Dear old Gustav, he is head-over-ears in love!"

"It looks like it," I replied. "And you are really not jealous?"

"Not at all," she assured me. "I'm in love myself with the pretty
little cat. And you?"

"Oh, I'm all right. I don't want to be rude, but I shall never feel in
the least in sympathy with your cousin."

And this was true. From the first moment I had taken a dislike to
this young woman, who, like myself, was of middle-class origin. She
saw in me the odious witness, or rather the dangerous rival, hunting
in the preserves which she had reserved for herself, and from which
she hoped to force her way into society. Her keen grey eyes had at
once recognised in me an acquaintance of whom she could make no
use; her plebeian instinct scented an adventurer in me. And up to a
certain point she was right, for I had entered the Baron's house in
the hope of finding a patron for my unfortunate drama; unluckily, the
relations between my friends and the stage were non-existent, a mere
fabrication of my friend from Finland, and, with the exception of a few
compliments, my play had never been mentioned.

It was also undeniable that there was a marked difference in the
Baron's manner whenever his charmer was present. He was fickle and
easily impressed, and evidently beginning to regard me with the eyes of
the sorceress.

We had not long to wait; the pair appeared at the garden gate, merrily
talking and laughing.

The girl was brimming over with fun and merriment; she used bad
language, a little too freely perhaps, but with excellent taste; she
uttered double-entendres with such an appearance of perfect innocence
that it was impossible to credit her with the knowledge of the meaning
of her ambiguous words. She smoked and drank without forgetting for one
single moment that she was a woman, and, what is more, a young woman.
There was nothing masculine about her, nothing emancipated, nor was
she in the least prudish. She was certainly amusing, and time passed
quickly.

But what surprised me most and ought to have been a warning to me,
was the excessive mirth with which the Baroness greeted any doubtful
remark which fell from the girl's lips. Then a wild laugh, a cynical
expression would flit over her countenance, giving evidence that she
was deeply versed in the secrets of excess.

While we were thus amusing ourselves, the Baron's uncle joined our
little party. A retired captain, a widower of many years' standing,
very chivalrous, of pleasing manners, a little daring in his
old-fashioned courteousness, he was, thanks to his connection with the
family, the declared favourite of these ladies, whose affections he had
succeeded in winning.

He looked upon it as his right to fondle them, kiss their hands, pat
their cheeks. As he came in, both of them fell on his neck with little
exclamations of pleasure.

"Take care, my little ones! Two at a time is too much for an old fellow
like me. Take care! You are burning yourselves. Quick, down with your
hands, or I won't be responsible for anything."

The Baroness held her cigarette, poised between her lips, towards him.

"A little fire, please, uncle!"

"Fire! Fire! I'm sorry I can't oblige you, my child, my fire has gone
out," he answered slyly.

"Has it?"

She boxed his ears with her finger-tips. The old man seized her arm,
held it between his hands and felt it up to her shoulder.

"You're not as thin as you look, my darling," he said, stroking her
soft flesh through her sleeve.

The Baroness did not object. The compliment seemed to please
her. Playfully, smilingly, she pushed up her sleeve, exposing a
beautifully-modelled arm, daintily rounded and white as milk. Almost
immediately, however, remembering my presence, she hastily pulled it
down again; but I had seen a spark of the consuming fire which burned
in her eyes, an expression which comes into the face of a woman in the
transports of love.

The burning match which I held between my fingers, with the intention
of lighting a cigarette, accidentally dropped between my coat and
waistcoat.

With a terrified scream, the Baroness rushed at me and tried to
extinguish the flame between her fingers.

"Fire! Fire!" she shrieked, her cheeks scarlet with excitement.

Losing my self-control, I started back and pressed her hand against
my breast, as if to smother the smouldering fire; then, shamefacedly
releasing myself and pretending that I had escaped a very real danger,
I thanked the Baroness, who was still unable to control her agitation.

We talked till supper-time. The sun had set, and the moon rose behind
the cupola of the Observatory, illuminating the apple trees in the
orchard. We amused ourselves by trying to differentiate between the
apples suspended from the branches and half-hidden by the leaves,
which looked sedge-green in the pale moonlight. The ordinary blood-red
Calville seemed but a yellow spot; the greyish Astrachan apple had
turned green, the Rennet a dark, brownish red, and the others had
changed colour in proportion. The same thing had happened with the
flowers.

The dahlias presented to our eyes unknown tints, the stocks shone in
the colours of another planet, the hues of the Chinese asters were
indefinable.

"There, you see, Baroness," I said, commenting on the phenomenon, "how
everything in the world is imaginary. Colour does not exist in the
abstract; everything depends on the nature of the light. Everything is
illusion."

"Everything?" she said softly, remaining standing before me and gazing
at me with eyes magnified by the darkness.

"Everything, Baroness!" I lied, confused by this living apparition of
flesh and blood, which at the moment terrified me by its unearthly
loveliness.

The dishevelled golden hair formed a luminous aureole round her pale,
moonlit face; her exquisitely proportionate figure rose by my side,
tall and straight and more slender than ever in the striped dress, the
colours of which had changed to black and white.

The stocks breathed their voluptuous perfumes, the crickets chirped
in the grass, wet with the falling dew, a gentle breeze rustled in
the trees, twilight wrapped us round with its soft mantle; everything
invited to love; nothing but the cowardice of respectability kept back
the avowal which trembled on my lips.

Suddenly an apple dropped from a wind-shaken bough and fell at our
feet. The Baroness stooped, picked it up and gave it to me, with a
significant gesture.

"Forbidden fruit!" I murmured. "No, thank you." And to efface the
impression of this blunder, which I had committed against my will, I
hastened to improvise a satisfactory explanation of my words, hinting
at the parsimony of the owner. "What would the owner say if he saw me?"

"That you are at least a knight without reproach," she replied
disapprovingly, glancing at the shrubbery which effectively screened
the Baron and her cousin from indiscreet observers.

When we rose from the supper-table the Baron proposed that we should
accompany "the dear child" home. At the front door he offered her his
arm, and then turned to me.

"Look after my wife, old man," he said, "and prove to her that you
really are the perfect cavalier I know you to be." His voice was full
of tender solicitude.

I felt ill at ease. As the evening was warm the Baroness, leaning
lightly on me, was carrying her scarf in her hand, and from her arm,
the graceful outline of which was plainly perceptible through the thin
silk, emanated a magnetic current which excited in me an extraordinary
sensitiveness. I imagined that I could detect, at the height of my
deltoid muscle, the exact spot where the sleeve of her under-garment
ended. My sensitiveness was intensified to such a degree that I could
have traced the whole anatomy of that adorable arm. Her biceps, the
great elevator which plays the principal part when two people embrace
each other, pressed mine, flesh against flesh, in supple rhythms. In
walking along, side by side, I could distinguish the curve of her hips
through the skirts which brushed against my legs.

"You walk splendidly, you must be a perfect dancer," she said, as if to
encourage me to break an embarrassing silence.

And after a few moments, during which she must have felt the quivering
of my overstrung nerves, she asked, a little sarcastically, with the
superiority of a woman of the world--

"Are you shivering?"

"Yes, I'm cold."

"Then why not put on your overcoat?"

Her voice was soft and velvety, like a caress.

I put on my coat, a veritable straight jacket, and so was better
protected against the warmth which flowed from her body into mine.

The sound of her little feet, keeping time with my footsteps, drew our
nervous systems so closely together that I felt almost as if I were
walking on four feet, like a quadruped.

In the course of that fateful walk a pruning occurred of the kind which
gardeners call "ablactation," and which is brought about by bringing
two boughs into the closest proximity.

From that day I no longer belonged to myself. She had inoculated me
with her blood; our nerves were in a state of high tension; the unborn
lives within her yearned for the quickening fiat which would call them
into existence; her soul craved for union with my spirit, and my spirit
longed to pour itself into this delicate vessel. Had all this happened
to us without our knowledge? Impossible to say.

Once more back in my room, I determinately faced the question of the
future. Should I flee from danger and forget, should I try to make
my fortune abroad? The idea flashed through my mind to go to Paris,
the centre of civilisation. Once there, I would bury myself in the
libraries, be lost in the museums. In Paris I should produce a great
work.

No sooner had I conceived this plan, than I took the necessary steps to
carry it out. After a month had elapsed I was in a position to pay my
farewell visits.

An unexpected incident which happened very opportunely served as a
convenient pretext with which to cloak my flight. Selma, my whilom
Finnish friend, was having her banns published. I was, therefore, so to
speak, compelled to seek forgetfulness and healing for my wounded heart
in distant countries. Anyhow, it was as good an excuse as any I could
think of.

My departure was delayed for a few weeks in deference to the entreaties
of my friends, who were dreading the equinoctial gales; I had decided
to go by steamer to Havre.

Furthermore, my sister's wedding was to take place early in October,
and this necessitated a further postponement of my project.

During this time I received frequent invitations from the Baroness.
The cousin had returned to her parents, and the three of us generally
spent the evenings together. The Baron, unconsciously influenced by the
strong will of his wife, seemed more favourably disposed towards me;
moreover, my impending departure had reassured him completely, and he
treated me with his former friendliness.

One evening the Baroness's mother was entertaining a small circle of
intimate friends, when the Baroness, stretched out listlessly on the
sofa, suddenly put her head on her mother's lap and loudly confessed
her intense admiration for a well-known actor. Did she want to torture
me, to see the effect which such a confession would have on me? I don't
know. But the old lady, tenderly stroking her daughter's hair, looked
at me.

"If ever you write a novel," she said, "let me draw your attention to
this particular type of passionate womanhood. It's an extraordinary
type! She's never happy unless she is in love with some one else beside
her husband."

"It's quite true what mamma says," agreed the Baroness, "and just at
present I'm in love with that man! He's irresistible!"

"She's mad," laughed the Baron, wincing, yet anxiously trying to appear
unconcerned.

Passionate womanhood! The words sank into my heart, for, jesting apart,
those words spoken by an old woman, and that old woman her own mother,
must have contained more than a grain of truth.


[1] Note of the translator: It is customary in Sweden to begin dinner
with savoury sandwiches, which are usually placed on a side-table.
These sandwiches are intended to excite the appetite of the diners, and
are called "appetisers."



VI


My departure was imminent. On the eve of my leaving I invited the Baron
and his wife to a bachelor's dinner in my attic. To hide the meanness
of the furniture, my little home was wearing its Sunday clothes, and
had the appearance of a sacred temple. My damaged wicker sofa was
pushed against the wall between the two window recesses, one of which
was filled by my writing-table and the improvised garden, the other by
my book-shelves; an imitation tiger-skin was thrown over it, and held
in its place by invisible tacks.

The left was taken up by my large bed-sofa, with its gaudy tick cover.
Above it, on the side wall, hung a vividly-coloured map of the world.
On the right-hand side stood my chest of drawers with its swing glass,
both in the Empire style and decorated with brass ornaments; a wardrobe
with a bust of plaster of Paris and a wash-stand, for the moment
banished behind the window curtains, completed the furniture. The
walls, with their decorations of framed sketches, made a gay and varied
show.

A china chandelier, of the shape which is occasionally met with in
churches and which I had discovered at an antiquary's, was suspended
from the ceiling. The cracks were skilfully concealed by a wreath of
artificial ivy which I had found some little time ago at my sister's.
Beneath the three-armed chandelier stood the dining-table. A basket
filled with Bengal roses, which glowed red among the dark foliage, was
placed on the white damask tablecloth, and the roses, reaching up to
and mingling with the drooping ivy shoots, gave the whole the effect
of a flower show. Round the basket which held the roses stood an array
of wine glasses, red, green and opal, which I had bought cheaply, at a
sale, for each of them had a flaw. The same thing applied to the dinner
service: plates, salt-cellars and sugar-bowl of Chinese, Japanese and
Swedish porcelain.

I had but a dozen cold dishes to offer to my friends, most of them
chosen more with an eye to their decorative value than because they
were good to eat, for the meal was to consist principally of oysters.
My landlady had good-naturedly lent me the indispensable articles for
the banquet, an unprecedented event in my attic.... At last everything
was satisfactorily arranged, and I could not help admiring the setting:
these mingled touches betrayed on a small scale the inspiration of a
poet, the research of a scientist, the good taste of an artist. The
fondness for dainty food, the love of flowers, suggested the love of
women. If the table had not been laid for three, one might have guessed
at an intimate feast for two, the first delights of a love-adventure,
instead of a feast of reconciliation which it actually was. My room had
not seen a female visitor since that horrible woman whose boots had
left ineradicable traces on the woodwork of my sofa. The looking-glass
on the chest of drawers had reflected no female figure since then.
And now a woman of blameless life, a mother, a lady of education and
refinement, was coming to consecrate this place which had seen so
much work, misery and pain. And, I thought in a transport of poetic
inspiration, it is indeed a sacred festival, since I am prepared to
sacrifice my heart, my peace, perhaps my life, to ensure the happiness
of my friends.

Everything was ready when I heard footsteps on the fourth floor
landing. I hastily lit the candles, for the last time straightened the
basket containing the roses, and a moment later my guests, exhausted
with having climbed four flights of stairs, stood panting before my
door.

I opened. The Baroness, dazzled by the lights, clapped her hands as if
she were admiring a successful stage setting.

"Bravo!" she exclaimed, "you are a first-class stage manager."

"Yes," I replied, "I occasionally amuse myself with play-acting, for
the sake of discipline and patience."

I took off her cloak, bade her be welcome, and made her sit down on the
sofa. But she could not keep still. With the curiosity of a woman who
has never been in a bachelor's chambers, but has gone straight from her
father's house to that of her husband, she began to examine the room.
She seized my penholder, handled my blotter, searched about as if she
were determined to discover a secret. Strolling to my book-shelves,
she glanced curiously at the back of the volumes. In passing the
looking-glass she stopped for a few seconds to arrange her hair and
push the end of a piece of lace into the opening of her blouse. She
examined the furniture, piece by piece, and smelt the flowers, all the
time uttering little cries of delight.

When she had finished her voyage of discovery round my room, she asked
me, naively, without any _arrière-pensée_, seeking with her eyes a
piece of furniture which appeared to be missing--

"But where do you sleep?"

"On the sofa."

"Oh, how jolly a bachelor's life must be!"

And the forgotten dreams of her girlhood awoke in her brain.

"It's often very dull," I replied.

"Dull to be one's own master, have one's own home, be free from all
supervision! Oh, what would I not give to be independent! Matrimony is
abominable! Isn't it so, darling?" She turned towards the Baron, who
had been listening to her good-naturedly.

"Yes, it _is_ dull," he agreed, smilingly.

Dinner was ready and the banquet began. The first glass of wine made
us feel merry, but all of a sudden, remembering the occasion for our
unceremonious meeting, a feeling of sadness mingled with our enjoyment.
We began to talk of the pleasant days we had spent together. In
imagination we again passed through all the little adventures of our
excursions. And our eyes shone, our hearts beat more quickly, we shook
hands and clinked glasses with one another.

The hours passed rapidly, and we realised with growing distress that
the moment of parting was approaching. At a sign from his wife the
Baron produced an opal ring from his pocket and held it out to me.

"Here, my dear old fellow," he said, "take this little keepsake as a
token of our gratitude for the friendship which you have shown us. May
fate give you your heart's desire! This is my sincerest wish, for I
love you as a brother and respect you as a man of honour! A pleasant
journey! We will not say 'farewell,' but 'to the day of our next
meeting.'"

As a man of honour? Had he guessed my motive? Read my conscience? Not
at all!... For in well-chosen words, anxious to explain his little
speech, he burst out into a string of abuse of poor Selma; he accused
her of having broken her word, of having sold herself to a man who ...
well, to a man whom she did not love, a man who owed his happiness
merely to my extraordinary decency.

My extraordinary decency! I felt ashamed, but, carried away by the
sincerity of this simple heart, which judged a little too hastily,
perhaps, I suddenly felt very unhappy, inconsolably unhappy, and I kept
up the lie dressed in the outer semblance of truth.

The Baroness, deceived by my clever acting, misled by my assumed
indifference, believed me to be in earnest, and with motherly
tenderness tried to comfort me.

"Have done with her!" she urged; "forget all about her. There are
plenty of girls, far better than she is. Don't fret, she's not worth
crying for, since she couldn't even wait for you. Besides, I may tell
you now--I've heard things about her...."

And with a pleasure which she was quite unable to conceal, she
proceeded to disgust me still further with my supposed idol.

"Just think," she exclaimed, "she practically proposed to an officer of
good family, and she made herself out to be ever so much younger than
she is ... she's nothing but a common flirt, take my word for it."

A disapproving gesture from the Baron made her realise her mistake; she
pressed my hand and apologised, looking at me with eyes so wistful and
tender that I felt as if I should die of grief. The Baron, slightly
intoxicated, made sentimental speeches, took me into his confidence,
overwhelmed me with brotherly love, attacked me with endless toasts,
which seemed to lose themselves in infinity. His swollen face beamed
benevolently. He looked at me with his caressing, melancholy eyes;
their glance dissipated every shadow of doubt of the sincerity of his
friendship which I might have entertained. Surely he was nothing but a
big, good-natured child, of unquestionable integrity; and I made a vow
to behave honourably towards him, even if it should kill me.

We rose from the table to say good-bye, perhaps for ever. The Baroness
burst out sobbing, and hid her face on her husband's shoulder.

"I must be mad," she exclaimed, "to be so fond of this dear boy that
his going away almost breaks my heart!"

And with an outburst of affection, at once pure and impure, interested
and disinterested, passionate and full of angelic tenderness, she put
her arms round my neck and kissed me in her husband's presence; then
she made the sign of the cross over me and turned to go.

My old charwoman, who was waiting on the threshold, wiped her eyes, and
we all shed tears. It was a solemn moment, never to be forgotten. The
sacrifice had been made.

       *       *       *       *       *

I went to bed at one o'clock in the morning, but I was unable to sleep;
fear of missing the steamer kept me awake. Worn out by the farewell
parties which had been following one on the top of the other for a
week, my nerves unhinged from too much drinking, stupid from idleness,
overwrought by the excitement of the evening, I tossed between the
sheets until the day broke. Knowing that my will-power was temporarily
enfeebled, and loathing railway journeys, because the shaking and
jolting is injurious to the spine, I had elected to travel by steamer;
moreover, this would prevent any attempt on my part to draw back. The
boat was to start at six o'clock in the morning, and the cab called for
me at five. I started on my way alone.

It was a windy October morning, foggy and cold. The branches of the
trees were covered with hoar frost. When I arrived on the North Bridge,
I imagined for a second that I was the victim of an hallucination:
there was the Baron, walking in the same direction as my cab.
Contrary to our agreement, he had risen early, and had come to see me
off. Deeply touched by this unexpected proof of friendship, I felt
altogether unworthy of his affection, and full of remorse for ever
having thought evil of him.

We arrived at the landing-stage. He accompanied me on board, examined
my cabin, introduced himself to the captain, and recommended me to his
special attention. He behaved like an elder brother, a devoted friend,
and we said good-bye to each other, deeply moved.

"Take care of yourself, old man," he said. "You are not looking well."

I really felt quite ill, but I pulled myself together until the mooring
ropes were cast adrift.

Then a sudden terror of this long and senseless journey seized me, a
frantic desire to throw myself into the water and swim to the shore.
But I had not the strength to yield to my impulse, and remained
standing on deck, undecided what to do, waving my handkerchief in
response to my friend's greeting until he disappeared, blotted out by
the vessels which rode at anchor in the roads.

The boat was a heavily loaded cargo steamer, with but one cabin on the
main deck. I went to my berth, stretched myself on the mattress and
pulled the blankets over me, determined to sleep through the first
twenty-four hours, so as to prevent any attempt at escape on my part.
I must have been unconscious for half-an-hour, when I suddenly started
from my sleep as if I had received an electric shock, a very ordinary
result of dissipation and sleeplessness.

In a second the whole dreary reality had flashed into my mind. I
went on deck to exercise my stiff limbs. I watched the barren brown
shores receding before my eyes, the trees stripped of their leaves,
the yellowish-grey meadows; in the hollows of the rocks snow was
already lying. The water looked grey with sepia-coloured spots;
the sky was leaden and full of gloom; the dirty deck, the uncouth
sailors--everything contributed to deepen my depression. I felt an
unspeakable longing for human companionship, but there did not appear
to be a single passenger--not one! I climbed on the bridge to look for
the captain. I found him a bear of the worst description, absolutely
unapproachable. I was a prisoner for ten days, solitary, cast away
among people without understanding, without feeling. It was torture.

I resumed my walk on deck, up and down, in all directions, as if my
restless movements could increase the speed of the boat. My burning
brain worked under high pressure; a thousand ideas flashed into my mind
in a second; the suppressed memories rose, pushing and chasing each
other. A pain like toothache began to torment me, but in my confusion I
could neither describe nor locate it. The further the steamer advanced
into the open sea, the greater became the strain. I felt as if the bond
which bound me to my native country, to my family, to her, was tearing
asunder. Deserted by everybody, tossing on the high seas between heaven
and earth, I seemed to be losing all foothold, and in my loneliness I
felt afraid of everything and everybody. It was, doubtless, a sign of
constitutional weakness, for I remembered that as a boy I had cried
bitter tears on a pleasure trip, at the sudden thought of my mother;
I was twelve years old then, but, bodily, I was developed far in
advance of my years. The reason, in my opinion, was that I had been
born prematurely, or perhaps even attempts had been made to suppress
life before it could properly be said to have come into existence. Such
things happen only too frequently in large families. At any rate, I
felt sure that this was the cause of the despondency which invariably
overcame me when I was about to make a change in my surroundings. Now,
in tearing myself away from my familiar environment, I was tormented
with dread of the future, the unknown country, the ship's crew.
Impressionable, like every prematurely born child, whose exposed nerves
are waiting for the still bleeding skin; defenceless like a crab which,
having cast its shell, seeks protection underneath the stones, and
feels every change of the sinking barometer, I wandered about, trying
to find a soul stronger than mine, take hold of a firm hand, feel the
warmth of a human presence, look into a friendly eye. Like a squirrel
in its cage, I ran round the upper deck, picturing to myself the ten
days of suffering which awaited me. I remembered that I had only been
on board for an hour! A long hour, more like a day of agony ... and
not a glimmer of hope at the end of this accursed journey! I tried to
reason with myself, and all the time rebelled against reason.

Who compelled me to go? Who had a right to blame me if I returned?...
Nobody! And yet!... Shame, the fear of making myself a laughing-stock,
honour! No! No! I must abandon all hope. Moreover, the boat would not
call anywhere on her way to Havre. Forward then, and courage!

But courage depends on strength of body and mind, and at the moment I
lacked both. Haunted by my dreary thoughts, I turned towards the lower
deck, for by now I knew the upper deck down to its smallest details,
and the sight of its rails, rigging and tackling bored me like a book
read until one knows it by heart. On my way I almost tumbled over a
person seeking shelter from the wind behind the cabin. It was an old
lady, dressed in black, with grey hair and a careworn face.

She gazed at me attentively, with sympathetic eyes. I walked up to
her and spoke to her. She answered me in French, and we soon became
acquainted.

After the exchange of a few commonplaces, we confided to each other
the purpose of our journey. She was not travelling for pleasure. The
widow of a timber-merchant, she had been staying with a relative in
Stockholm, and was now on her way to visit her insane son, confined in
a lunatic asylum at Havre.

Her account was so simple and yet so heartrending that it affected me
strongly, and probably her story, impressing itself on the cells of my
already overwrought brain, led up to what followed.

All of a sudden the lady ceased talking, and, gazing at me with a look
of dismay, exclaimed, sympathetically--

"Are you ill?"

"I?"

"Yes, you look ill. You should try and get some sleep."

"To tell you the truth, I never closed my eyes last night, and I am
over-tired. I've been suffering from sleeplessness for some time, and
nothing seems to be able to procure me the much-needed rest."

"Let me try. Go to bed at once. I will give you a draught that will
send you to sleep standing."

She rose, pushed me gently before her, and forced me to go to bed.
Then she disappeared for a moment and returned with a small flask,
containing a sleeping draught. She gave me a dose in a spoon.

"Now you are sure to be able to sleep."

I thanked her, and she carefully covered me with the blankets. How well
she understood what she was about! She radiated warmth, that warmth
which a baby seeks in the arms of its mother. Under the gentle touch of
her hands I grew calm, and two minutes later unconsciousness began to
steal over me. I seemed to have become an infant again. I saw my mother
busying herself round my bed and caring for me. Gradually her fading
features mingled and became one with the finely-chiselled face of the
Baroness and the sympathetic expression of the compassionate nurse who
had just left me. In the care of these women, who hovered round my
bed, I faded away like a paling colour, went out like a candle, lost
consciousness.

When I awoke I did not remember any dream, but a fixed idea haunted
me, as if it had been suggested to me during my sleep: I must see the
Baroness again, or I shall go out of my mind!

Shivering with cold, I sprang from my bed; the salt-laden wind,
penetrating through every chink and cranny, had made it damp. When I
stepped out of my cabin the sky was pale grey, like iron. On deck the
great waves washed the tackling, watered the planks and splashed my
face with foam.

I looked at my watch and calculated the distance which the steamer
must have travelled while I slept. In my opinion we were now in the
archipelago of Norrköping; all hope of return was therefore dead.
Everything was strange to me, the scattered islands in the bay, the
rugged coast, the shape of the cottages dotted along the shore, and
the cut of the sails on the fishing-smacks. Amid these unfamiliar
surroundings I felt the first pangs of home-sickness. A sullen wrath
choked me, I felt a wild despair in finding myself packed on this
cargo-boat in spite of myself, in deference to a higher power, in the
imperious name of Honour!

When my wrath had exhausted itself, my strength had come to an end.
Leaning against the rail, I let the waves lash my burning face, while
my eyes greedily devoured the coastline, eager to discover a ray of
hope. And again and again my mind returned to the idea of swimming to
the shore.

For a long time I stood gazing at the swiftly-receding outlines of the
coast. The wind had dropped, and I grew calmer, rays of a tranquil
happiness illuminated my soul; the pressure on my surcharged brain
grew less; pictures of beautiful summer days, memories of my first
youth came into my mind, although I was at a loss to understand why I
should suddenly think of them. The boat was rounding a promontory: the
roofs of red houses with white garlands rose above the Scotch firs; a
flagstaff became visible, the gay patchwork of the gardens, a bridge, a
chapel, a church steeple, a graveyard.... Was it a dream? A delusion?

No, it was the quiet seaside place where I had spent many summers in my
student days. Up there was the tiny house where I had passed a night,
last spring, with her and him, after we had spent the day sailing on
the sea and wandering through the woods. It was there--there--on the
top of that hill, under the ash-trees, on the balcony, where I had seen
her delicate face, illuminated by the sunshine of her golden hair, and
crowned by the little Japanese hat with the blue veil, while her small,
gloved hand had beckoned me to come to dinner.... She was there now,
I could see her plainly, she was waving her handkerchief to me.... I
could hear her melodious voice ... but ... what was happening? The
boat was slowing down, the engine stopped ... the pilot cutter came to
meet us ... in an instant ... a flash of thought--a single, obsessing
thought, moved me with electric force--with the spring of a tiger I
bounded up the stairs which led to the bridge--I stood before the
captain--I shouted--

"Have me put ashore at once--or I shall go mad!"

The captain looked at me sharply, scrutinisingly, and without
vouchsafing a reply, dismayed as if he had looked into the face
of an escaped lunatic, he called to the second officer and said,
imperatively--

"Have this gentleman and his luggage put ashore. He is ill."

Before five minutes had elapsed, I was on board the pilot cutter; they
rowed with such vigour that we landed in a very short time.

I possess the remarkable gift of becoming blind and deaf when it suits
me. I was walking along the road leading to the hotel without having
heard or seen anything hurtful to my vanity; neither a glance from the
pilots, betraying that they guessed my secret, nor a disparaging remark
from the man who was carrying my luggage.

Arrived at the hotel, I asked for a room, ordered an absinthe, lighted
a cigar and began to reflect.

"Had I gone mad? Was I in such imminent peril of insanity that an
immediate landing had been necessary?"

In my present state of mind I was incapable of forming an opinion, for
a madman, according to the verdict of the doctors, is not conscious of
his mental disorder, and the association of his ideas proves nothing
against their irregularity. Like a scientist, I examined similar
occurrences which had happened to me before.

When I was still a boy at college, my nervous excitability, exaggerated
by exasperating events, passion, the suicide of a friend, distrust of
the future, had been increased to such an extent that everything filled
me with apprehension, even in broad daylight. I was afraid to stay in a
room by myself; I was haunted by my own spectre, and my friends took it
in turns to spend the night with me, while the candles burned and the
fire crackled in the stove.

Another time, in an attack of wild despair, following on all sorts of
misfortunes, I ran across country, wandered through the woods, and at
last climbed to the top of a pine tree. There I sat astride on a branch
and made a speech to the Scotch firs which spread out their branches
below me, endeavouring to drown their voices, imagining that I was a
speaker addressing an assembled crowd. It was not so very far from
here, on an island where I had spent many summers, and the headland of
which was plainly visible from where I stood.

Remembering that incident, with all its ridiculous details, I could
not help admitting to myself that, at any rate at times, I was subject
to mental delusions.

What was I to do now? Should I communicate with my friends before the
rumour of my attack had reached the town? But the disgrace and shame
of having to acknowledge that henceforth I was on a level with the
irresponsible! The thought was unbearable.

Lie, then! Double without being able to throw the pursuers off the
scent. It went against the grain. Tormented by doubts, hesitating
between different plans of escape from this maze, I longed to run away
in order to be spared the terrible questions which awaited me. Like
a wild beast which feels the approach of death, I thought of hiding
myself in the wood to die.

With that idea in my mind, I went slowly through the narrow streets.
I climbed over huge rocks, saturated and rendered slippery by the
autumnal rains, crossed a stubble field, reached the little house where
I once had lived. The shutters were tightly closed; the wild vine
which covered the walls up to the roof was stripped of its leaves,
and the green lattice-work was plainly visible. As I stood again upon
that sacred spot, sacred to my heart because it had seen the first
blossoming of our friendship, the sense of my loss, which for a time
had been forced into the background, reasserted itself. Leaning against
one of the supports of the wooden balcony, I wept like a forsaken child.

I remembered having read in the _Thousand and One Nights_ that lovers
fall ill with unsatisfied longing, and that their cure depends entirely
on the possession of the beloved one. Snatches of Swedish folk-songs
came into my mind, about young maidens who, in despair of ever being
united to the object of their affections, waste away, and bid their
mothers prepare their deathbeds for them. I thought of Heine, the old
sceptic, who sings of the tribe of the Asra, "who die when they love."
There could have been no doubt of the genuineness of my passion, for I
had gone back to childhood, obsessed by one thought, one picture, one
single, overpowering sensation, prostrating me and rendering me unable
to do anything but sigh.

To distract my thoughts, I let my eyes travel over the glorious
landscape spread out at my feet. The thousands of islands bristling
with Scotch firs, with here and there a pine tree, which seemed to
swim in the enormous bay, gradually decreased in size and transformed
themselves into reefs, cliffs and sandbanks, until the huge archipelago
terminated at the grey-green line of the Baltic, where the breakers
dashed against the steep bulwarks of the remotest cliffs.

The shadows of the drifting clouds fell in coloured strips on the
surface of the water, passing from dark brown through all the shades
of bottle-green and Prussian blue to the snowy white of the crested
waves. Behind a fortress, situated on a steep cliff, rose a column of
black smoke, ascending without a break from an invisible chimney, to be
blown down again by the wind on to the foaming waves. All of a sudden
the dark hull of the cargo-boat which I had just left came into view.
The sight wrung my heart, for the steamer seemed like a witness of my
disgrace. Like a shying horse, I bolted and fled into the wood.

Underneath the pointed arches of the Scotch firs, through the needles
of which the wind whistled, my anguish increased. Here we had been
walking together when the spring sunshine lay on the tender green,
when the Scotch firs put forth their purple blossoms, which exhale a
perfume like that of the wild strawberry; when the juniper scattered
its yellow pollen into the wind; when the anemones pushed their white
heads through the dead leaves under the hazel bushes. Her little feet
had pressed the soft, brown moss, spread out like a rug, while with
a silvery voice she had sung her Finnish songs. Guided by the clear
light of remembrance, I found again the two gigantic trees, grown
together in an unending embrace; the two trunks were bending to the
violent gusts of the wind, and rubbed against each other with a grating
noise. From here she had taken a little footpath to gather a water-lily
which grew in a swamp.

With the zeal of a setter I tried to discover the trace of her pretty
foot, the imprint of which, however light, I felt sure I could not
miss. With bent shoulders and eyes glued to the ground, I searched
the path without finding anything. The ground was covered with the
foot-prints of the deer, and I might just as well have tried to follow
the trail of a wood nymph, than discover the spot which the dainty shoe
of the adored woman had trod. Nothing but mud-holes, refuse, fungi,
toadstools, puff-balls, decaying and decayed, and the broken stalks of
flowers. Arrived at the edge of the swamp, which was filled with black
water, I found a certain fleeting comfort in the thought that it had
once reflected the sweetest face in all the world. In vain I looked for
the spot where the water lilies grew; it was covered up by dead leaves,
blown down by the wind from the birch trees.

I retraced my footsteps and plunged into the heart of the forest; the
soughing of the wind in the branches deepened with the growing size
of the trees. In the very depth of despair I sobbed aloud, the tears
raining down my cheeks; like a wild stag I trampled on the fungi
and toadstools, tore up the young plants, dashed myself against the
trees. What did I want? I didn't know myself. My pulses throbbed, an
inexpressible longing to see her again came over me. She, whom I loved
too deeply for desire, had taken possession of my soul. And now that
everything was at an end, I longed to die, for life without her was
impossible.

But, with the cunning of a madman, I decided to get some satisfaction
out of my death by contracting pneumonia, or a similar fatal disease;
for in that case, I argued, I should have to be in bed for some time; I
could see her again and could kiss her hand in saying good-bye for ever.

Comforted by this sudden thought, I turned my steps towards the coast;
it was not difficult to find it, I had but to be guided by the roar of
the breakers, which led me across the wood.

The coast was precipitous and the water deep, everything as it should
be. With careful attention, which betrayed nothing of my sinister
purpose, I undressed myself; I hid my clothes in a plantation of alder
trees and pushed my watch into a hole in the rock. The wind was cold;
at this time of the year, in October, the temperature of the water
could be but a few degrees above freezing-point. I took a run over
the rocks and threw myself headlong into the water, aiming at a cleft
between two gigantic waves. I felt as if I had fallen into red-hot
lava. But I rose quickly to the surface, dragging up with me pieces of
seaweed which I had glimpsed at the bottom, and the tiny vesicles of
which were scratching my legs. I swam out into the open sea, breasting
the huge waves, greeted by the laughter of the sea gulls and the cawing
of the crows. When my strength began to fail, I turned and swam back to
the cliff.

Now the moment of greatest importance had arrived. According to all
instructions given to bathers, the real danger consists in remaining
too long out of the water in a state of nudity. I sat down on the rock
which was most fully exposed to the wind, and allowed the October gale
to lash my bare back. My muscles, my chest immediately contracted, as
if the instinct of self-preservation would protect the vital organs at
any price. But I was unable to remain on the same spot, and, seizing
the branch of an alder tree, I climbed to its top. The tree swayed
with the convulsive, uncontrollable movements of my muscles. In this
way I succeeded in remaining in the same place for some time. The icy
air scorched my skin like a red-hot iron.

At last I was convinced that I had attained my end, and hastily dressed
myself.

In the meantime night had fallen. When I re-entered the wood it was
quite dark. Terror seized me; I knocked my head against the lower
branches of the trees, and was obliged to feel my way along. Suddenly,
under the influence of my frantic fear, my senses became so acute
that I could tell the variety of the trees which surrounded me by the
rustling of their branches. What depth there was in the bass of the
Scotch firs, with their firm and closely-set needles, forming, as it
were, gigantic guitars; the tall and more pliable stems of the pines
gave a higher note; their sibilant fife resembled the hissing of a
thousand snakes; the dry rustling of the branches of the birch trees
recalled to me memories of my childhood, with its mingled griefs and
pleasures; the rustling of the dead leaves clinging to the branches
of the oaks sounded like the rustling of paper; the muttering of the
junipers was almost like the whispering voices of women, telling each
other secrets. The gale tore off the branch of an alder tree, and it
crashed to the ground with a hollow thud. I could have distinguished
a pine cone from the cone of a Scotch fir by the sound it made in
falling; my sense of smell detected the proximity of a mushroom, and
the nerves of my large toe seemed to feel whether it trod on soil,
clubmoss or maidenhair.

Guided by the acuteness of my sensations, I came to the enclosure of
the graveyard, and walked up the wooden steps. I felt a momentary
pleasure in the sound of the weeping willow lashing the tombstones
which they overhung. At last, stiff with cold, shaking at every
unexpected noise, I reached the village and walked past the houses,
which shone feebly in the dark, to the hotel.

As soon as I had arrived in my room I sent off a telegram to the Baron,
informing him of my sudden illness and enforced landing. Then I drew
up for him a full statement of my mental condition, mentioning my
former attacks, and asking him to keep the matter quiet. I gave him to
understand that my illness was caused by the conduct of my unfaithful
love, whose publicly announced engagement had robbed me of all hope.

I went to bed exhausted, certain of having contracted a fatal fever.
Then I rang for the servant and asked her to send for a doctor. On
her reply that no doctor was available, I begged her to send for a
clergyman, so that I could make my last wishes known to him.

And from that moment I was prepared to die or go out of my mind.

The clergyman appeared almost immediately. He was a man about thirty,
and looked like a farm laborer in Sunday clothes. Red-haired and
freckled, with a half-vacant look in his eyes, he did not inspire me
with sympathy; for a long time I could find no words, for I did not
know what to say to this man, who possessed neither education, the
wisdom of age, nor a knowledge of the human heart.

He remained standing in the centre of the room, self-conscious, like a
provincial in the presence of the inhabitant of a large city, until I
motioned him to take a chair.

Then he began his cross-examination.

"You have sent for me, sir? You are in trouble?"

"Yes."

"There is no happiness but in Jesus."

Although I was hankering after quite another sort of happiness, I did
not contradict him, and the evangelist rambled on, uninterruptedly,
monotonously, verbosely. The old tenets of the catechism lulled me
gently to sleep, and the presence of a human being entering into
spiritual relationship with my soul gave me new strength.

But the preacher, suddenly doubting my sincerity, interrupted his
discourse with a question--

"Do you hold the true faith?"

"No," I replied, "but go on speaking, your words are doing me good...."

And he returned to his work.

The monotonous sound of his voice, the radiations from his eyes, the
warmth which emanated from his body, affected me like a magnetic fluid.
In half-an-hour's time I was fast asleep.

When I awoke, the mesmerist had gone; the servant brought me a
sleeping-draught, with strict injunctions from the chemist to be
careful, as the bottle contained sufficient poison to kill a man.
Needless to say, as soon as she had turned her back, I drank the whole
contents of the flask at a gulp. Then, firmly determined to die, I
buried myself under the blankets, and sleep was not long in coming.

When I opened my eyes on the following morning I was not in the least
surprised to find my room flooded by the rays of a brilliant sun, for
my sleep had been visited by bright and rosy dreams.

"I dream, therefore I exist," I said to myself. I felt my body all
over, so as to discern the height of the fever, or the presence of any
signs of pneumonia. But, in spite of my firm resolution to bring about
a crisis, my condition was fairly normal. My brain, although a little
stupefied, functioned easily, no longer under the high pressure of the
previous day, and twelve hours' sleep had fully restored the vigor
which, thanks to bodily exercises of all descriptions, practised since
my early youth, I usually enjoyed.

... A telegram was handed me. My friends were informing me that they
would arrive by the two o'clock boat.

I was overwhelmed with shame. What was I to say? What attitude was I to
adopt?... I reflected....

My reawakened manhood rebelled against humiliating resolutions; after
a hasty review of the circumstances, I decided to remain at the hotel
until I had completely recovered, and continue my journey by the next
steamer. In this way honour would be saved, and the visit from my
friends would be but one more leave-taking--the very last.

When I remembered what had occurred on the previous day, I hated
myself. That I, the strong-minded, the sceptic, should have committed
such absurdities! And that clergyman's visit! How was I to explain
that? It was true, I had only sent for him in his official capacity,
and, as far as I was concerned, he had but acted as a hypnotist! But to
outsiders it was bound to look like a conversion. Monstrous confessions
would very likely be hinted at, a criminal's last avowal of his crime
on his deathbed. What a pretty topic for the villagers who stood in
close communication with the town! What a treat for the porters!

A trip abroad, undertaken at once, was the only way out of this
unbearable situation. Like a castaway, I spent the morning in walking
up and down before the verandah, watching the barometer, studying the
time-tables. Time passed fairly rapidly. The steamer appeared at the
mouth of the estuary before I had made up my mind whether to walk to
the landing-stage or remain at the hotel. As I had no desire to be
stared at by an inquisitive crowd, I at last went to my room.

A few minutes later I heard the voice of the Baroness: she was making
inquiries of the landlady about my health. I went out to meet her, and
she almost kissed me before the eyes of all the by-standers. With a
heart full to overflowing, she deplored my illness, which she regarded
as the result of overwork, and advised me to return to town, and put
off my journey until the spring.

She was beautiful to-day. In her closely-fitting fur coat, with its
long and supple hairs, she looked like a llama. The sea-breezes had
brought the blood to her cheeks, and in her eyes, magnified by the
excitement of her visit, I could read an expression of infinite
tenderness. In vain I begged her not to alarm herself on my account,
and assured her that I had almost fully recovered. She found that I
looked like a corpse, declared me unfit for work, and treated me like
a child. And how sweetly she played the part of a mother! The tone of
her voice was a caress; she playfully used terms of endearment; she
wrapped her shawl around me; at table she spread my dinner-napkin over
my knees, poured out some wine for me, looked after me in every way. I
wondered why she did not thus devote herself to her child rather than
to the man who was all the time striving to hide his passion, which
threatened to defy all control.

In this disguise of the sick child, it seemed to me that I was like the
wolf who, after having devoured the grandmother, lies down on her bed
waiting for Little Red Riding-hood, that he may devour her also.

I blushed before this unsophisticated and sincere husband, who
overwhelmed me with kindness, asked for no explanations. And yet I was
not at fault. I obstinately hardened my heart, and received all the
attentions which the Baroness showered on me with an almost insulting
indifference.

At dessert, when the time for the return journey had come, the Baron
proposed that I should return with them. He offered me a room in his
house which, he said, was waiting to receive me. I am glad to say that
my answer was a decided refusal. Terrified at this dangerous playing
with fire, I was firm in my decision. I would stay here for a week to
recover entirely, and then return to town to my old attic.

In spite of all their objections, I persisted. Strange; as soon as I
pulled myself together and made a determined stand, the Baroness became
almost hostile to me. The more I vacillated and humored her whims, the
fonder she seemed of me, the more she praised my wisdom, my amiability.
She swayed and bewildered me, but as soon as I opposed her seriously,
she turned her back on me and treated me with dislike, almost with
rudeness.

While we were discussing the Baron's proposal to live under one roof,
she drew a glowing picture of such an arrangement, dwelling on the
pleasantness of being able to see one another at any time without a
previous invitation.

"But, my dear Baroness," I objected, "what would people say if you were
to receive a bachelor into your young _ménage_?"

"What does it matter what people say?"

"But your mother, your aunt? Moreover, my man's pride rebels against a
measure which is only permissible in the case of a minor."

"Bother your man's pride! Do you think it manly to perish without
opening your lips?"

"Yes, it behooves a man to be strong."

She grew angry, and refused to admit that a man's case differed from
that of a woman. Her woman's logic confused my brain. I turned to the
Baron, whose answering smile showed plainly what a small opinion he had
of female brain-power.

About six o'clock the steamer weighed anchor and bore my friends away.
I returned to the hotel alone.

It was a splendid evening. The sun had set in an orange-coloured sky,
white stripes were lying on the deep blue water, a coppery moon was
rising behind the Scotch firs.

I was sitting at a table in the dining-room, lost in thought, now
mournful, now serene, and did not notice the landlady until she stood
close by me.

"The lady who's just left is your sister, isn't she?" she asked.

"Not at all."

"Isn't she? How strangely you resemble one another! I should have sworn
that you are brother and sister."

I was not in the mood to continue such a conversation, but it left me
in a ferment of thoughts.

Had my constant intercourse with the Baroness affected the expression
of her features? Or had the expression of her face influenced mine
during this six months' union of our souls? Had the instinctive desire
to please one another at any price been the cause of an unconscious
selection of gestures and expressions, suppressing the less pleasing
in favour of the more seductive? It was not at all unthinkable that a
blending of our souls had taken place, and that we no longer belonged
to ourselves. Destiny, or rather instinct, had played its fateful,
inevitable part; the ball had been set rolling, overthrowing and
destroying everything that barred its way: honour, reason, happiness,
loyalty, wisdom, virtue!

... And this guilelessness to propose to receive under her roof an
ardent young man, a man of the age when the passions are so strong
that control is often almost impossible! Was she vicious, or had love
obscured her reason? Vicious! No, a thousand times no! I appreciated
her candid ways, her gaiety, her sincerity, her motherly tenderness.
That she was eccentric, that her mind was badly balanced, she had
herself acknowledged in speaking of her faults--but vicious? No! Even
the little tricks which she occasionally resorted to in order to
cheer me up were much more the tricks of a mature woman who amuses
herself by teasing and bewildering a timid youth, and then laughs at
his confusion, than those of a coquette whose object it is to excite a
man's passions.

But I must exorcise the demon, and continue to mislead my friends.
I sat down at the writing-table and wrote a letter on the hackneyed
subject of my unhappy love affair. I added two impassioned poems
entitled "To Her"--poems which could be understood in two ways. It was
open to the Baroness to be annoyed.

Letter and poems remained unanswered; perhaps the trick had grown
threadbare, perhaps the subject was no longer found interesting.

The calm and tranquil days which followed hastened my recovery. The
surrounding landscape seemed to have adopted the favourite colours of
the adored woman. The wood, in which I had spent hours of purgatory,
now smiled on me. Never in my morning rambles did I find as much as the
shadow even of a painful memory lurking in its deep recesses, where
I had fought with all the demons of the human heart. Her visit, and
the certainty that I should see her again, had given me back life and
reason.



VII


Knowing from experience that nobody who returns unexpectedly is quite
welcome, it was not without a feeling of constraint, not without
misgivings, that I called on the Baroness as soon as I was back in town.

In the front garden everything proclaimed the winter; the trees were
bare, the garden seats had been removed; there were gaps in the fence
where the gates had been; the wind was playing with the withered leaves
on the paths; the cellar holes were stuffed with straw.

I found it difficult to breathe in the close atmosphere of the
drawing-room, heated by a tiled stove. Fixed to the walls, the stoves
had the appearance of sheets suspended from the ceiling, large and
white. The double-windows hung in their hinges, every chink was
pasted over with paper; the space between the inner and outer windows
was filled with snow-white cotton wool, giving the large room the
appearance of a death-chamber. In imagination I endeavoured to strip
it of its semi-fashionable furniture, and recall its former aspect of
rough homeliness. In those days the walls had been bare, the floor
plain deal; the memory of the black dinings table, which could boast of
no cover and with its eight legs resembled a huge spider, called up the
severe faces of my father and stepmother.

The Baroness received me cordially, but her melancholy face betrayed
grief. Both uncle and father-in-law were there, playing cards with the
Baron in an adjoining room. I shook hands with the players, and then
returned with the Baroness into the drawing-room. She sat down in an
arm-chair underneath the lamp and took up some crochet work. Taciturn,
morose, not at all pretty, she left the conversation entirely to me,
and since she made no replies, it soon degenerated into a monologue.

I watched her from my chimney comer as she sat with drooping head,
bending over her work. Profoundly mysterious, lost in thought, she
seemed at times oblivious of my presence. I wondered whether I had
called at an inconvenient time, or whether my return to town had really
created the unfavourable impression which I had half anticipated. All
at once my eyes, travelling round the room, were arrested by a display
of her ankles underneath the tablecloth. I beheld her finely-shaped
calf, clothed in a white stocking; a gaily embroidered garter belted
that charming muscle which turns a man's brain because it stimulates
his imagination and tempts him to the construction of the whole of the
remaining form. Her arched foot with its high instep was dressed in a
Cinderella's slipper.

At the time I took it for an accident, but later on I learned that a
woman is always conscious of being looked at when she exhibits more
than her ankles. Fascinated by the sight I changed the conversation,
and aptly turned it on the subject of my supposed love affair.

She drew herself up, turned towards me, and glanced at me sharply.

"You can at least pride yourself on being a faithful lover!"

My eyes remained riveted on the spot underneath the tablecloth, where
the snowy stocking shone below the cherry-coloured ribbon. With an
effort I pulled myself together; we looked at each other; her pupils
shone large in the lamplight.

"Unfortunately I can!" I replied dryly.

The sound of the falling cards and the exclamations of the players
accompanied this brief passage of arms.

A painful silence ensued. She resumed her crochet work, and with a
quick movement allowed the skirts to drop over her ankles. The spell
was broken. My eyes were gazing at a listless woman, badly dressed.
Before another quarter of an hour had gone by I took my leave,
pretending that I did not feel well.

As soon as I arrived in my attic I brought out my play, which I had
resolved to re-write. Hard work would help me to get over this hopeless
love, otherwise bound to end in a crime from which inclination,
instinct, cowardice and education made me shrink. And once more I
decided to break off these fatal relations.

An unexpected incident came to my assistance: two days later the
cataloguing of a library, belonging to a collector who lived at some
distance from the town, was offered to me.

And thus I came to pitch my tent in a spacious room, lined with books
up to the ceiling, of an old manor house dating from the seventeenth
century. Sitting there, I could let my imagination travel through
all the epochs of my country's history. The whole Swedish literature
was represented, from the old prints of the fifteenth century to
the latest publications. I gave myself up to my work, eager to find
forgetfulness--and I succeeded. A week had elapsed and I had never once
missed my friends. On Saturday, the day on which the Baroness generally
was "at home," an orderly brought me an invitation from the Baron,
full of friendly rebuke for having kept away from them so long. I was
half-pleased, half-sorry to find myself able to send an amiable refusal
in reply, regretting that my time was no longer my own.

When a second week had gone by another orderly, in full dress, brought
me another communication; this time it came from the Baroness. It was
a rather curt request to call and see her husband, who, she said, was
laid up with a cold. She begged me to let them have news of me. It was
impossible to make further excuses, and so I went.

The Baroness did not look well, and the slightly indisposed Baron
seemed bored. He was in bed, and I was asked to go and see him. The
sight of this Holy of Holies, which I had been spared up to now,
excited my instinctive repugnance; this sharing of a common room by a
married couple, this perpetual presence of a witness on the thousand
occasions which demand privacy, revolted me. The large bed which the
Baron occupied, brazenly proclaimed the intimacy of their union; the
heap of pillows, piled up by the side of the sick man, boldly marked
the wife's place. The dressing-table, the wash-stands, the towels,
everything struck me as being unclean, and I had to make myself blind
to overcome my disgust.

After a few words at the foot end of the bed, the Baroness invited me
to take a glass of liqueur in the drawing-room, and, as if she had
divined them, she gave expression to my thoughts as soon as we were
alone. In short, disjointed sentences she poured out her heart to me.

"Isn't it wretched?"

"What?"

"You know what I mean.... A woman's existence: without an object in
life, without a future, without occupation. It's killing me!"

"But your child, Baroness! It will soon be time to begin her
education.... And she may have brothers and sisters...."

"I will have no more children! Am I in the world for the sole purpose
of being a nurse?"

"Not a nurse, but a mother in the highest meaning of the word, equal to
her task."

"Mother or housekeeper! Thank you! One can hire a housekeeper! It's
easier. And then? How am I to occupy myself? I have two maids,
excellent substitutes. No! I want to live...."

"Go on the stage?"

"Yes!"

"But that's out of the question!"

"I know that only too well! And it irritates me, makes me stupid ...
kills me!"

"What about a literary career? It's not in such bad repute as the
stage!"

"The dramatic art is, in my opinion, the highest of all arts. Come
what may, I shall never cease to regret the fact that I have missed my
vocation. And what have I got in exchange?... A disappointment!"

The Baron called to us, and we returned to his bedside.

"What was she talking about?" he asked me.

"We were talking about the theatre," I replied.

"She's crazy!"

"Not as crazy as you think," retorted the Baroness, and left the room,
slamming the door.

"She doesn't sleep at night," began the husband, growing confidential.

"No?"

"She plays the piano, she lies on the sofa, or, rather, she chooses the
hours of the night to do her accounts. For heaven's sake, my dear young
sage, tell me what I'm to do to put an end to this madness!"

"Perhaps if she had a large family?" I ventured.

He pulled a face, then he tried to look unconcerned.

"She was very ill after her first baby was born ... and the doctor has
warned her ... and moreover, children cost so much.... You understand?"

I understood, and I took care not to refer again to the subject. I was
too young at the time to know that it is the patient who orders the
doctor what to prescribe for her.

Presently the Baroness returned with her little girl, and began to put
her to bed in her small iron cot. But the little one refused to be
undressed, and began to scream. After a few futile attempts to calm
her, her mother threatened her with the rod.

I cannot bear to see a child being punished without losing my temper. I
remembered on one such occasion raising my hand against my own father.
I allowed my anger to get the better of me, and interfered.

"Allow me," I said ... "but do you think that a child cries without a
reason?"

"She's naughty."

"Then there's some cause for it. Perhaps she's sleepy, and our presence
and the lamplight irritate her."

She agreed, taken aback, and, perhaps, conscious that her shrewish
conduct had produced an unfavourable impression on me.

This glimpse of her home life cured me for some weeks of my love, and
I must confess that the scene with the rod had contributed more than
anything else to my disillusion.

The autumn dragged on monotonously and Christmas drew near. The arrival
of a newly-married couple from Finland, friends of the Baroness,
brought a little more life in our relationship, which had lost much of
its charm. Thanks to the Baroness, I received numerous invitations, and
presented myself in evening dress at suppers, dinners and occasionally
even at a dance.

While moving in this, her world, which in my opinion lacked dignity,
I could not help noticing that the Baroness, under cover of an
exaggerated candour, paid a great deal of attention to the young men,
watching me furtively all the while, however, to see the effect of her
conduct on me. Irritated and disgusted by her brazen flirtations,
which I considered bad form, I responded by a callouse indifference.
It hurt me that the woman whom I adored should behave like a vulgar
coquette.

She always seemed to be enjoying herself immensely, and prolonged the
parties till the small hours of the morning; I became the more and more
convinced that she was discontented and bored with her home life; that
her longing for an artistic career was dictated by a petty vanity,
a desire to be seen and enjoy herself. Vivacious, full of exuberant
spirits, of a restless disposition, she possessed the art to shine;
she was always the centre of a crowd, more in consequence of a certain
gift to attract people than because of her natural charms. Her great
vitality, her nervous excitability, compelled the most refractory to
listen to her, to pay homage to her. And I also noticed that as soon
as her nervous force was exhausted, the spell was broken, and she was
left sitting alone and unnoticed in a quiet corner. Ambitious, yearning
for power, perhaps heartless, she took care that the men paid her every
attention; the society of women had no attraction for her.

Doubtless, she had made up her mind to see me at her feet, doting,
vanquished, sighing. One day, after an evening of triumph, she told
one of her friends that I was head over ears in love with her. When
I called at her friend's house a short time afterwards, I stupidly
remarked that I had hoped to meet the Baroness.

"Oh, indeed!" laughed the lady of the house, "you haven't come to see
me then! How unkind of you!"

"Well, I haven't. To tell you the truth, I'm here by appointment."

"A tryst, then!"

"You may call it so, if you like! Anyhow, you'll give me credit for
having put in a prompt appearance!"

The meeting had indeed been arranged by the Baroness. I had but carried
out her instructions in calling. She had given me away to save her own
skin.

I paid her out by spoiling a number of parties for her, for my absence
robbed her of the enjoyment which she drew from the contemplation of
my sufferings. But I had to pay a heavy penalty! Watching the houses
to which I knew her to be invited, I plunged the dagger into my heart,
trembling with jealous rage whenever I saw her, in the arms of a
partner, gliding past the windows in her blue silk dress, with her
sunny curls rising and falling in the quick movements of the dance,
with her charming figure, on the tiniest feet in the world.



VIII


We had navigated the cape of the New Year and spring was approaching.
We had spent the winter in gay festivities, in intimate companionship,
the three of us. But it had all been very dreary: we had quarrelled
and become reconciled, fought battles and made armistices, teased one
another and become the best of friends again. I had stayed away and had
come back.

Now March was near, a fateful month in the countries of the north,
because passion becomes all-powerful and the destinies of lovers
are fulfilled: vows are broken, the ties of honour, of family, of
friendship are set side.

The Baron was on duty early in the month, and invited me to spend a day
with him at the guard-house. I accepted his invitation. A son of the
people, a descendant of the middle-classes, cannot but be impressed by
the insignia of the highest power in the land. At the side of my friend
I walked along the passage, continually saluted by passing officers; I
listened to the rattling of the swords; the "Who goes there?" of the
sentinels, the beating of the drums. We arrived at the guard-room. The
military decorations of the room stirred my imagination; the portraits
of the great generals filled me with reverence; the colours taken at
Lützen and Leipzic, the new flags, the bust of the reigning king, the
helmets, the resplendent breast-pieces, the plans of battles, all these
roused in me that feeling of uneasiness which the lower classes feel in
contemplating the symbols of the ruling powers. And in his impressive
surroundings the personality of the captain became more imposing; I
kept close to his side in case any unpleasantness should arise.

As we entered a lieutenant rose and saluted, standing, and I, too, felt
myself the superior of these lieutenants, the sworn foes of the sons of
the people, and the authors' rivals in the favour of the ladies.

A soldier brought us a bowl of punch, and we lighted our cigars. The
Baron, anxious to amuse me, showed me the Golden Book of the regiment,
an artistic collection of sketches, water paintings and drawings, all
of them representing distinguished officers, who had during the last
twenty years belonged to the Royal Guards; portraits of the men who
had been the envy and admiration of my school friends, whom they had
aped in their boyish games. It tickled my middle-class instincts to see
all those favourites of fortune caricatured in this book, and counting
on the applause of the democratic Baron, I indulged in little sallies
at the expense of those disarmed rivals. But the boundary-line of the
Baron's democratic sympathies differed from mine, and he resented my
sallies; the spirit of caste prevailed: he turned the leaves more
quickly, and did not stop until he came to a large drawing representing
the insurrection of 1868.

"Look at this!" he said, with a sarcastic smile, "how we charged into
that mob!"

"Did you take part in it?"

"Didn't I! I was on duty that day, and my orders were to protect the
stand opposite the monument which the mob was attacking. A stone hit
my helmet. I was Serving out the cartridges, when a royal messenger
on horseback arrived and stopped my little band from firing. But I
remained proof-butt and target for the stones thrown by the crowd.
That's all I ever got for my democratic sympathies."

And after a pause he continued, still laughing and trying to catch my
eye--

"You remember the occasion?"

"Perfectly," I said; "I was walking in the procession of the students."
But I did not mention the fact that I was one of that special mob on
which he had been so anxious to fire. My sense of justice had been
outraged because that particular stand had been reserved for a favoured
few and denied to the people on a public festival. I had been on the
side of the attacking party, and had not forgotten the stones which I
had flung at the soldiers.

The moment I heard him pronounce the word "mob" with aristocratic
disdain, I remembered and understood my feeling of discomfort in
entering the enemy's fortress, and the sudden change which had come
over my friend's features at my sarcasms depressed me. The hatred
of race, the hatred of caste, tradition, rose between us like an
insurmountable barrier, and as I regarded him sitting there, the
sword between his knees--a sword of honour, the hilt of which was
ornamented with the name and crown of the royal giver--I felt strongly
that our friendship was but an artificial one, the work of a woman,
who constituted the only link between us. The haughty tone of his
voice, the expression of his face, seemed more and more in harmony
with his surroundings and took him further and further away from me.
To bridge over the gulf which separated us, I changed the conversation
and inquired after his wife and little daughter. Instantly his brow
cleared, his features relaxed and resumed their normal expression of
good-nature. Seeing him look at me with the benevolent eyes of the ogre
caressing Tom Thumb, I made bold to pull three hairs out of the ogre's
beard.

"Cousin Matilda is expected at Easter, isn't she?" I asked.

"She is."

"I shall make love to her."

He emptied his glass. "You can try," he sneered, with a murderous
scowl.

"Try? Is it possible that her affections are otherwise engaged?"

"Not ... that I know of! But ... I think I may say that.... Well, you
can try!"

And with a tone of deepest conviction--

"You may be sure to get your money's worth!"

This sneering remark was an insult, and roused my desire to defy him.
If I made love to that other woman, it might not only save me from my
criminal passion, but it would also give satisfaction to the Baroness,
whose legitimate feelings had been outraged.

It had grown dark. I rose to go home. The captain accompanied me past
the sentinels. We shook hands at the barrier gate, which he slammed
after me as if he wanted to challenge me.

       *       *       *       *       *

Spring had come. The snow had melted, the streets were free from
ice. Half-starved children were selling little bunches of liverwort
in the streets. The windows of the flower-shops glowed with azaleas,
rhododendron and other early blossoms; golden oranges gleamed in the
greengrocers' shops; lobsters, radishes and cauliflower appeared on
the costers' barrows. Under the North Bridge the waves reflected the
rays of the sun. On the quays the steamers were being newly rigged and
painted in sea-green and scarlet. The men who had grown weak in the
winter darkness, recovered in the sunlight. Woe to the weakling when
love gives free play to the long-restrained passions!

The pretty little she-devil had arrived, and was staying with the
Baroness.

I paid her a great deal of attention. She had apparently been informed
of my designs, and consequently she amused herself with me. We had been
playing a duet, and she was leaning against my left arm with her right
shoulder. The Baroness noticed it and winced. The Baron glared at me
with jealous rage. At one moment he was jealous of his wife, at the
next he accused me of flirting with the cousin. Whenever he left his
wife, to whisper in a corner to Matilda, and I started a conversation
with the Baroness, he lost his temper and interrupted our conversation
with an irrelevant question. I answered him with a sarcastic smile, and
sometimes I took no notice whatever of him.

One evening we were all having supper in the strictest family circle.
The mother of the Baroness was present. She had grown fond of me, and
with the prevision frequently met with in old women, suspected that
something was going on behind the scenes.

Following an impulse of motherly love, dreading some unknown danger,
she seized my hands, and holding me with her eyes said gravely--

"I'm sure that you're a man of honour. I don't know what's going on
in this house. But promise me that you will watch over my daughter,
my only child, and if ever anything should happen ... which must not
happen, promise that you will come to me and tell me everything."

"I promise," I answered, and kissed her hand in the Russian fashion,
for she had been married to a Russian for many years and had been left
a widow not very long ago.

And I shall keep my promise!

We were dancing on the edge of a crater. The Baroness had grown pale,
emaciated, plain. The Baron was jealous, rude and insolent. If I stayed
away for a day or two, he sent for me; received me with open arms and
tried to explain everything by a misunderstanding, while in reality we
understood each other only too well.

The Lord knows what was going on in this house!

One evening the charming Matilda had retired into her bedroom to try
on a ball dress. The Baron quietly disappeared soon after, leaving me
alone with his wife. After half-an-hour had gone by, I asked what had
become of her husband?

"He's playing lady's maid to Matilda," she replied.

I understood. Presently, evidently regretting her words, she added--

"There's no harm in it; they're relations. One shouldn't be too ready
to think evil!"

Then she changed her tone.

"Are you jealous?"

"Are you?"

"Perhaps I shall be by and by."

"God grant that you will be soon! It's the wish of a true friend."

The Baron returned, and with him the girl, dressed in a pale green
evening dress, cut very low.

I pretended to be dazzled by her appearance, and screening my eyes with
both my hands, exclaimed--

"Don't you know that it's dangerous to look at you?"

"Isn't she lovely?" asked the Baroness in a strange voice.

After a short time the couple withdrew, and for the second time we were
left by ourselves.

"Why are you so unkind to me these days?" she asked, with tears in her
voice, gazing at me wistfully, with the eyes of an ill-treated dog.

"I?... I had no idea that...."

"You've changed towards me; I wonder why.... If I'm to blame in any
way...."

She pushed her chair closer to mine, looked at me with luminous eyes,
trembled and ... I jumped up.

"The Baron's absence is really extraordinary, don't you think so? This
confidence on his part is insulting!"

"What d'you mean?"

"It's not right of him to leave his wife alone with a young man and
shut himself up with a girl....

"You're right, it's an insult to me.... But your manners!..."

"Never mind my manners! It's hateful! I shall despise you if you won't
be more jealous of your dignity.... What are those two doing?"

"He's interested in Matilda's ball dress!" she answered, with an
innocent face and a fleeting smile. "What do you want me to do?"

"A man doesn't assist a woman at her toilet unless there are certain
relations between them."

"She is a child, he says, and looks upon him as a father."

"I should never allow any children to play 'papa and mamma,' much less
grown-up people."

The Baroness rose, went out of the room and returned with her husband.

We spent the rest of the evening in making experiments with animal
magnetism. I made a few passes over her forehead, and she acknowledged
that it calmed her nerves. But all of a sudden, just as she was going
into a trance, she shook herself, started to her feet, and looked at me
with troubled eyes.

"Let me go!" she exclaimed; "I won't! You are bewitching me!"

"It's your turn now to try your magnetic powers," I said, and I
submitted to the same treatment to which I had subjected her.

I sat with half-closed eyes; there was deep silence on the other side
of the piano; my glances strayed to the legs and the lyre-shaped pedal
of the instrument and ... I thought I must be dreaming, and sprang
up from my chair. At the same moment the Baron appeared from behind
the piano and offered me a glass of punch. The four of us raised our
glasses. The Baron looked at his wife--

"Drink to your reconciliation with Matilda," he pleaded.

"Your health, little witch!" exclaimed the Baroness with a smile, and
turning to me she added--

"I must tell you we quarrelled about you!"

For a moment I did not know how to reply. Then I asked her to explain
her words.

"No, no! no explanation!" answered a chorus of voices.

"That's a pity," I replied; "in my opinion we've been playing
'hide-and-seek' far too long."

The rest of the evening passed amid general constraint.

"Well, I don't care!" I muttered on my way home, searching my
conscience.

What was the meaning of all this? Was it nothing but the innocent whim
of a fantastic mind? Two women quarrelling over a man! They must be
jealous, then. Was the Baroness mad that she gave herself away in such
a manner? I did not think so. I felt sure there was something else at
the bottom of it.

"What _is_ going on in this house?" I asked myself, brooding over
the strange scene which had startled me in the evening, the very
improbability of which made me hesitate to believe that I had seen
anything really wrong.

This senseless jealousy, the apprehension of the old mother, the love
of the Baroness, stimulated by the spring air, all this confused my
mind, seethed and fermented in my brain, and after spending a sleepless
night, I decided for a second time not to see her again, and so prevent
the threatening calamity.

With this intention I arose in the morning and wrote her a sensible,
candid and humble letter; in carefully chosen language I protested
against an excessive abuse of friendship; firmly, without any
explanation, I asked for forgiveness of my sins, blamed myself for
having caused ill-feeling between relatives, and goodness knows what
else I said!

The result was that I met the Baroness, as if by accident, on leaving
the library at my usual time. She stopped me on the North Bridge, and
we walked together through one of the avenues leading to Charles XII
Square. Almost with tears in her eyes she entreated me to come back,
not to ask for explanations, but just to be one of them again as in the
old days.

She was charming this morning. But I loved her too dearly to compromise
her.

"Leave me! You are ruining your reputation," I said, watching the
passers-by, whose curious glances embarrassed us. "Go home at once, or
I shall leave you standing here!"

She looked at me with eyes so full of misery that I longed to kneel
down before her, kiss her feet and ask her forgiveness.

But instead I turned my back on her and hastily disappeared down a side
street.

After dinner I went home to my attic, glowing with the satisfaction of
a duty done, but with a broken heart. Her eyes haunted me.

A short rest gave me back my determination. I rose and looked at the
almanac which hung on the wall. It was the thirteenth of March. "Beware
the Ides of March!" These famous words, which Shakespeare quotes in his
_Julius Cæsar_, sounded in my ears as the servant entered, bringing me
a note from the Baron.

In it he begged me to spend a lonely evening with him, saying that his
wife was not well and that Matilda was going out.

I had not the nerve to refuse, and so I went.

The Baroness, more dead than alive, met me in the drawing-room, pressed
my hand against her heart and thanked me warmly for having resolved not
to rob her of a friend, a brother, for the sake of a mere nothing, a
misunderstanding.

"I really think she's going out of her mind," laughed the Baron,
releasing me from her hands.

"I _am_ mad, I know, mad with joy that our friend has come back to us
after he had decided to leave us for ever."

And she burst into tears.

"She's been suffering a great deal," explained her husband,
disconcerted by this scene.

And, indeed, she looked as if she were in a high fever. A sombre fire
burned in her eyes, which seemed to take up half of the little face;
her cheeks were of a greenish pallor. The sight of her hurt me. Her
frail body was shaken by fits of coughing.

Her uncle and father-in-law arrived unexpectedly. The fuel in the
great stove was replenished, and we sat down before the fire, without
lighting the lamps, to enjoy the cosy hour of the gathering twilight.

She took a seat by my side, while the three men began to talk politics.

I saw her eyes shine through the dusk, I felt the warmth which radiated
from her body.

Her skirts brushed against me, she leaned over to say something meant
for me alone, and attacked me with a whispered question--

"Do you believe in love?"

"No!"

My "no" struck her like a blow, for I had at the same time jumped up
and changed my seat.

She must be mad, I thought; and afraid of a scene I suggested that we
should have the lamps lighted.

During supper uncle and father-in-law discussed cousin Matilda
to their heart's content, praising her domesticity, her skill in
needlework. The Baron, who had drunk several glasses of punch, burst
out into extravagant eulogies and deplored, with alcoholic tears, the
unkind treatment to which the "dear child" was subjected at home. But
when apparently in the very depth of sympathetic sorrow, he suddenly
pulled out his watch and prepared to leave us, as if called away by the
stern voice of duty.

"You must excuse me, gentlemen," he said, "but I have promised Baby to
meet her and see her home. Don't let me disturb you, I shall be back in
an hour."

The old Baron, his father, vainly tried to detain him; his artful son
insisted on keeping his word and slipped away, after having extracted a
promise from me to await his return.

We remained at table for another quarter of an hour and then went into
the drawing-room; the two old gentlemen soon left us and retired to the
uncle's room, which the nephew had fitted up for him a little while ago.

I cursed fate for having caught me in a trap which I had done my utmost
to avoid. I steeled my throbbing heart; proudly, as a cock raises his
comb, I raised my head; my hair bristled like the hair of a sheep dog,
and I determined to crush at the outset any attempt to create a tearful
or amorous scene.

Leaning against the stove I smoked my cigar, silent, cold and stiff,
awaiting events.

The Baroness was the first to speak.

"Why do you hate me?"

"I don't hate you."

"Remember how you treated me only this morning!"

"Please, don't speak of it!"

The unaccustomed rudeness of my replies, for which there was no
adequate reason, was a strategical error. She saw through me and
changed her tactics.

"You wanted to run away from me," she continued. "Shall I tell you why
I suddenly went to Mariafred?"

"Probably for the same reason for which I decided to go to Paris."

"Then ... it's clear," she said.

"And now?"

I expected a scene. But she remained calm and regarded me mournfully.
I had to break the silence which was fraught with more danger than any
words could possibly contain.

"Now that you know my secret," I said, "let me give you a word of
warning. If you want me to come here occasionally, you mustn't ever
lose your head. My love for you is of such an exalted nature, that I
could live contentedly at your side, without any other wish but to see
you. If you should ever forget your duty, if you should betray by as
much as a look the secret which lies locked in our hearts, then I shall
confess everything to your husband, come what will!"

Carried away by my words, full of enthusiasm, she raised her eyes to
heaven.

"I swear it to you!... How strong and good you are!... How I admire
you! Oh! but I'm ashamed! I should like to surpass your honesty ...
shall I tell Gustav everything?"

"If you like ... but then we shall never meet again. After all, it's
not his business. The feelings which animate my heart are not criminal;
and even if he knew everything, would it be in his power to kill my
love! No! That I love the woman of my choice is my own affair as long
as my passion does not infringe the rights of another. However, do as
you please. I am prepared for anything!"

"No, no! He must know nothing; and since he permits himself every
licence----"

"There I don't agree with you! The cases are not identical. If he
chooses to degrade himself, so much the worse for him. But that's no
reason why----"

"No, no!..."

The ecstasy was over. We had come back to earth.

"No! No!" I repeated. "And don't you agree that it's beautiful, new,
almost unique--to love, to tell one another of it.... Nothing else!"

"It's as beautiful as a romance," she cried, clapping her hands like a
child.

"But it doesn't generally happen like that in fiction!"

"And how good it is to remain honest!"

"The only thing to do!"

"And we shall always meet as before, without fear----"

"And without reproach----"

"And without misunderstandings! And you are sure that Matilda is
nothing----"

"Oh! hush!"

The door opened. How commonplace! The two old gentlemen crossed the
drawing-room carrying a dark lantern.

"Notice how life is a medley of petty troubles and divine moments!" I
said to her; "notice how reality differs from fiction. Could I dare
to draw a scene like this in a novel or a drama without being accused
of being humdrum? Just think--a confession of love without kisses,
genuflexions or protestations, terminated by the appearance of two
old men throwing the light of a dark lantern on the lovers! And yet
therein lies the secret of Shakespeare's greatness, who shows us Julius
Cæsar in dressing-gown and slippers, starting from his sleep at night,
frightened by childish dreams."

The bell rang. The Baron and pretty Matilda were returning home. As
he had a guilty conscience, he overwhelmed us with amiability. And I,
eager to show myself in my new part, told him a barefaced lie.

"I've been quarrelling with the Baroness for the last hour!"

He gave us a scrutinising look, full of vindictiveness, and scenting
the air like a hound, seemed to catch the wrong scent.



IX


What unparalleled guilelessness it argues to believe that there could
be love without passion! There was danger even in the secret which
existed between us. It was like a child conceived in secrecy, it grew
and strove to see the light.

Our longing to meet and compare notes increased; we yearned to live
again through the last year in which we had been trying to deceive
one another. We resorted to all kinds of trickery. I introduced the
Baroness to my sister, who, having married the head-master of a school,
a man with an old, aristocratic name, in a way belonged to her set.

We often met by appointment; our meetings were harmless to begin with,
but after a while passion sprang up and desire awoke.

In the first days following our mutual confession, she gave me a packet
of letters, written partly before, partly after the thirteenth of
March. These letters, into which she had poured all her sorrow, all her
love, had never been intended to reach me.

                                              "_Monday_.

     "MY DEAR FRIEND,

     "I am longing to see you, to-day as always. I want to thank you
     for listening to me yesterday without that sarcastic smile with
     which it is now your rule to regard me! I turn to you trustfully,
     at a moment when I am in dire need of your friendship, and you
     cover your face with a mask. Why? Is it necessary that you should
     disguise your feelings? You have yourself admitted in one of your
     letters that it is a mask. I hope it is, I can see it is, and yet
     it hurts me, for it makes me think that I have committed a fault
     of some sort ... and I wonder: What is he thinking of me?

     "I am jealous of your friendship; I am afraid that some day you
     might despise me. Tell me that it will never happen! You must be
     good and loyal to me. You must forget that I am a woman--don't I
     only too often forget it myself!

     "I was not angry with you for what you said yesterday, but it
     surprised and pained me. Do you really believe me capable of
     wanting to excite my husband's jealousy for the sake of taking a
     mean revenge? Think of the danger to which I should expose myself
     if I attempted to win him back through jealousy! What should I
     gain? His anger would fall upon your head, and we should for ever
     be separated! And what would become of me without you, who are
     dearer to me than life!

     "I love you with a sister's tenderness, not with the whims of a
     coquette.... It is true that I have known moments when I longed,
     when it would have been heaven, to take your head into my hands,
     to look deep into your dear eyes, so full of wisdom; and I am sure
     I should have kissed you on your forehead, but never in your life
     would you have received a purer kiss.

     "I am not responsible for my affectionate temperament, and if you
     were a woman, I should love you just as much, provided that I
     could respect a woman as highly as I respect you....

     "Your opinion of Matilda makes me very happy. One has to be a
     woman to be pleased about such a thing. But what am I to do? Think
     of my position in case everybody sided with her! And I am to
     blame for whatever happens. I encouraged this flirtation because
     I considered it no more serious than a child's game. Feeling
     sure of his affection, I allowed my husband perfect liberty. The
     consequences have proved my error....


                                           "_Wednesday_.

     "He is in love with her and has told me so. The matter has
     surpassed all limits, and I have laughed at it. ... Think: after
     seeing you to the door, he came back to me, took my hands,
     looked into my face--I trembled, for my conscience was not
     clear--and said entreatingly: 'Don't be angry with me, Marie! I
     love Matilda!' What was I to do? Should I cry or laugh? And he
     confessed this to me, to me who am tormented by remorse, forced to
     love you from afar, hopelessly! Oh, these stupid ideas of honour!
     How senseless they are! Let him indulge his passion! You are my
     dear love, and my woman's heart shall never get the better of me
     and make me forget my duties as a wife and mother. But ... notice
     the conflicting double nature of my feelings ... I love you both,
     and I could never live without him, the brave, honest friend of my
     heart ... nor without you either."

                                               "_Friday_.

     "At last you have lifted the veil which for so long has hidden the
     secret of my heart. And you don't despise me! Merciful God! You
     even love me. You have spoken the words which you had determined
     to leave for ever unspoken. You love me! And I am a guilty woman,
     a criminal, because I love you in return. May God forgive me! For
     I love him too, and could not bear the thought of leaving him.

     "How strange it is!... To be loved! Loved tenderly! By him and
     by you! I feel so happy, so calm, that my love cannot possibly
     be a crime! Surely I should feel remorse if it were--or am I so
     hardened?

     "How ashamed I am of myself! It was I who had to speak the first
     word of love. My husband is here, he puts his arms round me, and I
     let him kiss me. Am I sincere? Yes! Why did he not take care of me
     while there was yet time?

     "The whole is like a novel. What will be the end? Will the heroine
     die? Will the hero marry another? Will they be separated? And will
     the end be satisfactory from a moral point of view?

     "If I were with you at this moment, I should kiss your brow with
     the same devotion with which the devotee kisses the crucifix, and
     I should put from me all baseness, all artificiality....

Was this hypocrisy, or did I deceive myself? Were they nothing but
passion, these semi-religious ecstasies? No, not passion only. The
desire of propagation has become more complicated, and even with the
lower animals moral characteristics are transmitted through sexual
love. Therefore love affects both body and soul, and one is nothing
without the other. If it were but passion, why should she prefer a
delicate, nervous, sickly youth to a giant like him? If it were only
the love of the soul, why this longing to kiss me, why this admiration
for my small feet, my well-shaped hands and nails, my intellectual
forehead, my abundant hair? Or were those hallucinations caused by the
intoxication of her senses, excited by her husband's excesses? Or did
she feel instinctively that an ardent youth like me would make her far
more happy than the inert mass which she called her husband? She was
no longer jealous of his body, therefore she had ceased looking upon
him in the light of a lover. But she was jealous of my person, and
therefore she was in love with me!...

One day, when visiting my sister, the Baroness was seized with an
attack of hysterics. She threw herself on the sofa and burst into
tears, infuriated with the disgraceful conduct of her husband, who was
spending the evening with Matilda at a regimental ball.

In a passionate outburst she threw her arms round me and kissed me on
the forehead. I returned kiss for kiss. She called me by endearing
names.

The bond between us was growing stronger and my passion was increasing.

In the course of the evening I recited Longfellow's "Excelsior" to her.
Genuinely touched by this beautiful poem, I fixed my eyes on her, and
as if she were hypnotised, her face reflected every shade of feeling
expressed on my own. She had the appearance of an ecstatic, of a seer.

After supper her maid called for her with a cab to take her home. I
meant to come no further with her than the street, but she insisted on
my getting into the cab, and in spite of my protestations she ordered
her maid to sit on the box, by the side of the driver. As soon as I
was alone with her I took her in my arms, silently, without a word. I
felt her delicate body thrill and yield under my kisses. But I shrank
from crime--and left her at her door, unhurt, ashamed of herself and,
perhaps, also a little angry.

I no longer had any doubts now; I saw clearly. She was trying to tempt
me. It was she who had given the first kiss, she who had taken the
initiative in everything. From this moment I was going to play the part
of the tempter, for, although a man of firm principles on the point of
honour, I was by no means a Joseph.

On the following day we met at the National Museum.

How I adored her as I saw her coming up the marble staircase, under the
gilded ceiling, as I watched her little feet tripping over the flags of
variegated stucco, her aristocratic figure clothed in a black velvet
costume, trimmed with military braid. I hurried to meet her and, like a
page, bent my knees before her. Her beauty, which had blossomed under
my kisses, was striking. The rich blood in her veins shone through her
transparent cheeks: this statue, almost the statue of an old maid,
had quickened under my caresses, and grown warm at the fire of life.
Pygmalion had breathed on the marble and held a goddess in his arms.

We sat down before a statue of Psyche, acquired in the Thirty Years'
War. I kissed her cheeks, her eyes, her lips, and she received my
kisses with a rapturous smile. I played the tempter, employing all the
sophisms of the orator, all the arts of the poet.

"I entreat you," I said, "leave your polluted house; don't consent any
longer to live this life of three--or you'll force me to despise you.
Return to your mother, devote yourself to art; in a year you will be
able to appear before the footlights. Then you will be free to live
your own life."

She added fuel to the fire; I became more and more incensed and warmed
to my subject. I deluged her with a flood of words, the object of which
was to extract a promise from her to tell her husband everything, for
then, I argued, we should no longer be responsible for the consequences.

"But supposing things end badly for us?" she interposed.

"Even if we should lose everything! I could no longer love you if I
could no longer respect both of us. Are you a coward? Do you crave
the reward and refuse to bring the sacrifice? Be as noble as you are
beautiful, dare the fatal leap, even at the risk of perishing! Let
everything be lost save our honour! If we go on like this, we shall
both be guilty in a very short time, for my love is like lightning,
which will strike you! I love you as the sun loves the dew--to drink
it. Therefore, quick to the scaffold! Sacrifice your head so that you
may keep your hands clean! Don't imagine that I could ever debase
myself and be content to share you with a third, never, never!"

She feigned resistance, but in reality she threw a grain of powder into
the open flames. She complained of her husband and hinted at things,
the very thought of which made my blood boil.

He, the numskull, poor as myself, without prospects, indulged in the
luxury of two mistresses, while I, the man of talent, the aristocrat
of the future, sighed and writhed under the torture of my unsatisfied
longings.

But all of a sudden she veered round and tried to calm my excited
nerves by reminding me of our agreement to be brother and sister.

"No, not that dangerous game of brother and sister! Let us be man and
woman, lover and beloved! This alone is worthy of ourselves! I adore
you! I adore everything belonging to you, body and soul, your golden
hair and your straightforwardness, the smallest feet that ever wore
shoes in Sweden, your candour, your eyes which shine in the dusk,
your bewitching smile, your white stocking and your cherry-coloured
garter....

"What?"

"Yes, my lovely princess, I have seen everything! And now I want to
kiss your throat and the dimples on your shoulders; I will smother you
with my kisses, strangle you between my arms as with a necklet. My love
for you fills me with the strength of a god. Did you think me delicate?
I was an imaginary invalid, or, rather, I pretended to be ill! Beware
of the sick lion! Don't come near his den or he will kill you with his
caresses! Down with the dishonest mask! I want you and I will have
you! I've wanted you from the first moment I set eyes on you! The
story of Selma, the Finlander, is nothing but a fairy tale ... the
friendship of our dear Baron a lie ... he loathes me, the man of the
middle-classes, the provincial, the _déclassé_, as I loathe him, the
aristocrat!"

This avalanche of revelations excited her very little, for it told her
nothing new: she had been aware of it without my avowal.

And we separated with the firm resolution not to meet again until she
had told her husband everything.

       *       *       *       *       *

I spent the evening at home, anxious and uneasy, waiting for telegrams
from the seat of war. To distract my thoughts, I emptied a sack
containing old books and papers on the floor, and sat down among
this litter to examine and classify it. But I found it impossible to
concentrate my thoughts on my task; I stretched myself out at full
length, resting the back of my head on my hands and, my eyes fixed with
a hypnotic stare on the candles burning in the old chandelier, I lost
myself in a reverie. I was longing for her kisses, and thinking out
plans of making her my own. As she was sensitive and strange, I felt
that the utmost delicacy would be necessary, that I must allow matters
to arrange themselves; that a single clumsy movement would spoil
everything.

I lighted a cigarette and imagined that I was lying in a meadow; it
amused me to view my little room from below. Everything seemed new to
me. The sofa, the witness of many pleasant hours, brought me back to my
dreams of love, which, however, were quickly paralysed by the fear that
happiness would be wrecked on the rocks of my uncompromising principles.

Analysing the thought which had checked my ardour, I discovered in it a
great deal of cowardice, fear of the consequences, a little sympathy
with the man who stood in danger of being betrayed, a little disgust
with the unclean pell-mell; a little genuine respect for the woman
whom I could not bear to see degrading herself; a little pity with the
daughter, a mere nothing of compassion with the mother of my beloved,
in case of a scandal; and quite in the background of my miserable heart
a vague presentiment of the difficulty I should find later on, if ever
I should wish to sever our connection.

"No," I said to myself, "all or nothing! She must be mine alone, and
for ever!"

While I was thus musing, there came a gentle tapping at my door, and
almost simultaneously a lovely head appeared in the opening, flooding
my attic with sunshine, and with its roguish smile drawing me away from
my papers into the arms of my beloved. After a hailstorm of kisses on
her lips, which were fresh with the cold outside, I asked--

"Well, what has he decided to do?"

"Nothing! I haven't told him yet!"

"Then you are lost! Flee, unhappy woman!"

And keeping firm hold of her, I took off her close-fitting fur coat,
removed her beaded hat and drew her to the fire. Then she found words.

"I hadn't the courage.... I wanted to see you once again before the
catastrophe, for God knows, he may decide to divorce me...."

I closed her lips with mine, pushed a little table to her seat and
brought from my cupboard a bottle of good wine and two glasses. By
the side of them I set a basket with roses and two lighted candles,
arranging everything in the manner of an altar. For a footstool I gave
her a priceless old edition of Hans Sachs, bound in calf, furnished
with gold locks and ornamented with a portrait of Luther. I had
borrowed the book from the Royal Library.

I poured out some wine. I gathered a rose and fastened it in the golden
thicket of her hair. My lips touched the glass raised to drink to her
health, to our love. I knelt down before her and worshipped her.

"How beautiful you are!"

For the first time she saw me as a lover. She was delighted. She took
my head between her hands, kissed it and smoothed with her fingers the
tangled strains of my unruly hair.

Her beauty filled me with respect. I looked at her with veneration, as
one looks at the statue of a saint. She was enchanted to see me without
the hated mask; my words intoxicated her, and she was filled with
delirious joy when she found that my love for her was at once tender,
respectful and full of ardour.

I kissed her shoes, blackening my lips; I embraced her knees without
touching the hem of her dress; I loved her just as she was, fully
dressed, chaste as an angel, as if she had been born clothed, with
wings outside her dress.

Suddenly the tears came into my eyes, I could not have said why.

"Are you crying?" she asked. "What is the matter?"

"I don't know. I'm too happy, that's all."

"You, capable of tears! You, the man of iron!"

"Alas! I know tears only too well!"

Being a woman of experience, she imagined that she possessed the secret
remedy for my secret sorrow.

She rose from the sofa and pretended to be interested in the papers
scattered about on the floor.

"You seemed to be stretched out on the grass when I came in," she said,
smiling archly. "What fun to make hay in the middle of the winter!"

She sat down on a pile of papers; I threw myself down beside her.
Another hailstorm of kisses, the goddess stooped towards me, ready to
surrender.

Gradually I drew her closer to me, holding her captive with my lips, so
as not to give her time to break the spell my eyes had cast over her,
and free herself. We sat on the "grass" like lovers, yielding to our
passion like fully dressed angels, and rose up content, happy, without
remorse, like angels who have not fallen.

Love is inventive! We had sinned without sinning, yielded without
surrendering. How precious is the love of a woman of experience! She is
merciful to the young apprentice; she finds her pleasure in giving, not
in receiving....

Suddenly she recovered her senses, remembered the claims of reality and
prepared to go.

"Until to-morrow, then!"

"Until to-morrow!"



X


He had been told everything, and she called herself guilty, for he had
wept. He had wept scalding tears! Was it simplicity or artfulness on
his part? Doubtless both. Love and delusion are inseparable, and it is
difficult to know ourselves as we really are.

But he was not angry with us, and did not insist on separating us, on
condition that we should respect his good name.

"He is more noble and generous than we are," she said in her letter,
"and he still loves both of us."

What a milksop! He consented to receive in his house a man who had
kissed his wife; he believed us to be sexless, able to live side by
side, like brother and sister.

It was an insult to my manhood; henceforth he had ceased to exist for
me.

I stayed at home, a prey to the bitterest disappointment. I had tasted
the apple, and it had been snatched from me. My imperious love had
repented; she was suffering from remorse; she overwhelmed me with
reproaches--she, the temptress! A fiendish idea flashed through my
mind. Had I been too reserved? Did she want to break with me because
I had been too timid? Since the thought of the crime from which I
shrank had not seemed to disturb her, her passion must be stronger than
mine.... But come back to me once more, my love, and I will teach you
better.

At ten o'clock I received a letter from the Baron, in which he said
that his wife was seriously ill.

My reply was a request to be left in peace. "I have been long enough
the cause of unpleasantness between you; forget me, as I will forget
you."

Towards noon a second letter arrived:

"Let us once more revive our old friendship. I have always respected
you, and, in spite of your error, I am convinced that you have behaved
like a man of honour. Let us bury the past. Come back to me as a
brother, and the matter will be forgotten."

The pathetic simplicity, the perfect confidence of the man touched me;
in my reply I mentioned my misgivings, and begged him not to play with
fire, but leave me in future unmolested.

At three o'clock in the afternoon I received a last communication: the
Baroness was dying; the doctor had just left her; she had asked for me.
The Baron entreated me not to refuse her request, and I went. Poor me!

I entered. The room smelt of chloroform. The Baron received me with
great agitation and tears in his eyes.

"What's the matter?" I asked, with the calmness of a doctor.

"I don't know. But she has been at death's door."

"And the doctor, what did he say?"

"He shook his head and said it was not a case for him."

"Has he given her a prescription?"

"No."

He took me into the dining-room, which had been transformed into a
sick-room. She was lying on a couch, stiff, haggard; her hair was
falling over her shoulders, her eyes glowed like red-hot coals. She
moved her hand, and her husband put it into mine. Then he returned into
the drawing-room and left us by ourselves. My heart remained unmoved; I
did not trust my eyes; the unusual spectacle roused my suspicions.

"Do you know that I nearly died?"

"Yes."

"And you don't feel sorry?"

"Oh yes!"

"You are not moved, you have no look of sympathy, no look of
commiseration."

"You have your husband!"

"Hasn't he himself brought us together?"

"What are you suffering from?"

"I'm very ill. I shall have to consult a specialist."

"Oh!"

"I'm afraid! It's terrible! If you knew how I have suffered!... Put
your hand on my head ... it does me good.... Now smile at me ... your
smile fills me with new life!..."

"The Baron---"

"You are going? You are leaving me?"

"What can I do for you?"

She began to cry.

"You surely can't want me to play the lover here, close to your child,
your husband?"

"You are a monster! A man without a heart! A----"

"Good-bye, Baroness!"

I went. The Baron accompanied me through the drawing-room, but, quick
though he was, he could not prevent me from catching sight of a woman's
skirt disappearing through one of the other doors.

This awakened the suspicion in me that the whole had been a farce.

The Baron closed the door behind me with a bang which echoed through
the staircase, and gave me the impression that I had been kicked out.

I felt sure that I had not been mistaken. I had assisted at the
_dénoûment_ of a sentimental play with a double plot.

This mysterious illness, what was it? Hysteria? No. Science has given
it the name of "nymphomania"; freely translated it means, the desire
of a woman for children, moderated and disguised by time and the
conventions, but suddenly breaking out with irresistible force.

This woman, always living in a state of semi-celibacy, unwilling to
take upon herself the burden of motherhood, and yet dissatisfied with
the incompleteness of her married life, was driven into the arms of a
lover, to the commission of a crime, and, at the very moment when she
thought that her lover was incontestably hers, he slipped through her
fingers, and he, too, left her unsatisfied.

How miserable a mistake was matrimony! How pitiful a passion was love!

When I had finished my analysis I had come to the conclusion that the
unsatisfactory nature of their relationship had driven both husband and
wife to seek happiness elsewhere. The disappointment at my flight had
brought the Baroness back into the arms of her husband, whose love had
received a fresh stimulus, and who would henceforth strive to make her
more happy.

They were reconciled, and everything was at an end.

Exit the devil.

The curtain falls.

       *       *       *       *       *

No, it was not at an end.

She visited me again in my room, and I drew from her a full confession,
brutal in its candour.

In the first year of her marriage she knew nothing of the ecstasies of
love. After her baby was born, her husband grew indifferent to her, and
their relations became strained.

"Then you've never been happy with this man with the physique of a
giant?"

"Never ... sometimes perhaps ... hardly ever."

"And now?"

She blushed.

"The doctor has advised him not to go on sinning against nature."

She sank back on the sofa and hid her face in her hands.

Excited by these intimate confessions, I made an attempt to put my
arms round her. She offered no resistance, she trembled and breathed
heavily, but suddenly she felt remorse and repulsed me.

Strange enigma which was beginning to provoke me!

What did she want from me? Everything! But she shrank from the real
crime, the illegitimate child.

I took her in my arms and kissed her, I tried to rouse her passion. She
freed herself and left me, but, I thought, a shade less disappointed
than before.

And now, what?

Confess to the husband? It has been done.

Give him details?... There are no details to give.

       *       *       *       *       *

She continued to visit me.

And whenever she came, she sat down on the sofa on the plea of fatigue.

I was ashamed of my timidity; furious at my humiliation; afraid
that she might think me a fool; conflicting emotions wore away my
self-control, and the day came when I watched her from my window,
walking away slowly, until she was hidden by the turn of the street. I
sighed heavily.

The son of the people had carried off the white skin, the plebeian had
won the aristocrat, the swineherd had mated with the princess! But he
had paid a heavy price.

       *       *       *       *       *

A storm was brewing. All sorts of rumours circulated in the town. The
fair fame of the Baroness had suffered.

Her mother asked me to call on her. I went.

"Is it true that you are in love with my daughter?"

"It is true."

"And are you not ashamed?"

"I glory in it."

"She has told me that she loves you."

"I was aware of that.... I am sorry for you. I regret the possible
consequences, but what am I to do? No doubt it is a deplorable
business, but we are not guilty, neither she nor I. When we discovered
our danger, we warned the Baron. Wasn't that acting correctly?"

"I'm not complaining of your conduct now, but I must protect the honour
of my daughter, of her child, of the family! Surely you don't want to
ruin us?"

The poor old woman cried bitterly. She had put all her eggs in one
basket: the aristocratic alliance of her daughter, which was to
rehabilitate her own family. She roused my compassion, and I succumbed
to her sorrow.

"Command me," I said; "I will do whatever you wish."

"Leave this place, go away from here, I implore you."

"I will do so, but on one condition."

"And that is?"

"That you will ask Miss Matilda to return to her family."

"Is that an accusation?"

"More than that, a denunciation. For I believe I'm right in saying that
her presence at the Baron's house is not conducive to happiness."

"I agree with you. Oh, that girl! I shall tell her what I think of her!
But you, you will leave to-morrow?"

"To-night, if you like."

At this stage the Baroness appeared, and unceremoniously interrupted
our conversation.

"You must stay! You shall stay!" she said imperatively. "Matilda must
go!"

"Why?" asked her mother, in amazement.

"Because I mean to have a divorce. Gustav has treated me like an
abandoned woman before Matilda's stepfather. I shall prove to them that
they're mistaken."

What a heartrending scene! Is there a surgical operation so painful as
the tearing asunder of family ties? All passions are let loose, all
uncleanness hidden in the depth of the soul stands revealed.

The Baroness took me apart and repeated to me the contents of a letter
from her husband to Matilda: abuse of us, and an assurance of his
undying love for the girl, in terms which proved that he had deceived
us from the very beginning.

The ball has now gained the volume of a rock; it goes on rolling, and
crushes alike the innocent and the guilty.

       *       *       *       *       *

In spite of all the coming and going a settlement seemed as far off as
ever.

Fresh misfortunes happened. The bank did not pay the ordinary yearly
dividend; ruin was menacing.

The threatening poverty was made the pretext for the divorce, for the
Baron could no longer maintain his family. For appearances' sake he
asked his colonel whether his wife's proposed theatrical career would
in any way interfere with his own. The colonel gave him to understand
that if his wife went on the stage, he would have to leave the service.
A splendid opportunity for abusing aristocratic prejudices!

During all this time the Baroness, under medical treatment for some
internal trouble, continued to live at her husband's house, although
they were now practically separated. She was always in pain, irritable
and despondent, and I found it impossible to rouse her from her deep
depression; my strenuous effort to inspire her with some of my youthful
confidence was wasted. In vain I drew for her glowing pictures of the
career of an artist, the independent life in a home of her own, a home
like mine, where she would enjoy freedom of body and soul. She listened
to me without replying; the stream of my words seemed to galvanise her
like a magnetic current, without penetrating to her consciousness.

       *       *       *       *       *

An agreement between the two parties had been arrived at at last. It
was decided that after all legal formalities had been complied with,
the Baroness should proceed to Copenhagen, where an uncle of hers was
living. The Swedish consul at Copenhagen would communicate with her
on her supposed flight from her husband's house, and she would inform
him of her wish to have her marriage annulled. After that she would be
free to make her own plans for the future, and return to Stockholm. Her
dowry would remain in the possession of her husband, as well as all the
furniture, with the exception of a very few things; the little girl
would continue to live with her father, unless the latter contracted a
second marriage, but the Baroness would have the right to see her child
whenever she wished.

The financial question gave rise to a violent scene. To save the
remnants of a fortune which had almost disappeared, the father of the
Baroness had made a will in which he left everything to his daughter.
Her scheming mother had obtained possession of the inheritance, and
was paying her son-in-law a certain percentage. Since such a procedure
was illegal, the Baron insisted that the will should now come into
force. The old mother-in-law, furious at the reduction of her income,
denounced her son-in-law to her brother, Matilda's father, as the
girl's lover. The storm burst. The colonel threatened to cashier the
Baron; a lawsuit was impending.

Now, the Baroness left no stone unturned to save the father of her
child. And to clear him I was made the scapegoat.

I was prevailed upon to write a letter to Matilda's father, in which I
took the sins of everybody and the responsibility for all the mischief
on my own shoulders, called God to witness that the Baron and the girl
were innocent, and asked the offended father to forgive me for all the
crimes I had committed--I, the only penitent one!

It was a beautiful action and a good one, and the Baroness loved me for
it as a woman loves a man who has allowed her to trample on his honour,
his self-respect, his good name.

In spite of my resolution not to be mixed up in these unsavoury family
matters, I had been unable to steer clear of them.

The mother-in-law paid me many visits, and, always appealing to my love
for her daughter, tried to incite me against the Baron, but in vain; I
took my orders from no one but the Baroness. Moreover, on this point I
sided with the father. As he was taking charge of the child, the dowry,
imaginary or otherwise, belonged undoubtedly to him.

Oh, this month of April! What a springtime of love! The beloved woman
on the sick-bed, intolerable meetings at which the two families washed
their dirty linen, which I certainly never had the least desire to come
into contact with; tears; rudeness; a chaos which brought to light
everything base that had hitherto been hidden under the veneer of
education.

That comes of raising a nest of hornets about one's ears!...

No wonder that love suffered under such conditions. Where is the charm
of a woman who is always worn out with contention, whose conversation
bristles with legal terms?

Again and again I attempted to instil into her my thoughts of
consolation and hope, even though they were often anything but
spontaneous, for I had come to the end of my nerve-power; and she
accepted everything, sucked my brain dry, consumed my heart. In
exchange she looked upon me as a dustbin, into which she threw all her
rubbish, all her grief, all her troubles, all her cares.

In this hell I lived my life, dragged on my misery, worked for a
bare sufficiency. When she came to see me of an evening and found me
working, she sulked; and it was not until I had wasted a couple of
hours with tears and kisses that I succeeded in convincing her of my
love.

She conceived love as never-ending admiration, a servile readiness to
please, unceasing sacrifice.

I was crushed down by my heavy responsibility. I could see the moment
not very far off when misery, or the birth of a child, would force
me into a premature marriage. She had claimed but three thousand
francs for one year, with which she intended to defray the costs of
her artistic training. I had no faith in her dramatic career. Her
pronunciation still betrayed her Finnish descent, and her features
were too irregular for the stage. To keep her from brooding I made her
repeat poetry. I constituted myself her teacher. But she was too much
occupied with her disappointments, and when, after a rehearsal, she had
to admit that her progress was very small, she was inconsolable.

How dreary our love was! Instead of being the source from which flowed
strength to cope with our difficulties, it was a prolonged torture.

Joy was no sooner born than it was slain, and we parted, dissatisfied,
robbed of the greatest happiness life has to give. A poor phantom was
our love!

But my monogamic nature recoiled from change. Our love, sad as it was,
was yet the source from which sprang exquisite spiritual joys, and my
inextinguishable longing was the guarantee for its endurance.



XI


It was on the first of May. All the necessary documents had been
signed. Her departure was fixed for the day after to-morrow. She came
to me and threw her arms round me.

"Now I belong to you alone; take me!"

As we had never discussed marriage, I did not quite understand what she
meant, and we sat in my little attic, sad and thoughtful. Everything
was permitted to us now, but temptation had diminished. She accused
me of indifference, and I proved the contrary to her. Thereupon she
accused me of sensuality.

Adoration, incense it was what she wanted!

She had hysterics, and complained that I no longer loved her.
Already!...

After half-an-hour of flattery and blandishments she grew calmer,
but she was not really herself until she had reduced me to tears of
despair. Then she made a fuss of me.

The more humble I was, the more I knelt before her, small and
miserable, the more she loved me. She hated strength and manliness in
me; to win her love I had to pretend to be wretched, so that she could
pose as the stronger, play "little mother" and console me.

We had supper in my room; she laid the table and prepared the meal.
After supper I claimed the rights of a lover, and she made no
resistance.

How wonderful is the rejuvenating power of love! A young girl lay in
my arms, trembling, and brutality was transformed into tenderness.
Surely the animal had no part in this union of souls! Alas! is it ever
possible to say where the spiritual ends and the animal begins?

Reassured on the question of her health, she gave herself to me
whole-heartedly; she was radiant with joy, content and happy; her
beauty shone out; her eyes sparkled. My poor attic had become a temple,
a sumptuous palace; I lighted the broken chandelier, my reading lamp,
all the candles, to illuminate our happiness, the joy of living, the
only thing which makes our miserable lives endurable.

For these moments of rapture accompany us on our thorny pilgrimage
through life; the memory of these fleeting hours helps us to live, and
outlive our former selves.

"Don't speak ill of love," I said to her. "Worship nature in all her
forces; honour God, who compels us to be happy in spite of ourselves!"

She made no reply, for she was happy. Her yearning was stilled; my
kisses had driven the warm blood through her beating heart into her
cheeks; the flame of the candle was mirrored in her eyes moist with
tears; the rainbow tints of her veins appeared more vivid, like the
plumage of the birds in the springtime. She looked like a girl of
sixteen, so delicate, so pure were her contours; the dainty head with
its masses of golden hair, half-buried in the cushions, might have been
a child's.

Thus she reclined on my sofa, like a goddess, allowing me to worship
her, while she regarded me with furtive glances, half shamefaced, half
provoking.

How chaste in her abandonment is the beloved woman when she surrenders
herself to the caresses of her lover! And man, though her superior
mentally, is only happy when he has won the woman who is his true
mate. My former flirtations, my love affairs with women of a lower
class, appeared to me like crimes, like a sin against the race. The
white skin, the perfect feet, the delicate hands, were they signs of
degeneration? Were they not rather on a par with the glossy skin of
the wild beast, its slim, sinewy legs, which show hardly any muscle?
The beauty of a woman is the sum total of characteristics which are
worthy of transmission through the agency of the man who can appreciate
them. This woman had been pushed aside by her husband; therefore she no
longer belonged to him, for she had ceased to please him. He could see
no beauty in her, and it was left to me to achieve the blossoming of a
flower, the rare loveliness of which the seer, the elect only, could
perceive.

Midnight was striking. From the barracks close by came the "Who goes
there?" of the relieving guards. It was time to part.

I accompanied my beloved on her way home, and, as we were walking along
side by side, I tried to kindle in her the fire of my enthusiasm, my
new hopes; I startled her with the plans which her kisses had ripened
in me. She came closer, as if to find strength in contact with me, and
I gave her back tenfold what I had received from her.

When we had arrived at the high railings she noticed that she had
forgotten her key. How annoying! But, bent on showing her my mettle
by penetrating into the lion's den, I climbed the railings, dashed
across the courtyard and knocked at the front door, prepared for a
stormy reception from the Baron. My throbbing heart was thrilled by
the thought of fighting my rival before her eyes. The favoured lover
was transformed into a hero! But, luckily, it was only a servant who
came to open the door, and we said good-night to each other formally,
calmly, with the maid, who had not taken the trouble to respond to our
"Good-evening," looking on in contemptuous silence.

       *       *       *       *       *

Henceforth she felt sure of my love, and so she abused it.

She came to see me to-day. She could not find words enough to praise
her husband. Deeply affected by Matilda's departure, he had succumbed
to his wife's pressure, and made her a promise to save appearances by
accompanying her to the station, for, she argued, if both he and I were
to see her off, her departure would not have the appearance of flight.
Moreover, she told me that the Baron, no longer angry with me, had
consented to receive me at his house, and, in order to put a stop to
the rumours, show himself during the next few days about the town in my
company.

I appreciated the generosity of this big, ingenuous child, with the
honest heart, and, out of consideration for him, I demurred.

"We're not going to disgrace him like that. Never!"

"Remember that it is a question of my child's honour."

"Doesn't his honour count for something?"

But she laughed at the idea of considering other people's honour.
Looked upon me as eccentric.

"But that beats everything! You're making me a by-word, you're
degrading us all! It's folly! It's unworthy!" I exclaimed.

She cried; and, after she had sobbed for an hour and overwhelmed me
with reproaches, I succumbed to the irresistible weapon of her tears,
and consented to do her bidding. But I cursed the despot, I cursed the
falling crystal drops which increased tenfold the power of her glances.

She was stronger than both her husband and myself. She was leading us
by the nose into disgrace! Why did she want this reconciliation? Was
she afraid of a war to the knife between me and the Baron? Did she
dread possible disclosures?...

... What a punishment she had inflicted on me by compelling me to
revisit this dreary house! But, cruel egoist that she was, she had
no sympathy with another's terrors. I have had to promise her, on my
oath, to deny the whole story of the illicit relationship which existed
between the Baron and her cousin, so as to stop all slander. I went to
this last meeting with slow steps and a sinking heart.

The little garden smiled at me with its blossoming cherry trees, its
sweet-scented daffodils. The shrubbery, where her marvellous beauty had
bewitched me, was bursting into leaf; the turned-up flower-beds looked
like black shrouds spread out on the lawn; I pictured the forsaken
little girl wandering about there alone, looked after by a servant, and
learning her lessons; I pictured her growing up, awakening to the facts
of life, and being told one day that her mother had deserted her.

I mounted the stairs of the fatal house, which was built against a sand
quarry, and called up the memories of my childhood. Friendship, family,
love, all had been jeopardised, and, in spite of our efforts to comply
with the law of the land, crime had stained its threshold.

Who was to blame?

The Baroness opened the folding doors and secretly kissed me between
the wings. I could not suppress a momentary feeling of loathing,
and indignantly pushed her aside. It reminded me of the servants'
flirtations at the back door, and filled me with disgust. Behind the
door! Slut! without pride, without dignity!

She pretended that I was reluctant to enter the drawing-room, and asked
me in a loud voice to come in, at the very moment when, embarrassed by
the humiliating situation in which I found myself, I hesitated, and
was on the point of retracing my footsteps. A flash from her eyes, and
my hesitation was gone; paralysed by her self-command, I gave in.

Everything in the drawing-room pointed to the breaking up of the
household. Underlinen, dresses, petticoats were scattered all over the
furniture. The writing-table was littered with a pile of stockings, a
short time ago the delight of my eyes, to-day an abomination. She came
and went, counted and folded up, brazenly, shamelessly.

"Had I corrupted her in so short a time?" I asked myself, gazing at
this exhibition of a respectable woman's underclothing.

She examined one piece after another, and put on one side everything
which needed repairing; she noticed that on one garment the tapes were
missing; she laid it aside with perfect unconcern.

I seemed to be present at an execution; I felt sick with misery,
while she listened absent-mindedly to my futile conversation about
unimportant details. I was waiting for the Baron, who had locked
himself into the dining-room and was writing letters.

At last the door opened; I started apprehensively, but it was only the
little girl who came in, puzzled to know the reason of all this upset.
She ran up to me, accompanied by her mother's spaniel, and held up
her forehead to be kissed. I blushed. I felt angry, and turned to the
Baroness.

"You might at least have spared me this!"

But she did not understand what I meant.

"Mamma is going away, darling, but she'll soon be back and bring you
lots of toys."

The little dog begged for a caress--he, too!

A little later the Baron appeared.

He walked up to me, broken, crushed, and pressed my hand, unable to
utter a word. I honoured his evident grief by a respectful silence, and
he withdrew again.

The dusk was beginning to gather in the corners of the room. The maid
lighted the lamps without seeming to notice my presence. Supper was
announced. I wanted to go. But the Baron added his pressing invitation
to that of the Baroness, and in so touching and sincere a manner that I
accepted and stayed.

And we sat down to supper, the three of us, as in the old days. It
was a solemn moment. We talked of all that had happened, and with
moist eyes asked one another the question: "Who is to blame?" Nobody,
destiny, a series of incidents, paltry in themselves, a number of
forces. We shook hands, clinked our glasses together and spoke of our
undying friendship exactly as in the days gone by. The Baroness alone
kept up her spirits. She made the programme for the following day: the
meeting at the railway station, the walks through the town, and we
agreed to everything.

At last I rose to go. The Baron accompanied us into the drawing-room.
There he laid the hand of the Baroness into mine and said, with choking
voice--

"Be her friend. My part is played out. Take care of her, guard her from
the wickedness of the world, cultivate her talent: you are better able
to do it than I, a poor soldier. God protect you!"

He left us; the door closed behind him, and we were alone.

Was he sincere at that moment? I thought so at the time, and I should
like to think so still. He was of a sentimental nature, and, in his
way, fond of us; doubtless, the thought of seeing the mother of his
child in the hands of an enemy would have been painful to him.

It is possible that later on, under adverse influence, he boasted of
having fooled us. But such a thing would really have been foreign to
his character--and is it not a well-known fact that no one likes to
admit having been duped?

It was six o'clock at night. I was pacing the large hall of the Central
Station. The train for Copenhagen would leave at six-fifteen, and
neither the Baron nor the Baroness had appeared.

I felt like the spectator of the last act of a terrible tragedy, I was
longing wildly for the end. Another quarter of an hour and there would
be peace. My nerves, disordered by these successive crises, required
rest, and the coming night would restore some of the nerve force which
I had used up and squandered for the love of a woman.

She arrived at the last moment, in a cab, drawn by a mare which the
driver was leading by the bridle.

Always careless and always too late!

She rushed towards me like a lunatic.

"The traitor! He has broken his word! He's not coming!" she exclaimed
so loudly that she attracted the attention of the passers-by.

It was certainly unfortunate, but I could not help respecting him for
it.

"He's quite right. He has common-sense on his side," I said, seized
with a spirit of contradiction.

"Be quick! Take a ticket for Copenhagen, or I shall stay here!" she
ordered.

"No! If I went with you it would look like an elopement. All Stockholm
would talk about it to-morrow."

"I don't care.... Make haste!"

"No! I won't!"

But I could not help pitying her at the moment, and the situation was
becoming unbearable. A quarrel, a lover's quarrel was inevitable.

She knew it instinctively, and, seizing my hands, she implored me
with her eyes; the ice melted; the sorceress won; I wavered ... I
succumbed....

"To Katrineholm then!"

"Very well, if you'd rather."

She was having her luggage registered.

Everything was lost, including honour, and I had before me the prospect
of a painful journey.

The train moved out of the station. We were alone in a first-class
compartment. The Baron's non-appearance had depressed us. It was an
unforeseen danger and a bad omen. An uneasy silence reigned in the
carriage; one of us had to break it. She was the one to speak.

"Axel, you don't love me any more!"

"Perhaps not," I replied, worn out by a month of chaos.

"And I have sacrificed everything to you!"

"Sacrificed everything?... To your love, perhaps, but not to me. And
have I not sacrificed my life to you? You are angry with Gustav and
you're venting your anger on me ... be reasonable."

Tears, tears! What a wedding tour! I steeled my nerves, put on my
armour. I became indifferent, impenetrable.

"Restrain your emotions! From to-day you must use your common-sense.
Weep, weep until the source of your tears is dry, but then lift up
your head. You are a foolish woman, and I have honoured you as a
queen, as a ruler! I have done your bidding because I thought myself
the weaker of the two! Unfortunately! Don't make me despise you. Don't
ever try to blame me alone for what has happened. I admired Gustav's
shrewdness last night. He has realised that the great events in life
have always more than one cause. Who is to blame? You? I? He? She? The
threatening ruin, your passion for the stage, your internal trouble,
the inheritance from your thrice-married grandfather? Your mother's
hatred of bearing children which is the cause of your vacillating
disposition? The idleness of your husband, whose profession left him
too much leisure? My instincts? The instincts of the man who has risen
from the lower classes? My accidental meeting with your Finnish friend
who brought us together? An endless number of motives, a few of which
only are known to us. Don't debase yourself before the mob who will
unanimously condemn you to-morrow; don't believe, like those poor in
spirit, that you can solve such an intricate problem by taking neither
the crime nor the criminal seriously!... And, moreover, have I seduced
you? Be candid with yourself, with me, while we're here alone, without
witnesses."

But she would not be candid.

She could not, for candour is not a woman's characteristic.

She knew herself to be an accomplice in crime; she was tortured by
remorse. She had but one thought, to ease her conscience by throwing
the whole blame on me.

I left her to herself, and wrapped myself in a callous silence.

Night fell. I opened the window and leaned against the door, gazing
at the quickly-passing black Scotch firs, behind which the pale moon
was rising. Then a lake passed, surrounded by birch trees; a brook
bordered by alders; cornfields, meadows, and then Scotch firs again, a
long stretch of them. A mad desire to throw myself out of the carriage
seized me; a desire to escape from this prison where I was watched by
an enemy, kept spell-bound by a witch. But the anxiety for her future
oppressed me like a nightmare; I felt responsible for her, who was a
stranger to me, for her unborn children, for the support of her mother,
her aunt, her whole family, for centuries to come.

I should make it my business to procure for her success on the stage; I
should bear all her sorrows, her disappointments, her failures, so that
one day she could throw me in the dust like a squeezed-out lemon--me,
my whole life, my brain, the marrow of my spine, my life-blood; all
in exchange for the love which I gave her, and which she accepted and
called "sacrificing herself to me." Delusions of love! hypnotism of
passion!

She sat without moving until ten o'clock, sulking. One more hour and we
should have to say good-bye.

All at once, with a word of apology, she put her two feet on the
cushioned seat, pretending to be worn out with fatigue. Her languid
glances, her tears had left me unmoved; I had kept my head, my strength
of purpose in spite of her fallacious logic. Now everything collapsed.
I beheld her adorable boots, a tiny piece of her stocking.

Down on your knees, Sampson! Put your head in her lap, press your
cheeks against her knees, ask her to forgive you for the cruel words
with which you have lashed her--and which she didn't even understand!
Slave! Coward! You lie in the dust before a stocking, you, who thought
yourself strong enough to conquer a world! And she, she only loves you
when you debase yourself; she buys you cheaply at the price of a few
moments of gratified passion, for she has nothing to lose.

The engine whistled; the train glided into the station; I had to leave
her. She kissed me with motherly affection, made the sign of the cross
on my forehead--although she was a Protestant--commended me to the
Lord, begged me to take care of myself, and not to give way to fretting.

The train steamed out into the night, choking me with its bituminous
smoke.

I breathed--at last--the cool evening air, and enjoyed my freedom.
Alas! but for a moment. No sooner had I arrived at the village inn
than I broke down. I loved her, yes, I loved her, just as I had seen
her at the moment of parting; for that moment recalled to me the first
sweet days of our friendship, when she was the lovely, womanly tender
mother, who spoiled and caressed me as if I had been a little child.

And yet I loved her ardently, desired to make this stormy woman my wife.

I asked for writing material, and wrote her a letter in which I told
her that I would pray to God for her happiness.

Her last embrace had led me back to God, and, under the influence of
her parting kiss, still fresh on my lips, I denied the new faith, which
teaches the progress of humanity.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first stage in the downfall of a man had been reached; the others
were sure to follow--to utter degradation, to the verge of insanity.



PART II


I


On the day after our departure the whole town knew that Baroness X had
eloped with one of the librarians of the Royal Library.

This was only what was to be expected, to be dreaded! After all my
efforts to save her good name, we had forgotten everything in a moment
of weakness.

She had spoiled all our plans, and all that remained for me to do was
to take the responsibility on my own shoulders and grapple to the
best of my ability with the consequences which threatened to ruin her
theatrical career; there was only one theatre where she could possibly
appear, and loose morals were not likely to increase her chances of an
engagement at the Royal Theatre.

On the morning after my return I made an excuse to call on the chief
librarian, who was slightly unwell and unable to go out. The sole
object of my visit was the establishment of an alibi. After leaving
him I strolled through the main streets and thoroughfares and arrived
at my office at the usual hour. I spent the evening at the Press Club,
and deliberately set the rumour afloat that there was but one reason
for the divorce, and that was the Baroness's determination to enter the
theatrical profession. I maintained that husband and wife were on the
best of terms, and that their separation was but the inevitable result
of class prejudice.

If I had only known what harm I was doing myself by spreading these
rumours and proclaiming her innocence! ... But no, I should not have
acted otherwise.

The papers scrambled eagerly for the smart society scandal, but the
public scoffed at this irresistible love of art, a more or less
doubtful phenomenon always, but more especially when the stage is
concerned. The women in particular were sceptical, and the forsaken
child remained an ugly fact which nothing could explain away.

In the meantime I received a letter--a perfect howl of anguish--from
Copenhagen. Tortured by remorse, by a yearning for her deserted child,
she asked me to come to her at once, complaining bitterly of her
relatives who, she asserted, were making her life one long drawn-out
agony. She charged them with having suppressed, in collusion with her
husband, an important document, which was essential for the final
decision in the case.

I refused to leave town, but wrote a few angry lines to the Baron. His
reply was so insolent that it led to a complete rupture between us.

One or two telegrams passed, and peace was re-established. The document
was found, and the proceedings went on.

I spent my evenings in writing long letters to her, giving her minute
instructions how to comport herself in the circumstances. These letters
were intended to cheer and encourage her. I advised her to work, to
study her art, to visit the theatres. In my anxiety to supplement her
income, I urged her to write on anything which she found interesting,
and undertook to get her articles accepted by a first-class paper.

No answer. I had every reason to believe that her independent spirit
resented my well-meant interference.

A week passed; a week full of care, unrest and hard work. Then, early
one morning, before I was up, I received a letter from Copenhagen.

The tone of her letter was calm and serene; she seemed unable to hide a
certain pride on account of the quarrel between the Baron and myself.
(She was in a fair position to form an opinion, since she had received
the respective letters from both of us.) She found the "duel" not
without style, and admired my pluck. "It is a pity," she concluded her
letter, "that two men like you and the Baron should not be friends."
Further on she gave me a detailed account of what she was doing to
while away the time. She was evidently enjoying herself; she had made
her way into second-rate artistic circles, a fact which I did not like.
She described an evening spent at some assembly-rooms in the company of
a number of young men, who paid her a great deal of attention; she had
made the conquest of a musician, a youth who had sacrificed his family
to his art. "What a strange similarity between our two cases!" she
remarked. Then followed a detailed biography of the interesting martyr
and the request not to be jealous.

"What did she mean?" I wondered, taken aback by the half-sarcastic,
half-familiar tone of her letter, which appeared to be written between
two entertainments.

Was it possible that this coldly voluptuous madonna belonged to the
class of born wantons, that she was a coquette, a cocotte?

I sat down at once and indited a furious scolding; I painted her
picture as she then appeared to me. I called her Madame Bovary; I
entreated her to break the spell which was leading her to a precipice.

In reply, "as a proof of her absolute faith in me," she sent me the
letters which the young enthusiast had written to her. Love letters!

The same old use of the term friendship, the inexplicable sympathy of
the souls, and the whole list of the trite and to us both so familiar
words: brother and sister, little mother, playmates, and so on, cloaks
and covers under which lovers are wont to hide, to abandon themselves
ultimately to their passions.

What was I to think? Was she mentally deranged?

Was she an unconscious criminal who remembered nothing of the terrible
experience of the last two months, when the hearts of three people
were on fire for her? And I who had been made to play the part of a
Cinderella, a scape-goat, a man of straw, I was toiling to remove all
obstacles from her way to the irregular life of the theatre.

A fresh blow! To see the woman whom I adored wallow in the gutter.

My soul was filled with unspeakable compassion, I had a foreboding of
the fate which awaited her, perverse woman that she was, and vowed to
lift her up, to strengthen and support her, to do everything in my
power to shield her from a fatal catastrophe.

Jealous! That vulgar word invented by a woman in order to mislead
the man she has deceived or means to deceive. The hoodwinked husband
shows his anger, and the word jealous is flung in his face. Jealous
husband--husband betrayed! And there are women who look upon jealousy
as synonymous with impotence, so that the betrayed husband can only
shut his eyes, powerless in the face of such accusations.

She returned after a fortnight, pretty, fresh, in high spirits, and
full of bright memories, for she had thoroughly enjoyed herself. She
was wearing a new dress with touches of brilliant colouring, which
struck me as vulgar. I was puzzled. The woman who used to dress so
simply, so quietly, with such exquisite taste, was adopting a colour
scheme which was positively garish.

Our meeting was colder than either of us had expected; there was a
constrained silence at first, followed by a sudden outburst.

The flatteries of her new friends had turned her head; she gave herself
airs, teased me, made fun of me. She spread her gorgeous dress over
my old sofa, to hide its shabbiness. Her old power over me reasserted
itself, and for a moment I forgot all resentment in a passionate kiss;
nevertheless, a slight feeling of anger remained at the bottom of my
heart, and presently found vent in a torrent of reproaches. Subdued by
my impetuosity, which contrasted so strangely with her own indolent
nature, she took refuge in tears.

"How can you be so absurd as to imagine that I was flirting with that
young man?" she sobbed. "I promise you never to write to him again,
although I'm sure he'll think it rude of me."

Rude! One of her favourite catchwords! A man pays her attention, in
other words makes advances to her, and she listens politely, for fear
of being rude. What a woman!

But fate was against me. I was lying at her feet, her beautiful little
feet, encased in tiny shoes. She was wearing black silk stockings,
which added to my confusion; her leg was a little fuller than it had
been; the black legs in a cloud of petticoats were the legs of a
she-devil.

Her constant fear of motherhood irritated me; I lied to her; I told her
that she had nothing to fear from me; that I knew how to cheat nature.
I repeated my assurances until I finished by believing in them myself,
and in the end succeeded in setting her mind at ease by promising to be
responsible for all consequences.

She was living with her mother and aunt in the second story of a house
in one of the main thoroughfares. As she threatened to visit me in my
own room if they prevented me from seeing her, I was allowed to call.
But the thought of the supervision of these two old women, whom I knew
to be watching us through the keyhole all the time, was almost beyond
bearing.

The divorced husband and wife were beginning to realise how much they
had lost. The Baroness, once a respected married woman, mistress of
an aristocratic establishment, had returned to the conditions of her
childhood. She was under the control of her mother, almost a prisoner
in one room, kept by two old women, who were themselves in needy
circumstances. The mother never lost an opportunity of reminding her
of her careful bringing up and how she had been fitted to take an
honourable social position, and the daughter remembered the happy days
following her release from the parental yoke. Bitter words were spoken
on both sides, tears and insults were all too frequent, and I had to
pay for them when I called in the evening ... to visit a prisoner under
the eyes of a warder and witness.

When the strain of these painful meetings became unbearable, we
ventured to meet two or three times in the park. But we only jumped
from the frying-pan into the fire, for now we were exposed to the
contemptuous stare of the crowd. We hated the spring sunshine which
illuminated our misery. We missed the darkness, we longed for the
winter, which made it easier for us to hide our shame. Alas! the summer
was coming with its long nights, which know no darkness.

Our former friends dropped us, one after the other. Even my sister,
intimidated by the now universal gossip, grew suspicious and estranged
when the ex-baroness, at a little supper party, tried to keep up her
spirits by taking too much wine, became intoxicated, proposed a toast,
smoked cigarettes, and generally behaved in a way which excited the
disgust of the women and the contempt of the men.

"That woman's a common prostitute!" said a respectable married man and
father of a family to my brother-in-law, and the latter took the first
chance to repeat the remark to me.

When on the following Sunday evening we arrived at my sister's house,
where we had been invited to supper, the servant informed us, to our
consternation, that her master and mistress were out.

We spent the evening in my room, a prey to anger and despair, seeking
comfort in the thought of suicide. I pulled down the blinds to shut
out the daylight, and we sat together in misery, waiting for night and
darkness, before we ventured out again into the street. But the summer
sun did not set until late, and at eight o'clock we both felt hungry.
Neither of us had any money, and there was nothing to eat or drink in
the cupboard. These moments were some of the most wretched moments of
my life, and gave me a foretaste of misery to come. Reproaches, cold
kisses, floods of tears, remorse, disgust.

I tried to persuade her to go home and have supper with her mother, but
she was afraid of the daylight; moreover, her heart sank at the thought
of the necessary explanation. She had eaten nothing since two o'clock,
and the melancholy prospect of going to bed supperless aroused the wild
beast hunger in her.

She had grown up in a wealthy home, and had been used to every kind
of luxury; she had no idea what poverty meant, and consequently she
was completely unstrung. I, who had been familiar with hunger from
childhood, suffered torture to see her in such a desperate position. I
ransacked my cupboard, but could find nothing; I searched the drawers
of my writing-table, and there, amongst all sorts of keep-sakes, faded
flowers, old love-letters, discoloured ribbons, I found two sweets
which I had kept in remembrance of a funeral. I offered them to her
just as they were, wrapped in black paper and tinfoil. A distressing
banquet indeed, these sweets in their mourning dress!

Depressed, humiliated, apprehensive, I raged and thundered furiously
against all respectable women whose doors were closed to us, who would
have none of us.

"Why this hostility and contempt? Had we committed a crime? Surely not;
it was but a question of a straightforward divorce; we were complying
with all the rules and requirements of the law."

"We have been behaving too correctly," she said, trying to comfort
herself. "The world is but a pack of knaves. It winks at open,
shameless adultery, but condemns divorce. A high standard of morality
indeed!"

We were agreed on the subject. But the facts remained. The crime
continued to hang over our heads, which drooped under its weight.

I felt like a boy who has robbed a bird's nest. The mother had flown
away, the little ones lay prostrate, chirping plaintively, bereft of
the protecting warmth of the mother's wings.

And the father? He was left desolate in the ruined home. I pictured him
of a Sunday evening, an evening like this, when the family assembles
round the fire-place, alone in the drawing-room, with the silenced
piano; alone in the dining-room, eating his solitary dinner; alone
always....

"Oh, no, nothing of the kind!" she interrupted my musings; "you are
quite mistaken! You would be much more likely to find him lounging on
the comfortable sofa at Matilde's brother-in-law's; he has had a good
dinner with plenty of wine, and is gently squeezing the hand of my
poor, dear, libelled little cousin, laughing at the outrageous stories
told of his wife's ill-conduct--his wife, who refused to countenance
his infidelity. And both of them, surrounded and upheld by the sympathy
and applause of this hypocritical world, are eager to throw the first
stone at us."

Her words set me thinking, and after a while I expressed the opinion
that the Baron had led us by the nose; that he had schemed to rid
himself of a troublesome wife, so as to be able to marry again, and had
managed to secure her dowry, in spite of the law.

She became indignant at once.

"You have no right to say anything against him! It was all my fault!"

"Why have I no right to say anything against him? Is his person sacred?"

One might almost have thought so, for whenever I attacked him she took
his part.

Was it the freemasonry of caste which prompted her to stand up for him?
Or were there secrets in her life which made her fear his enmity? I
could not solve the riddle, nor discover the reason of her loyalty to
him, which no disloyalty on his part could shake.

The sun set at last, and we parted. I slept the sleep of the famished;
I dreamed that I was making desperate efforts to wing my way
heavenwards, with a millstone round my neck.

       *       *       *       *       *

Misfortune dogged our footsteps. We approached one of the theatrical
managers with the request to give us a date for her first appearance.
He replied that he could not, in his official position, have anything
to do with a runaway wife.

We left no stone unturned, but all our efforts were doomed to failure.
A year hence her resources would be exhausted, and she would be thrown
on the street. It was my business, the business of the poor Bohemian,
to save her from that fate.

To avoid every possibility of a misunderstanding, she called on an old
friend of hers, a former tragedienne, whom up to quite recently she had
constantly met in society, and who had cringed like a dog before the
"golden-haired Baroness," her "little fairy."

The great actress, a notoriously unfaithful wife, grown grey in vice at
the side of her husband, received the honest sinner with insults and
closed her door to her.

We had tried everything!

There remained nothing but revenge.

"Very well," I said to her, "why not try writing? Write a play, get it
produced at this very theatre? Why descend when there is a possibility
of rising? Put your foot on that old woman! With one stride rise far
above her head! Show off this lying, hypocritical, vicious society,
which opens its houses to prostitutes, but closes them to a divorced
wife. It's good stuff for a play."

But she was one of those soft natures, very susceptible, very easily
impressed, but unable to strike back.

"No, no revenge!"

And cowardly and revengeful at the same time, she left vengeance
to God; it came to the same thing in the end, but it put the
responsibility on a man of straw.

But I persevered, and at last fortune favoured me. I had an order from
a publisher to edit an illustrated book for children.

"Write the text," I suggested; "you will be paid a hundred francs for
it."

I supplied her with reference books; I made her believe that she had
done the work unaided, and she pocketed the hundred francs. But I
paid a heavy penalty. The publisher stipulated that my name, which
had come before the public as that of a playwright, should appear on
the title-page. It was literary prostitution, and my enemies, who
had predicted my incapacity of distinguishing myself in literature,
triumphed.

After that I persuaded her to write an article for one of the morning
papers. She acquitted herself fairly well. The article was accepted,
but the paper made no payment.

I wore myself out in trying to raise a sovereign, and, succeeding after
endless efforts, I handed it over to her with the white lie that it
represented her remuneration from the paper.

Poor Marie! She was delighted to give her small earnings to her old
mother, who supplemented her income by letting furnished apartments.

The old ladies began to look upon me as their saviour; copies of
translations, unanimously rejected by theatrical managers in bygone
days, appeared from drawers, where they had long lain forgotten. I was
credited with the wondrous capacity to effect their acceptance, and
burdened with futile commissions which interfered with my work and
caused me no end of trouble. I had to fall back on my small savings
because I wasted my time and used up my nervous energy; I could only
afford one meal a day, and reverted to my old habit of going to bed
without supper.

Encouraged by her few little successes, Marie undertook to write a
play in five acts. I seemed to have sown into her soul all the sterile
seed of my poetic inspirations. In this virgin soil it germinated and
grew, while I remained unproductive, like a flower which shakes out its
seed and withers. My soul was lacerated, sick to death. The influence
of that little female brain, so different from the brain of a man,
disturbed and disordered the mechanism of my thoughts. I was at a loss
to understand why I thought so highly of her literary gifts, why I
kept on urging her to write, for with the exception of her letters to
me, which were mostly personal and frequently quite commonplace, I had
no proof that she could write at all. She had become my living poem;
she had taken the place of my vanished talent. Her personality was
grafted on mine and was dominating it. I existed only through her; I,
the mother-root, led an underground life, nourishing this tree which
was growing sunwards and promising wonderful blossoms. I delighted in
its marvellous beauty, never dreaming that the day would come when the
offshoot would separate from the exhausted trunk, to bloom and dazzle
independently, proud of the borrowed splendour.

The first act of her play was finished. I read it. Under the spell of
my hallucination I found it perfect; I loudly expressed by sincere
admiration and heartily congratulated the author. She was herself
astonished at her talent, and I prophesied for her a brilliant future.
But all of a sudden our plans were changed. Marie's mother remembered
a friend, an artist, a very wealthy woman with a fine estate, and,
what was of greater importance still, closely in touch with one of our
leading actors whose wife was the rival and sworn enemy of the great
tragedienne, Marie's former friend.

The artist, a spinster, vouched for the high moral standard of this
couple, and they expressed themselves ready to undertake the guidance
and supervision of Marie's studies until her first appearance in
public. Marie was invited to stay for a fortnight with her mother's
friend to discuss the matter. There she was to meet the great actor and
his wife who, to fill her cup of happiness, had used their influence
with the manager of the theatre on her behalf with very satisfactory
results. His former reported refusal was thereby entirely contradicted,
and turned out to have been a fabrication of her mother's, invented for
the sole purpose of keeping her daughter off the stage.

Marie's future appeared to be safe. I could breathe freely, sleep
undisturbed, work.

She stayed away for a fortnight. To judge from her scanty letters she
was anything but dull. Her new friends, to whom she had given proofs of
her talent, had told her that she would do well on the stage.

On her return she engaged rooms in a farmhouse and arranged with the
farmer's wife to board her. She was free of her warders now, and we
could spend unchaperoned week-ends together. Life was smiling at us, a
little sadly, it is true, for a certain melancholy, the effect of her
divorce, always remained. But in the country the burden of convention
weighs less heavily than in town, and the summer sun soon dispelled the
gloom which hung over our lives.



II


Her appearance under the patronage of the two famous actors was
announced in the autumn and put a stop to all gossip. I did not
like the part chosen for her. It was a small character-part in
an old-fashioned play. But her teacher and patron counted on the
sympathy of the audience and the effect of a good scene, in which she
refused an aristocratic suitor who saw in her a rare ornament for his
drawing-room, and declared that in her eyes the noble heart of the poor
young man was infinitely more precious than all the wealth and title of
the nobleman.

As I was dismissed from my post as her teacher, I was able to devote
all my time and attention to my scientific studies, and the writing of
a paper destined for some academy or other. This was necessary in order
to prove myself a man of letters and efficient librarian. With ardent
zeal I gave myself up to ethnographical research in connection with the
farthest East. It acted like opium on my brain, which was exhausted
by the struggles, cares and pains I had undergone. Inspired by the
ambition to show myself worthy of my beloved, whose future appeared in
the rosiest hues, I achieved wonders of industry; I shut myself up in
the vaults of the Royal Castle from morning till night; I suffered from
the damp and icy atmosphere without a complaint; I defied poverty and
need.

       *       *       *       *       *

Marie's appearance in public was postponed by the death of her little
daughter, who died of brain fever; another month of tears, reproaches
and remorse followed.

"It is a judgment on you," declared the child's grand-mother, glad to
thrust the poisoned dagger into the heart of the daughter-in-law whom
she hated because she had brought dishonour on her name.

Marie was broken-hearted, and spent day and night at the bedside of the
dying child, under the roof of her former husband, chaperoned by her
late mother-in-law. The father was overcome with grief at the death of
his only child, and, bowed down with sorrow, he longed to meet again
the friend of former days, the witness of the past. One evening, a few
days after the little girl's funeral, my landlady informed me that the
Baron had called and had left a message to the effect that he hoped to
see me at his house.

Considering the unusual circumstances which had led up to the breach, I
wanted anything but a reconciliation. I sent him a polite refusal.

A quarter of an hour had hardly elapsed when Marie herself appeared,
dressed in deep mourning, her eyes full of tears, and begged me to
comply with the request of the inconsolable Baron.

I found this mission in abominable taste. I rated her soundly, and
pointed out to her how ambiguous and unjustifiable in the eyes of the
world such a situation would be. She upbraided me with my prejudices,
implored me, appealed to my generous disposition, and ended by
overruling all my objections; I agreed to the indelicate proposal.

I had sworn never again to enter the house in which the drama had been
enacted. But the widower had removed. He had taken rooms not far from
us; I was glad to be spared a renewed visit to the old place, and
accompanied the divorced wife on her visit to her late husband.

The mourning, the evident grief, the grave and gloomy appearance of
the house all combined to rob our meeting of any trace of strangeness
or embarrassment. The habit of seeing these two people together was a
bar to any feeling of jealousy on my part, and the tactful and cordial
bearing of the Baron helped to reassure me completely.

We dined together, we drank and played cards just as in the old days.

On the following day we met in my room; on a third evening at Marie's,
who was now living in the house of an old lady. We fell into our former
habits, and Marie was happy to see us together. It comforted her, and
since we had ourselves under perfect control nobody was offended or
aggrieved. The Baron looked upon us as being secretly engaged, his love
for Marie seemed to be dead. Sometimes he even talked of his unhappy
love-affair, for Matilda was carefully watched by her father and out of
his reach.... Marie teased and comforted him alternately, and he made
no secret, now, of his true feelings.

At parting their intimacy was more marked, but instead of rousing my
jealousy it merely excited my disgust.

One day Marie told me that she had been to see the Baron, and stayed to
have dinner with him; she justified her visit by saying that she had to
talk to him on urgent business in connection with her daughter's estate
which the Baron inherited.

I objected to this want of taste; in fact, I told her that her conduct
was downright indecent. She burst out laughing, teasingly reminded me
of my former railings against prejudice, and in the end I joined in her
laughter. It was ridiculous, it was unusual, but it was good form to
laugh at everything, and a splendid thing to see virtue rewarded.

After that she visited the Baron whenever she pleased, and I believe he
helped her to study her part.

Up to now we had had no quarrels, for any jealousy I might have
felt disappeared as soon as I got used to the state of things, and I
never quite lost the old illusion that they were husband and wife.
But one evening Marie came to see me alone. On helping her to remove
her cloak I noticed that her dress was somewhat deranged. It roused
my suspicions. She sat down on the sofa opposite the looking-glass,
talking volubly all the time. Her conversation struck me as forced, she
cast furtive glances at her reflection and stealthily tried to smooth
her hair.

A horrible thought flashed into my mind. Unable to control my
agitation, I exclaimed--

"Where have you been?"

"With Gustav."

"What did you do there?"

She started, but quickly suppressing her emotion, she replied--

"I was studying my part."

"It's a lie!"

She made an angry exclamation; she accused me of being absurdly
jealous, deluged me with explanations. I wavered, and as we were
invited out that evening I had to postpone all further investigation.

Thinking of this incident to-day, I would swear a solemn oath that she
committed bigamy in those days, to say the least of it. But at that
time I was completely deceived by her trickery. What had happened?...
Probably this--

She had dined alone with the Baron; they had had coffee and liqueurs;
she was seized with that after-dinner lassitude; the Baron advised
her to lie down on the sofa and rest awhile, a proposal which did
not displease her ... and the rest followed as a matter of course.
Solitude, complete confidence, old memories, increased temptation, and
the lonely man succumbed. Why deny themselves, as long as no one knew?
She was her own mistress, since she had never taken money from her
lover, and to break a promise--what is that to a woman! Perhaps she
already regretted his loss; perhaps she had come to the conclusion that
he understood her needs better than I; perhaps, now that her curiosity
was satisfied, she yearned again for the stronger man; for in the
struggle for the love of a woman the sensitive and delicate lover, may
he be never so ardent, is always beaten by the athlete.

It was more than probable that she gave herself to him, more especially
as she was free from responsibility and her woman's heart pitied the
lonely man. Had I been in the place of the offended husband should I
have acted otherwise? I hardly think so.

But since the beloved lips never tired of using the sublime words
"honour," "decency," "morality," I refused to harbour any suspicions.

For these reasons a woman will always get the better of her lover, if
he be a man of honour. He flatters himself that he is the only one,
because he wants' to be the only one, and the wish is father to the
thought.

To-day Marie's loyalty seems to me in the highest degree improbable,
incredible, impossible.

It was also a significant fact that the Baron, when we were alone
together, always manifested a lively interest in other women; and one
evening, after dining with him at a restaurant, he went so far as to
ask me for certain addresses. Doubtless this was done in order to
deceive me.

Another thing which struck me was his attitude towards Marie; he
treated her with a somewhat contemptuous courtesy; she behaved like a
cocotte, and her passion for me seemed to be more and more on the wane.



III


At last Marie appeared before the footlights. She was a success for
many and complex reasons. Firstly, everybody was curious to see a
baroness on the stage; secondly, the middle-classes were sympathetic
because they delighted in the blow dealt to aristocratic prestige by
this divorce; the bachelors, the sexless, the enemies of matrimonial
slavery, lavished flowers on her; not to forget the friends and
relations of the great actor, who were interested in her because he had
been her teacher and was bringing her out.

After the performance the Baron asked both of us, and the old lady with
whom Marie was living, to supper.

Everybody was charmed with the result and intoxicated with the success.
I was displeased with Marie's appearance because she had not removed
her make-up, and her hair was still dressed as she had worn it on the
stage. She was no longer the virginal mother with whom I had fallen in
love, but an actress with insolent gestures, bad manners, boastful,
overbearing, behaving with a kind of offensive foppishness.

In her imagination she had scaled the highest summits of art, and she
dismissed all my remarks, my suggestions, with a shrug of her shoulders
or a condescending, "My dear, you know nothing about it."

The Baron wore a look of dejection, like an unhappy lover. But for my
presence he would have kissed her. Under the influence of an incredible
quantity of Madeira he opened his heart to us, and regretted that art,
the divine, should claim so many cruel sacrifices. The press--which
had been well managed--confirmed her success, and an engagement seemed
likely to follow.

Two photographers fought for the honour of being permitted to
photograph the debutante. A successful little magazine sold the
portrait of the new star, together with her biography.

What struck me most in looking at these new portraits was the fact
that not one of them resembled the old one in my possession. Was it
possible that her character, the expression of her face, could have
changed in so short a time, in a year? Or was she a different woman
when she reflected the love, the tenderness, the compassion which my
eyes radiated as soon as I looked at her? The expression of her face on
these portraits was vulgar, hard and insolent, every feature expressed
a cruel coquetry, a challenge. One pose in particular disgusted me.
She was represented leaning over the back of a low chair in such a
manner that the beholder could see her bosom, which was only partly
hidden by a fan resting against the upper part of her dress. Her eyes
seemed riveted on the eyes of an invisible person, not myself, for my
love, coupled with respect and tenderness, never caressed her with the
shameless sensuality which roused in her the passion of a wanton. The
photograph reminded me of those obscene pictures which are furtively
offered to the passers-by at the doors of low coffee-houses under cover
of the night.

When she offered me this portrait I refused to accept it.

"What!" she exclaimed in a piteous voice, which for a moment revealed
her carefully concealed want of true refinement, "you refuse my
photograph? Then you don't love me any more!"

When a woman says to her lover, "You don't love me any more," she has
already ceased to love him.

I knew from this moment that her love was growing cold. She realised
that her feeble soul had drawn from me the courage, the boldness
necessary to arrive at her goal, and she wanted to be rid of the
troublesome creditor. She had been stealing my thoughts while she
seemed to scorn them with her contemptuous, "You know nothing about it,
my dear!"

This uncultured woman, whose only accomplishment was her fluent French,
whose education had been neglected, who had been brought up in the
country, who knew nothing of literature or the stage, to whom I had
given the first lessons in the correct pronunciation of Swedish, to
whom I had explained the secrets of metrics and prosody, treated me as
if I were an idiot.

I advised her to select for her second appearance in public, which
was to take place shortly, the principal part in the best melodrama
on the repertoire. She refused. But a few days later she informed me
casually that the idea had occurred to her to choose this particular
part. I analysed it for her, sketched the costumes, drew her attention
to all the points to be made, showed her how to make her entrances and
exits, and pointed out to her the features which should be specially
emphasized.

A secret struggle went on between the Baron and myself. He, who
stage-managed the performances of the Royal Guards, instructed the
play-acting soldiers, fondly imagining himself to be better acquainted
with theatrical affairs than I was. Marie valued his so-called hints
more highly; accepted him as her authority, scorned my suggestions.
Oh! the vileness of his conception of æsthetics! He extolled the
commonplace, the vulgar, the banal, because, as he said, it was true
nature.

I admitted his arguments as far as modern comedy was concerned, for
here the characters are depicted among the thousand details of everyday
life. But his theory became impossible when applied, for instance, to
English melodrama; great passions cannot be expressed in the same way
as the whims and witticisms of a drawing-room conversation.

But this distinction was too subtle for a mediocre brain, which could
only generalise and assume that because a certain thing happened in one
case, it must infallibly become the rule and happen in all others.

On the day before her appearance Marie showed me her dresses. In spite
of my opposition and entreaties she had chosen a dull grey material,
most unbecoming to her because it gave her complexion an ashen hue. Her
only reply had been a curt repulse and the truly feminine argument--

"But Mrs. X., the great tragedienne, created the part in a grey dress!"

"True, but Mrs. X. is not fair like you! And what suits a dark woman
doesn't always suit a fair one."

She had not been able to see my point and had only been angry with me.

I had prophesied a fiasco, and her second appearance really was a dead
failure.

The tears, the reproaches, the insults even which followed!

As misfortune would have it, a week later the great actress appeared
in the same part, in a special performance, and received cart-loads of
flowers.

Of course Marie was furious with me and made me responsible for
her failure, simply because I had prophesied it; the grief and
disappointment brought her still nearer to the Baron; it drew them
together with the sympathy which always unites inferior characters.

I, the man of letters, the playwright, the dramatic critic, at home
in all the literatures, through my work and position at the library
in correspondence with the finest intellects of the world, I was cast
aside like a worn-out garment, treated like an idiot, considered of no
more importance than a footman or a dog.

But although her second appearance had been a failure, she was engaged
with a pay of 2,400 crowns[1] per annum. She had acquitted herself
fairly well, but she had no great career before her. She would never
rise above the level of a "useful actress"; she would be cast for small
parts, society women, mere dressed-up dolls, and spend her days at the
dressmaker's. Three, four, sometimes five different dresses on one and
the same evening would swallow up her insufficient pay.

What bitter disappointments, what heart-rending scenes, as she watched
her parts grow smaller and smaller, until they consisted of a few
sentences only. Her room had the appearance of a dressmaker's workshop,
littered with dress materials, patterns and millinery. The mother, the
real _grande dame_ who had left her drawing-rooms, renounced dress
and fashion, to devote her life to a lofty ideal of art, had become a
bungling seamstress who worked at her sewing machine till midnight, so
that she might play before an indifferent bourgeoisie for a few minutes
the part of a society woman.

The waste of time behind the scenes during rehearsal, when she stood in
the wings for hours waiting for her cue which should bring her before
the footlights to say two or three words, developed in her a taste for
gossip, for idle talk and risky stories; it killed all honest striving
to rise above her condition; the soul was shorn of its wings and was
flung to earth, into the gutter.

The disintegrating process went on. She continued to deteriorate, and
after her dresses had been remodelled again and again for want of means
to buy new ones, she was deprived of even her small parts and degraded
to the role of a walker on. Poverty was staring her in the face,
and her mother, a modern Cassandra, made life a burden to her; the
public, well acquainted with her sensational divorce, and the premature
death of her little girl, cried out against the unfaithful wife, the
unnatural mother. It was but a question of time and the manager of the
theatre would not be able to protect her against the antipathy of the
audience; the great actor, her teacher, disowned her and admitted his
mistake in believing in her talent.

So much ado, so much unhappiness, to humour a woman who did not know
her own mind.

And still matters grew worse, for Marie's mother suddenly died of heart
disease, of a broken heart, as it was called, broken with sorrow,
caused by her unnatural daughter. Again my honour was involved. I
was furious with the injustice of the world, and made a desperate
effort to vindicate her honour. I proposed the foundation of a weekly
paper, for the discussion of the drama, music, literature and art, and
she, thankful now for every effort to help her, gratefully accepted
my proposal. In this paper she was to make her début as a critic
and writer of feuilletons, and so gradually become acquainted with
publishers. She sunk two hundred crowns in the enterprise. I undertook
the editorial work and proof-reading. Since I was well aware of my
complete incapacity as a business manager, I left her to attend to the
sale and advertisements, the proceeds of which she was to share with
the manager of her theatre, who was also the proprietor of a news stall.

The first number was set and looked very well indeed. It contained
a leader written by one of our rising artists; an original article
from a correspondent in Rome; another one from Paris; a critique on a
musical performance by a distinguished writer and contributor to one
of the first Stockholm papers; a literary review written by myself; a
feuilleton and reports on first nights by Marie.

It would have been impossible to improve the arrangements made; the
great thing was to publish the first number at the time advertised.
Everything was ready, but at the last moment we lacked the necessary
funds and credit.

Alas! I had put my fate into the hands of a woman! On the day of the
publication she remained calmly in bed and slept till broad daylight.

Convinced that everything was well, I went to town, but everywhere on
my way I was greeted with sarcastic smiles.

"Well, where is the wonderful paper to be had?" I was asked the
question dozens of times by the numerous people interested in its
appearance.

"Everywhere!"

"Or nowhere!"

I went into a newspaper shop.

"We haven't received it yet," said the assistant behind the counter.

I rushed to the printing-office. It had not left the press yet.

A complete failure! We had an angry scene. Her inborn carelessness and
ignorance of the publishing trade exonerated her to some extent. She
had completely relied on her friend, the theatrical manager.

The two hundred crowns were gone. My time, my honour, the eager thought
I had devoted to the scheme, all were wasted.

In this general shipwreck one haunting thought remained: our condition
was hopeless.

I proposed that we should die together. What was to become of us? She
was quite broken down and I had not the strength to lift her up a
second time.

"Let us die," I said to her. "Don't let us degenerate into walking
corpses and obstruct the path of the living."

She refused.

What a coward you were, my proud Marie! And how cruel it was of you to
make me a witness of the spectacle of your downfall, the laughter and
sneers of the onlookers!

I spent the evening at my club, and when I went home that night I was
intoxicated.

I went to see her early on the following morning. The alcohol seemed
to have made me more clear-sighted. For the first time I noticed the
change in her. Her room was untidy, her dress slovenly, her beloved
little feet were thrust into a pair of old slippers, the stockings hung
in wrinkles round her ankles. What squalor!

Her vocabulary had become enriched by some ugly theatrical slang; her
gestures were reminiscent of the street, her eyes looked at me with
hatred, an expression of bitterness drew down the corners of her mouth.

She remained stooping over her work, without looking at me, as if she
were thinking evil thoughts.

Suddenly, without raising her head, she said hoarsely--

"Do you know, Axel, what a woman is justified in expecting from the man
with whom she is on intimate terms, such as we are?"

Thunderstruck, unwilling to trust my ears, I faltered--

"No ... what?"

"What does a woman expect from her lover?"

"Love!"

"And what else?"

"Money!"

The vulgar word saved her from further questioning, and I left her,
convinced that I had guessed correctly.

"Prostitute! Prostitute!" I said to myself, stumbling through the
streets, the autumnal appearance of which depressed my spirits. We
had arrived at the last stage.... All that remained to do was to make
payment for pleasures received, to admit the trade without shame.

If she had been poor, at least, suffering from want! But she had just
come into her mother's money, the entire furniture of a house, and a
number of shares, some of doubtful value, but nevertheless representing
two or three thousand crowns; moreover, she was still receiving her pay
regularly from the theatre.

I could not understand her attitude ... until suddenly I remembered her
landlady and intimate friend.

She was an abominable, elderly woman, with the suspicious manners of
a procuress; nobody knew how she lived; she was always in debt, yet
always extravagantly and strikingly dressed; somehow she managed to
ingratiate herself with people, and she always ended by asking them
for a small loan, eternally bewailing her miserable existence. A shady
character, who hated me because I saw through her.

Now I suddenly remembered an incident which had happened two or three
months ago, but which had not interested me at the time. The woman had
extracted a promise from a friend of Marie's to lend her a thousand
crowns. The promise had remained a promise. Eventually Marie, giving
way to pressure and anxious to save the reputation of her friend, who
was badly compromised, guaranteed to find the money, and actually
raised the sum. But instead of gratitude she reaped nothing but
reproaches from her friend, and when it came to explanations, the
old-woman insisted on her perfect innocence and laid the full blame on
Marie's shoulders. I had at the time expressed my dislike and distrust
of her, and urged Marie to have nothing to do with an individual whose
manipulations came very close to blackmail.

But she had exonerated her false friend at the time.... Later on she
told a different story altogether, talked of a misunderstanding; in the
end the whole incident became "an invention of my evil imagination."

Possibly this woman had suggested to Marie the vile idea of "presenting
me with the bill." It must have been so, for the suggestion had not
been made easily and was most unlike her. I tried to make myself
believe it, hope it.

If she had merely asked me for the money which she had invested in the
paper, the money which had been lost through her fault--that would
have been female mathematics. Or, if she had insisted on an immediate
marriage! But she had no wish to be married, I was sure of that. It was
a question of paying for the love, the kisses she had given me. It was
payment she demanded.... Supposing I sent her in my bill: for my work
according to time and quality, for the waste of brain power, of nerve
force, for my heart's blood, my name, my honour, my sufferings; the
bill for my career, ruined, perhaps, for ever.

But no, it was her privilege to send in the first bill; I took no
exception to that.

I spent my evening at a restaurant, wandered through the streets and
pondered the problem of degradation. Why is it so painful to watch a
person sink? It must be because there is something unnatural in it, for
nature demands personal progress, evolution, and every backward step
means the disintegration of force.

The same argument applies to the life of the community where everybody
strives to reach the material or spiritual summits. Thence comes the
tragic feeling which seizes us in the contemplation of failure, tragic
as autumn, sickness and death. This woman, who had not yet reached her
thirtieth year, had been young, beautiful, frank, honest, amiable,
strong and well-bred; in two short years she had been so degraded, had
fallen so low.

For a moment I tried to blame myself; the thought that the fault was
mine would have been a comfort to me, for it would have made her
shame seem less. But try as I would, I did not succeed, for had I
not taught her the cult of the beautiful? the love of high ideals?
the longing to do noble acts? While she adopted the vulgarities of
her theatrical friends, I had improved, I had acquired the manners
and language of fashionable society, I had learned that self-control
which keeps emotion in check and is considered the hall-mark of good
breeding. I had become chaste in love, anxious to spare modesty, not
to offend against beauty and seemliness, for thus only can we forget
the brutality of an act which to my mind is much more spiritual than
physical.

I was rough sometimes, it is true, but never vulgar. I killed,
but never wounded. I called a spade a spade, but never hinted and
insinuated; my ideas were my own, prompted by the situations in which I
happened to find myself; I never tried to dazzle with the witticisms of
musical comedies or comic papers.

I loved cleanliness, purity, beauty in my daily surroundings; I
preferred to refuse an invitation to accepting it and appearing badly
dressed. I never received her in dressing-gown and slippers; I may not
always have been able to offer a guest more than bread and butter and a
glass of beer, but there was always a clean table-cloth.

I had not set her a bad example; it was not my fault that she had
deteriorated. Her love for me was dead, therefore she did not want to
please me any longer. She belonged to the public, it was that fact
which had made her the wanton who could calmly present her bill for so
many nights of pleasure....

During the next few days I shut myself up in my library. I mourned
for my love, my splendid, foolish, divine love. All was over, and the
battlefield on which the struggle had raged was silent and still. Two
dead and so many wounded to satisfy a woman who was not worth a pair
of old shoes! If her passion had at least been roused by the longing
for motherhood, if she had been guided by the unrealised instincts
which force those unfortunates who are mothers on the streets! But
she detested children; in her eyes motherhood was degrading. Unnatural
and perverse woman that she was, she debased the maternal instinct to
a vulgar pleasure. Her race was doomed to extinction because she was
a degenerate, in the process of dissolution; but she concealed this
dissolution under high-sounding phrases, proclaimed that it was our
duty to live for higher ends, for the good of humanity at large.

I loathed her now, I tried to forget her. I paced the room, up and
down, up and down, before the rows of book-shelves, unable to rid
myself of the accursed night-mare which haunted me. I had no desire for
her, or for her company, for she inspired me with disgust; and yet a
deep compassion, an almost paternal tenderness made me feel responsible
for her future. I knew that if I left her to her own devices, she would
go under, and end either as the mistress of her late husband, or the
mistress of all the world.

I was powerless to lift her up, powerless to struggle out of the morass
into which we had fallen. I resigned myself to remain tied to her,
even if I had to witness and share in her downward course. She was
dragging me down with her--life had become a burden to me, I had lost
all enthusiasm for my work. The instinct of self-preservation, hope,
were dead. I wanted nothing, desired nothing. I had developed into a
complete misanthrope; I frequently turned away from the door of my
restaurant and, forgoing dinner, returned home, threw myself on my sofa
and buried myself under my rugs. There I lay, like a wild beast that
has received its death wound, rigid, with an empty brain, unable to
think or sleep, waiting for the end.

One day, however, I was sitting in a back room of my restaurant, a
private room where lovers meet and shabby coats hide themselves, both
afraid of the daylight. All at once a well-known voice woke me from my
reverie: a man wished me a good afternoon.

He was an unsuccessful architect, a lost member of our late Bohemia,
which was now scattered to all the winds.

"You are still among the living, then?" he said, sitting down opposite
me.

"I am ... but what about you?"

"I'm so-so ... off to Paris to-morrow ... some fool left me ten
thousand crowns."

"Lucky dog!"

"Unfortunately I have to devour it all by myself...."

"The misfortune is not so great, I know a set of teeth ready to help
you."

"Really? Would you care to come?..."

"Only too glad to!"

"Is it a bargain then?"

"It's a bargain."

"To-morrow night, by the six o'clock train, to Paris...."

"And afterwards?..."

"A bullet through the head!"

"The devil! Where did you get this idea from?"

"From your face! Suicide is plainly written on it!"

"Haruspex! Well, pack up and come along!"

When I saw Marie that night I told her the good news. She listened with
every appearance of pleasure, wished me a pleasant time, and repeated
again and again that it would do me a world of good, would refresh me
mentally. In short, she seemed well pleased, and overwhelmed me with
affection, which touched me deeply.

We spent the evening together, talking of the days which had gone
by. We made no plans, for we had lost faith in the future. Then we
parted.... For ever? ... The question was not mooted; we silently
agreed to leave it to chance to reunite us or not.


[1] A Swedish crown is equivalent to 1s. 4d.



IV


The journey really rejuvenated me. It stirred up the memories of my
early youth and I felt a mad joy surging in my heart; I wanted to
forget the last two years of misery, and not for one single moment did
I feel inclined to speak of Marie. The whole tragedy of the divorce was
like a repulsive heap of offal, from which I was eager to fly without
turning round. I could not help smiling in my sleeve at times, like a
fugitive who is firmly resolved not to be taken again; I felt like a
debtor who has escaped from his creditors and is hiding in a distant
country.

For two weeks I revelled in the Paris theatres, museums and libraries.
I received no letters from Marie, and was beginning to hope that she
had got over our separation and that everything was well in the best of
all possible worlds.

But after a certain time I grew tired of wandering about, and sated
with so many new and strong impressions; things began to lose their
interest. I stayed in my room and read the papers, oppressed by vague
apprehensions, by an inexplicable uneasiness.

The vision of the white woman, the Fata Morgana of the virginal mother
began to haunt me and disturbed my peace. The picture of the insolent
actress was wiped out of my memory; I remembered only the Baroness,
young, beautiful; her fragile body transfigured and clothed with the
beauty of the Land of Promise, dreamed of by the ascètes.

I was indulging in those painful and yet delicious dreams when I
received a letter from Marie, in which she informed me in heartbreaking
words that she was about to become a mother, and implored me to save
her from dishonour.

Without a moment's hesitation I packed my portmanteau. I left Paris by
the first train for Stockholm. I was going to make her my wife.

I had no doubt about the paternity of the expected baby. I looked
upon the result of our irregular relations as a blessing, as the end
of our sufferings; but also as a fact which burdened us with a heavy
responsibility, which might spell ruin; at the same time, however, it
was the starting point into the unknown; something quite new. Moreover,
I always had a very high conception of married life; I considered it
the only possible form under which two persons of opposite sex could
live together. Life together held no terror for me. My love received a
fresh stimulus from the fact that Marie was about to become a mother;
she arose purified, ennobled, from the mire of our illicit relationship.

On my arrival at Stockholm she received me very ungraciously and
accused me of having deceived her. We had a painful scene--but need
she have been so surprised after all that had happened during the last
twelve months?

She hated matrimony. Her objectionable friend had impressed upon her
that a married woman is a slave who works for her husband gratuitously.
I detest slaves, and therefore proposed a modern _ménage_, in keeping
with our views.

I suggested that we should take three rooms, one for her, one for
myself and a common room. We should neither do our own housekeeping,
nor have any servants in the house. Dinner should be sent in from
a neighbouring restaurant, breakfast and supper be prepared in
the kitchen by a daily servant. In this way expenses were easily
calculated and the causes for unpleasantness reduced to a minimum.

To avoid every suspicion of living on my wife's dowry, I suggested
that it should be settled on her. In the North a man considers himself
dishonoured by the acceptance of his wife's dowry, which in civilised
countries forms a sort of contribution from the wife, and creates in
her the illusion that her husband is not keeping her entirely. To avoid
a bad start it is the custom in Germany and Denmark for the wife to
furnish the house; this creates the impression on the husband that he
is living in his wife's house, and in the latter that she is in her own
home, maintaining her husband.

Marie had recently inherited her mother's furniture, articles without
any intrinsic value, their only claim to distinction being a certain
sentimental merit of old association and an air of antiquity. She
proposed that she should furnish the rooms, arguing that it would be
absurd to buy furniture for three rooms when she had enough for six. I
willingly agreed to her proposal.

There only remained one more point, the main one, the expected baby.
We were agreed on the necessity of keeping its birth a secret, and we
decided to place it with a reliable nurse until such time as we could
adopt it.

The wedding was fixed for the 31st of December. During the remaining
two months I strained every nerve to make adequate provision for
the future. For this purpose, and knowing that Marie would soon be
compelled to renounce her work at the theatre, I renewed my literary
efforts. I worked with such ease that at the end of the first month I
was able to offer for publication a volume of short stories, which was
accepted without difficulty.

Fortune favoured me; I was appointed assistant-librarian with a salary
of twelve hundred crowns, and when the collections were transferred
from the old building to the new one I received a bonus of six hundred
crowns. This was good fortune indeed, and taken together with other
favourable omens I began to think that a relentless fate had tired of
persecuting me.

The first and foremost magazine in Finland offered me a post on the
staff as reviewer at fifty crowns for each article. The official
Swedish Journal, published by the Academy, gave me the much-coveted
order to write the reviews on art for thirty-five crowns the column.
Besides all this I was entrusted with the revision of the classics
which were being published at that time.

All this good fortune came to me in those two months, the most fateful
months of my whole life.

My short stories appeared almost immediately and were a great success.
I was hailed as a master of this particular style; it was said that the
book was epoch-making in the literature of Sweden, because it was the
first to introduce modern realism.

It was unspeakable happiness to me to lay at the feet of my poor,
adored Marie a name which, apart from the titles of a royal secretary,
and assistant-librarian, was beginning to be known, with every prospect
of a brilliant future.

Some day I should be able to give her a fresh start, to re-open her
theatrical career, which for the moment had been interrupted by,
perhaps, undeserved misfortune.

Fortune was smiling at us with a tear in the eye....

The banns were published. I packed my belongings and said good-bye to
my attic, the witness of many joys and sorrows. I marched into that
prison which all fear, but which, perhaps, we had less cause to dread
than others, since we had foreseen all dangers, removed all stumbling
blocks.... And yet....



PART III



I


What inexpressible happiness it is to be married! To be always near
the beloved one, safe from the prying eyes of the fatuous world. It is
as if one had regained the home of one's childhood with its sheltering
love, a safe port after the storm, a nest which awaits the little ones.

Surrounded by nothing but objects which belonged to her, mementoes and
relics of her parents' house, I felt as if I were a shoot grafted on
her trunk; the oil paintings of her ancestors deluded me into thinking
that I had been adopted by her family, because her ancestors will also
be the ancestors of my children. I received everything from her hand;
she made me wear her father's watch and chain; my dinner was served on
her mother's china; she poured on me a continuous stream of trifling
presents, relics of old times, which had belonged to famous warriors
celebrated by the poets of her country, a fact which impressed me not
a little. She was the benefactress, the generous giver of all these
gifts, and I entirely forgot that it was I who had reclaimed her,
lifted her out of the mire, made her the wife of a man with brilliant
prospects; forgot that she had been an unknown actress, a divorced wife
condemned by her sisters, a woman whom very probably I had saved from
the worst.

What a happy life we led! We realised the dream of freedom in marriage.
No double-bed, no common bed-room, room, no common dressing-room;
nothing unseemly degraded the sanctity of our union. Marriage as we
understood and realised it was a splendid institution. The tender
good-nights, repeated again and again; the joy of wishing each other
good-morning, of asking how we had slept, were they not due to the fact
that we occupied separate rooms? How delightful were the stolen visits
to each other, the courtesy and tenderness which we never forgot!
How different compared with the brazen boldness, the more or less
graciously endured brutalities which are as a rule inseparable from
matrimony.

I got through an amazing amount of work, staying at home by the side
of my beloved wife who was sewing tiny garments for the expected baby.
What a lot of time I had wasted in rendezvous and idleness in the days
gone by!

       *       *       *       *       *

After a month of the closest companionship Marie was laid up with a
premature confinement. We had a tiny daughter, hardly able to draw
breath. Without a moment's delay the baby was taken charge of by a
nurse whom we knew to be a decent woman, and two days later it passed
away as it had come, without pain, from sheer want of vitality, just
after it had received private baptism.

The mother received the news with regret, but it was regret not
unmingled with relief. A burden of infinite cares and worries had
fallen off her shoulders, for well she knew that social prejudice would
not have permitted her to keep the prematurely-born infant under our
own roof.

After this incident we firmly made up our minds to one thing: No more
children! We dreamed of a life together, a life of perfect comradeship,
of a man and a woman, loving and supplementing each other, but living
their own lives, restlessly straining every nerve to realise their
individual ambitions.

Now that every obstacle had been removed, every threatening danger
overcome, we began to breathe freely and reconsider our position. I
was ostracised by my relations, no meddlesome member of my family
threatened the peace of our home, and since the only relative of my
wife's who lived on the spot was her aunt, we were spared the frequent
calls and visits which so often give rise to serious troubles and
trials in a young _ménage_.



II


Six weeks later I made the discovery that two intruders had insinuated
themselves into my wife's confidence.

One of them was a dog, a King Charles, a blear-eyed little monster,
which greeted me with deafening yelping and barking every time I
entered the house, just as if I had been a stranger. I always disliked
dogs, those protectors of cowards who lack the courage to fight an
assailant themselves; but I particularly disliked this dog, because
it was a relic of her first marriage, a constant reminder of her late
husband.

The first time I protested, and ordered it to lie down, my wife
reproached me gently, and made excuses for the little beast, which she
called her late daughter's legacy, pretending to be horror-struck at
this suddenly revealed strain of cruelty in my disposition.

One day I found traces of the little monster on the drawing-room
carpet. I punished it, and she called me a coward who ill-treated dumb
creatures.

"But what else could I do, my dear? It's no use arguing with animals;
they don't understand our language."

She began to cry, and sobbingly confessed that she could not help being
afraid of a cruel man....

And the monster continued to dirty the drawing-room carpet.

I decided to take the trouble to train the dog, and did my utmost
to convince her that a little perseverance does wonders with an
intelligent animal.

She lost her temper, and for the first time drew my attention to the
fact that the carpet belonged to her.

"Take it away, then; I never undertook to live in a pig-sty."

The carpet remained where it was, but the dog was watched more
carefully; my remonstrances had some effect.

Nevertheless fresh catastrophes occurred.

In order to keep down our expenditure and save the trouble and expense
of a kitchen fire, we decided to have a cold supper in the evening.
Entering the kitchen accidentally on one occasion, I was amazed to find
a roaring fire and the maid engaged in frying veal cutlets.

"Who are these cutlets for?"

"For the dog, sir."

My wife joined us.

"My dear girl----"

"Excuse me, I paid for them!"

"But I have to be content with a cold supper! I fare worse than your
dog.... And I, too, pay."

She paid!

Henceforth the dog was looked upon as a martyr. Marie and a friend, a
brand-new friend, adopted the habit of worshipping the beast, which
they had decorated with a blue ribbon, behind locked doors. And the
dear friend heaved a sigh at the thought of so much human malice
incarnate in my detestable person.

An irrepressible hatred for this interloper who was everywhere in
my way, took possession of me. My wife, with a down pillow and some
blankets, made a bed for it which obstructed my way whenever I wanted
to say good-morning or good-night to her. And on every Saturday, the
day I looked forward to through a week of toil, counting on a pleasant
evening with her alone when, undisturbed, we could talk of the past and
make plans for the future, she spent three hours with her friend in the
kitchen; the maid made up a blazing fire; the whole place was turned
upside down--and why? Because Saturday was the monster's tub-day.

"Don't you think you are treating me heartlessly, cruelly?"

"How dare you call her heartless?" exclaimed the friend. "A gentler
soul never breathed. Why, she doesn't even shrink from sacrificing her
own and her husband's happiness to a poor forsaken animal!"

Some little time after I sat down to a dinner which was below criticism.

For some time past the food which was sent in daily from a neighbouring
restaurant had been steadily deteriorating, but my beloved wife, with
her irresistible sweetness, had made me believe that I had grown more
fastidious. And I had not doubted her word, for I always took her at
her own valuation and looked upon her as the soul of truth and candour.

The fatal dinner was served. There was nothing on the dish but bones
and sinews.

"What is this you are putting before me?" I asked the maid.

"I am sorry, sir," she replied, "but I had orders to reserve the best
pieces for the dog."

Beware of the woman who has been found out! Her wrath will fall on your
head with fourfold strength.

She sat as if struck by lightning, unmasked, shown up as a liar, a
cheat even, for she had always insisted that she was paying for the
dog's food out of her own pocket. Her pallor and silence made me feel
sorry for her. I blushed for her, and hating to see her humiliated,
I behaved like a generous conqueror, and tried to console her. I
playfully patted her cheek and told her not to mind.

But generosity was not one of her virtues. She burst into a torrent
of angry words: My origin was very evident; I had no education, no
manners, since I rebuked her before a servant, a stupid girl who had
misunderstood her instructions. There was no doubt that I, and I only,
was to blame. Hysterics followed, she grew more and more violent,
jumped up from her chair, threw herself on the sofa, raved like a
maniac, sobbed and screamed that she was dying.

I was sceptical, and remained untouched.

Such a fuss, and all about a dog!

But she continued to scream; it was a frightful scene; a terrible
cough shook her frame, which since her confinement had grown even more
fragile; I was deceived after all, and sent for the doctor.

He came, examined her heart, felt her pulse, and surlily turned to go;
I stopped him on the threshold.

"Well?"

"H'm! nothing at all," he answered, putting on his overcoat.

"Nothing?... But...."

"Nothing whatever.... You ought to know women.... Good day!"

If I had only known then what I know now, if I had known the secret,
the remedy for hysteria which I have discovered since! But the only
thing which occurred to me at the time was to kiss her eyes and ask her
pardon. And that was what I did. She pressed me to her heart, called
me her sensible child who should take care of her because she was very
delicate, very weak, and would die one day if her little boy had not
the sense to avoid scenes.

To make her quite happy I took her dog upon my knees and stroked its
back; and for the next half hour I was rewarded with looks full of the
tenderest affection and gratitude.

From that day the dog was allowed to do exactly as it liked, and it
dirtied the place without shame or restraint. Sometimes it seemed to
me that it did it out of revenge. But I controlled my temper.

I waited for a favourable opportunity, for the happy chance which would
deliver me from the torture of a life spent in an unclean home....

And the moment arrived. On returning to dinner one day, I found my wife
in tears. She was in great distress. Dinner was not ready. The maid was
looking for the lost dog.

Hardly able to conceal my joy, I made every effort to comfort my
inconsolable wife. But she could not understand my sympathy with her
grief, for she realised my inward satisfaction in finding the enemy
gone.

"You are delighted, I know you are," she exclaimed. "You find amusement
in the misfortunes of your friends. That shows how full of malice you
are, and that you don't love me any more."

"My love for you is as great as ever it was, believe me, but I detest
your dog."

"If you love me, you must love my dog too!"

"If I didn't love you, I should have struck you before now!"

The effect of my words was startling. To strike a woman! Carried away
by her resentment, she reproached me with having turned out her dog,
poisoned it.

We went to every police-station, we paid a visit to the knacker, and in
the end the disturber of our peace and happiness was recovered. My wife
and her friend, regarding me as a poisoner, or at any rate a potential
poisoner, celebrated its recovery with great rejoicings.

Henceforth the monster was kept a prisoner in my wife's bedroom; that
charming retreat of love, furnished with exquisite taste, was turned
into a dog's kennel.

Our small flat became uninhabitable, our home-life full of jars. I
ventured to make a remark to the effect, but my wife replied that her
room was her own.

Then I started on a merciless crusade. I left her severely alone; and
by and by she found my reserve unbearable.

"Why do you never come to say good-morning to me now?"

"Because I can't get near you."

She sulked. I sulked too. For another fortnight I lived in celibacy.
Then, tired out, she found herself compelled to make friends. She took
the first step, but she hated me for it.

She decided to have the troublesome interloper destroyed. But instead
of having it done forthwith, she invited her friend to assist her
in the enactment of a farewell farce, entitled "The Last Moments of
the Condemned." She went to the length of begging me on her knees
to embrace the wretched little brute as a proof that I harboured no
ill-will, arguing that dogs might possibly have an immortal soul and
that we might meet again in another world. The result was that I gave
the dog its life and freedom, an action which found its reward in her
gratitude.

At times I fancied that I was living in a lunatic asylum, but one does
not stand upon trifles when one is in love.

This scene, "The Last Moments of the Condemned," was renewed every six
months during the next three years.

You, reader, who read this plain tale of a man, a woman and a dog, will
not deny me your compassion, for my sufferings lasted three times three
hundred and sixty-five days of twenty-four hours each. You will perhaps
admire me, for I remained alive. If it be true, however, that I am
insane, as my wife maintains, blame no one but myself, for I ought to
have had the courage to get rid of the dog once and for all.



III


Marie's friend was an old maid of about forty years, mysterious, full
of ideals with which I had lost all sympathy long ago.

She was my wife's consoler. In her arms she wept over my dislike of
her dog. She was a ready listener to Marie's abuse of matrimony, the
slavery of women.

She was rather reserved and careful not to interfere; anyhow I noticed
nothing, for I was completely preoccupied with my work. But I had an
idea that she was in the habit of borrowing small sums from my wife.
I said nothing until one day I saw her carrying off some of the table
silver with the intention of pawning it for her own benefit.

I said a word or two about it to Marie, and gave her to understand that
even under the dotal system this sort of comradeship was very unwise.
She never dreamed of helping me, her husband and best friend, in this
way, although I was in difficulties and worried by debts.

"Since you listen to such proposals from strangers," I said to her,
"why not lend me your shares? I could raise money on them."

She objected, arguing that the shares had fallen so low as to be
practically valueless and consequently unsaleable. Moreover it was
against her principles to transact business with her husband.

"But you don't object to a stranger, who can give you no security
whatever, who lives on a pension of seventy-five crowns, per annum!
Don't you think it wrong to refuse to help your husband who is trying
to make a career, and provision for you when you have spent your own
money, not to mention the fact that your interests are identical with
his?"

She yielded, and the loan of three thousand five hundred francs, or
thereabouts, in doubtful shares, was granted.

From this day onward she looked upon herself as my patroness, and told
everybody who cared to listen that she had safeguarded my career by
sacrificing her dowry. The fact of my being a well-known writer before
I had ever set eyes on her was quite lost sight of. But it was bliss to
me to look up to her, to be indebted to her for everything: my life, my
future, my happiness.

In our marriage contract I had insisted on settling all her property
on herself, partly because her financial affairs were chaos. The Baron
owed her money; but instead of paying her in cash, he had guaranteed
a loan which she had raised. In spite of all my precautions I was
requested by the bank on the morning after our wedding to guarantee the
sum. My objections were so much waste of breath; the bank did not look
upon my wife as responsible, since by her second marriage she had again
legally become a minor. To my great indignation I was compelled to sign
the guarantee, to put my signature by the side of that of the Baron.

In my perfect simplicity I had no idea of what I was doing. It merely
seemed to me that what every man of the world would have done in my
place, was the right thing to do.

       *       *       *       *       *

One evening, while I was closeted in my room with a friend, the Baron
called. It was his first call since our wedding. My predecessor's
visit seemed to me in bad taste, to say the least of it; but since he
did not mind meeting me, I pretended to be pleased to see him. When
I accompanied my friend to the door, however, I did not think it
necessary to introduce him. Later on, my wife reproached me for the
omission, and called me unmannerly. I accused both her and the Baron of
tactlessness.

A violent quarrel ensued, in which she called me a boor. One word led
to another, and certain pictures were mentioned which had once belonged
to the Baron, but were now decorating my walls. I begged her to send
them back to him.

"You cannot return presents without hurting the giver," she exclaimed.
"He doesn't dream of returning the presents you gave him, but keeps
them as a proof of his friendship and trust."

The pretty word "trust" disarmed me. But my eye fell on a piece of
furniture which awakened unpleasant memories.

"Where does this writing-table come from?"

"It was my mother's."

She was speaking the truth, although she omitted to add that it had
passed through her first husband's house.

What a strange lack of delicacy, what bad form, how utterly regardless
of my honour! Was it done intentionally so as to depreciate me in the
eyes of my fellow-men? Had I fallen into a trap set by an unscrupulous
woman? I wondered....

Yet I surrendered unconditionally without struggling against her subtle
logic, convinced that her aristocratic bringing-up ought to serve me as
a guide in all doubtful cases where my education did not suffice. She
had a ready answer to everything. The Baron had never bought a single
piece of furniture. Everything belonged to her--and since the Baron did
not scruple to keep my wife's furniture, I need not scruple to accept
all articles which belonged to my own wife.

The last phrase: "Since the Baron did not scruple to keep my wife's
furniture," caused me lively satisfaction. Because the pictures which
hung in my drawing-room were proofs of a noble trust and evidenced the
ideal character of our relationship, they remained where they were;
I even carried simplicity to the length of telling all inquisitive
callers who cared to know who the giver of those landscapes was.

I never dreamed in those days that it was I, the man belonging to the
middle-classes, who possessed tact and delicacy, instincts which are
as frequently found amongst the lower strata of society as they are
wanting in men and women of the upper ones, where coarse minds are only
too often cleverly concealed under a thin layer of veneer. Would that
I had known what manner of woman she was in whose hands I had laid my
fate!

But I did not know it.



IV


As soon as Marie had got over her confinement, which compelled her to
live quietly for a time, she was seized with a craving for excitement.
Under the pretext of studying her art, she visited the theatres and
went to public entertainments while I stayed at home and worked.
Protected by the title of a married woman, she was received in circles
which had been closed to the divorced wife. She was anxious that I
should accompany her, for she considered the fact of her husband's
absence prejudicial to her best interests. But I resisted, and
while claiming for myself personal freedom, according to our verbal
agreement, I allowed her absolute liberty, and let her go where she
pleased.

"But no one ever sets eyes on the husband," she objected.

"People will understand him," I replied.

The husband! The very way in which she pronounced the word conveyed
opprobrium; and she fell into the habit of treating me with a certain
amount of superciliousness.

During the solitary hours which I spent at home I worked at my
ethnographical treatise, which was to be the ladder on which I hoped
to climb to promotion at the library. I was in correspondence with
all the learned authorities in Paris, Berlin, Petersburg, Irkutsk and
Peking, and, seated at my writing-table, I held in my hand the threads
of a perfect net of inter-relations which stretched all over the world.
Marie did not approve of this work. She would have preferred to see me
engaged in writing comedies, and was angry with me. I begged her to
await results, and not condemn my work prematurely as waste of time.
But she would have none of these Chinese researches which brought in
no money. A new Xanthippe, she severely tried my Socratic patience by
reiterating that I was frittering away her dowry--her dowry!

My life was a strange mingling of sweetness and bitterness, and one
of my greatest worries was Marie's theatrical career. In March it was
rumoured that the company of the Royal Theatre would be reduced at the
end of May, the period when contracts were renewed. This gave rise
to fresh floods of tears during the next three months, in addition
to the usual every-day grievances. The house was overrun by all the
failures from the Royal Theatre. My soul, broadened and uplifted by the
knowledge I had acquired, and the growth and development of my talent,
rebelled against the presence of these unfit ones, these incapables
who possessed no culture, who were detestable on account of their
vanity, their ceaseless flow of banalities, uttered in the slang of the
theatre, which they called new truths.

I became so sick of the torture of their tittle-tattle that I begged
to be in future excused from my wife's parties. I urged her to cut her
connection with those mental lepers, those disqualified ones, whose
presence must of necessity depress us and rob us of our courage.

"Aristocrat!" she sneered.

"Aristocrat, if you like, but aristocrat in the true sense of the
word," I replied; "for I yearn for the summits of genius, not for the
mole-hills of the titled aristocracy. Nevertheless, I suffer all the
sorrows of the disinherited."

When I ask myself to-day how I could have lived for years the slave
of a woman who treated me disgracefully, who shamelessly robbed me in
company of her friends and her dog, I come to the conclusion that it
was thanks to my moderation, to my ascetic philosophy of life, which
taught me not to be exacting, especially in love. I loved her so much
that I irritated her, and more than once she plainly showed me that
my passionate temperament bored her. But everything was forgotten and
forgiven at those rare moments when she caressed me, when she took my
throbbing head into her lap, when her fingers played with my hair.
This was happiness unspeakable, and like a fool I stammered out the
confession that life without her would be impossible, that my existence
hung on a thread which she held in her hand. In this way I fostered
a conviction in her that she was a higher being, and the consequence
was that she treated me with flattery and blandishments as if I were a
spoilt child. She knew that I was in her power, and did not scruple to
abuse it.

When the summer came she went into the country and took her maid with
her. She moreover persuaded her friend to accompany her, for she was
afraid of feeling lonely during the week when my work kept me at the
library. It was in vain that I objected, that I reminded her that her
friend was not in a position to pay, and that our means were limited;
Marie looked upon me as a "spirit of evil," and reproached me with
speaking ill of everybody. I gave in eventually, in order to avoid
unpleasantness. I gave in--alas! I always gave in.

After a whole week's loneliness I welcomed Saturday as a red-letter
day. With a jubilant heart I caught an early train and then set out
joyfully for half-an-hour's walk under the scorching sun, carrying
bottles and provisions for the week. My blood danced through my veins,
my pulse throbbed at the thought of seeing Marie in a few moments; she
would come to meet me with open arms, her hair flying in the breeze,
her face rosy with the sweet country air. In addition I was hungry and
looking forward to a gay little dinner, for I had eaten nothing since
my early breakfast. At last the cottage among the fir-trees, close to
the lake, came in sight. At the same time I caught a glimpse of Marie
and her friend, in light summer dresses, stealing away to the bathing
vans. I shouted to them with all the power of my lungs. They could
not help hearing me, for they were well within earshot. But they only
hastened their footsteps, as if they were running away from me, and
disappeared into a bathing van. What did it mean?

The maid appeared as soon as she heard my footsteps in the house; she
looked uneasy, afraid.

"Where are the ladies?"

"They have gone to bathe, sir."

"When will dinner be ready?"

"Not before four o'clock, sir. The ladies have only just got up, and I
have been busy helping the young lady to dress."

"Did you hear me call?"

"Yes, sir."

... So they had really run away from me, driven from my presence by an
uneasy conscience, and, hungry and tired as I was, I had to wait for a
couple of hours for my dinner.

What a reception after a week full of hard work and longing! The
thought that she had run away from me like a school-girl caught
breaking the rules stabbed me like a dagger.

When she returned to the house I was fast asleep on the sofa, and in
a very bad temper. She kissed me as if nothing had happened, trying
to prevent the storm from breaking. But self-control is not always
possible. A hungry stomach has no ears, and a distressed heart is not
soothed by deceitful kisses.

"Are you angry?"

"My nerves are on edge, don't irritate me."

"I'm not your cook!"

"I never said you were, but don't prevent the cook we have from doing
her work!"

"You forget that Amy, as our paying guest, is entitled to the services
of our maid."

"Didn't you hear me calling?"

"No!"

She was telling me lies.... I felt as if my heart would break.

Dinner--my eagerly-looked-for dinner--was a long torture. The afternoon
was dismal; Marie wept and inveighed against matrimony, holy matrimony,
the only true happiness in the world, crying on the shoulder of her
friend, covering her villainous little dog with kisses.

Cruel, false, deceitful--and sentimental!

And so it went on during the whole summer in infinite variety. I spent
my Sundays with two imbeciles and a dog. They were trying to make me
believe that all our unhappiness was due to my irritable nerves and
persuade me to consult a doctor.

I had intended to take my wife for a sail on Sunday morning, but she
did not get up before dinner time; after dinner it was too late.

And yet this tender-hearted woman, who tortured me with pin-pricks,
cried bitterly one morning because the gardener was killing a rabbit
for dinner, and confessed to me in the evening that she had been
praying that the poor little beast's sufferings might be short.

Not long ago I saw somewhere a statement made by a psychopathist to the
effect that an exaggerated love for animals combined with indifference
towards the sufferings of one's fellow-creatures is a symptom of
insanity.

Marie could pray for a rabbit and at the same time torment her husband
with smiling lips.

On our last Sunday in the country she took me aside, talked in
flattering terms of my generosity, appealed to my kind heart and begged
me to cancel Miss Amy's debt to us, pleading her very small means.

I consented without discussing the matter, without telling her that
I had anticipated the suggestion, foreseen the trick, the inevitable
trick. But she, armed to the teeth with arguments, even when she was
unopposed, continued--

"If not, I could, if necessary, pay her share for her!"

No doubt she could have done so. But could she have paid for the
annoyance and trouble caused by her friend?...

Ah, well--husband and wife must not fall out over trifles.



V


In the commencement of the new year a general crisis shook the credit
of the old country, and the Bank which had issued the shares lent to me
by Marie failed. I received notice that the loan would be called in. I
was forced to pay cash for the sum I had been compelled to guarantee.
It was a heavy blow, but after endless difficulties I came to terms
with the creditors, who agreed to a year's respite. It was a terrible
year, the worst period of my life.

As soon as things were a little more settled I began to make every
effort to extricate myself.

In addition to my work at the library I started a novel on modern
morals and customs; filled newspapers and periodicals with essays,
and completed my scientific treatise. Marie, at the expiration of her
contract with the theatre, was re-engaged for another year, but her pay
was reduced to fourteen hundred crowns.... Now I was better off than
she, for she had lost her capital in the general smash.

She was in a vile temper, and made me suffer for it. To re-establish
the equilibrium, and thinking of nothing but her independence, she
attempted to raise a loan, but these attempts proved abortive and
only led to unpleasantness. Acting thoughtlessly, despite her good
intentions, she did me harm with her efforts to save herself and render
my task more easy. I appreciated her good intentions, but I could not
help remonstrating.

Always capricious and wayward, she showed unmistakable signs of malice
and fresh events disclosed a state of mind which filled me with
apprehension.

A fancy-dress ball, for instance, was given at the theatre, and I
had her promise not to attend the ball in male attire. She had bound
herself by a solemn oath, for I had been very emphatic on the subject.
On the morning after the ball I was told that she had not only broken
her promise, but that she had gone to supper later on with some of her
male friends.

I was angry because she had lied to me, and the thought of the
subsequent supper made me feel uneasy.

"Well," she replied, when I expostulated with her, "am I not free to
please myself?"

"No, you are a married woman! You bear my name, and we are responsible
to each other. Whenever you compromise yourself, you compromise me,
and, in fact, you do me a greater injury than you do yourself."

"That means that I am not free?"

"Nobody can be absolutely free in a community where every individual is
inextricably mixed up with the fate of others. Supposing I had invited
some women friends to supper, what would you have said?"

She insisted that she was free to do as she liked; that she was at
liberty, if she felt so inclined, to ruin my reputation; that her
freedom was, in fact, absolute. She was a savage; freedom, as she
interpreted it, was the rule of an autocrat who trampled the honour and
happiness of her fellow creatures into the dust.

This scene, which began with a quarrel, led to floods of tears and
ended with hysterics, was followed by another which made me feel even
more uneasy, more especially as I was not sufficiently initiated into
the secrets of sexual life to deal with its anomalies, which terrified
me, like all anomalies which are difficult of explanation.

One evening, when the maid was busy making up Marie's bed for the
night, I heard a half-suppressed scream and smothered laughter, as if
some one were being tickled. I felt a sudden fear; an inexplicable
terror and a wave of passionate anger swept over me; I opened the door
quickly and caught Marie, with her hands on the girl's shoulders, in
the act of pressing her lips upon her white throat.

"What are you doing," I exclaimed furiously, "are you mad?"

"I am only teasing her," answered Marie cynically. "What has that to do
with you?"

"It has everything to do with me! Come here!"

And under four eyes I explained to her the nature of her offence.

But she accused me of a vicious imagination, told me that I was
perverted and saw vice everywhere.

It is a fatal thing to catch a woman red-handed. She deluged me with
abuse.

In the course of the discussion I reminded her of the love she had
confessed to have felt for her cousin, pretty Matilda. With an
expression of angelic innocence she replied that she herself had been
amazed at the strength of her feelings, as she had never thought it
possible for one woman to be so deeply in love with another.

This naïve confession reassured me. I remembered that one evening, at
my brother-in-law's, Marie had quite openly spoken of her passionate
love for her cousin, without blushing, without being conscious that
there was anything at all unusual in her conduct.

But I was angry. I recommended her to beware of fancies which, though
harmless to begin with, degenerated only too often into vice and led to
disastrous results.

She made some inane reply, treated me like a fool--she loved treating
me as if I were the most ignorant of ignoramuses--and finished off by
saying that I had been telling her a pack of lies.

What was the use of explaining to her that offences of that sort were
legal offences? What was the use of trying to convince her that medical
books termed caresses calculated to arouse amorous feelings in others
"vicious"?

I, I was the debauchee, steeped in vice. Nothing could persuade her to
stop her innocent gambols.

She belonged to that class of unconscious criminals who should be
confined in a house of correction and not allowed to be at large.

Towards the end of the spring she introduced a new friend, one of her
colleagues, a woman of about thirty, a fellow sufferer, threatened,
like Marie herself, with the lapse of her contract, and therefore,
in my opinion, worthy of compassion. I was sorry to see this woman,
once a celebrated beauty, reduced to such straits. No one knew why her
contract was not to be renewed, unless it was because of the engagement
of the daughter of a famous actress; one triumph always demands
hecatombs of victims.

Nevertheless, I did not like her; she was self-assertive and always
gave me the impression of a woman on the look-out for prey. She
flattered me, tried to fascinate me, in order, no doubt, to take
advantage of me.

Jealous scenes took place occasionally between the old friend and the
new one, one abused the other, but I refused to take sides....

Before the summer was over Marie was expecting another baby. Her
confinement would take place in February. It came upon us like a bolt
from the blue. It was now necessary to strain every effort to make port
before the fatal day dawned.

My novel appeared in November. It was an enormous success. Money was
plentiful, we were saved!

I had reached the goal. I breathed freely. I had made my way; I was
appreciated at last and hailed with acclamations as a master. The years
of trouble and black care were over; we were looking forward to the
birth of this child with great joy. We christened it in anticipation
and bought Christmas presents for it. My wife was happy and proud of
her condition, and our intimate friends fell into the habit of asking
how "the little chap" was, just as if he had already arrived.

Famous now and content with my success, I determined to rehabilitate
Marie and save her ruined career. To achieve this I planned a play
in four acts, and offered it to the Royal Theatre. It contained a
sympathetic part in which she had every chance of reconquering the
public.

On the very day of her confinement I heard that the play was accepted
and that she had been cast for the principal part.

Everything was well in the best of all worlds; the broken tie between
me and my family was firmly reknitted by the birth of the baby. The
good time, the spring-time of my life had arrived. There was bread in
the house, and even wine. The mother, the beloved, the adored, was
taking new pleasure in life, and had regained all her former beauty.
The indifference and neglect with which she had treated her first baby
were transformed into the tenderest care for the newborn infant.



VI


Summer had come again. I was in a position to ask for a few months'
leave, which I purported spending with my--family in the solitude of
one of the green islands on the shores of the Stockholm Archipelago.

I was beginning to reap the harvest of my scientific researches. My
treatise was read by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres
in the Institut de France. I was elected a member of several foreign
scientific societies, and the Imperial Russian Geographical Society
conferred its medal upon me.

At the age of thirty I had won an excellent position in the literary
and scientific world and a brilliant future lay before me. It was pure
happiness to lay my trophies at Marie's feet.... But she was angry with
me because I had "disturbed the equilibrium." I had to make myself
small to spare her the humiliation of having to look up to her husband.
Like the good-natured giant in the fable I allowed her to pull my
beard, and as a consequence she presumed on my good-nature. She took a
pleasure in belittling me before the servants and before her friends
who were on visiting terms with us, especially her women friends.
She gave herself airs; raised by me on a pedestal, she posed-as my
superior, and the more insignificant I pretended to be, the more she
trampled on me. I deliberately fostered in her the delusion that I
had to thank her for my fame, which she did not understand and which
she apparently thought little of. I took a positive delight in making
myself out to be inferior to her. I contented myself with being no
more than the husband of a charming woman, and eventually she came to
believe that she, and not I, possessed genius. This applied even to
the details of everyday life. Being an excellent swimmer myself, for
instance, I taught her to swim. In order to encourage her, I simulated
nervousness, and the pleasure she took in ridiculing my efforts
and talking of her own grand achievements was a constant source of
amusement to me.

The days passed; into the worship of my wife as mother a new thought
stole and began to haunt me persistently: I was married to a woman of
thirty--a critical age, the beginning of a period full of dangers and
pitfalls--I could see indications every now and then which made me feel
nervous, indications, perhaps not fraught with disaster for the moment,
but which carried in them the germ of discord.

After her confinement physical antagonism came to be added to
incompatibility of temper; sexual intercourse between us became odious.
When her passion was aroused, she behaved like a cynical coquette.
Sometimes she took a malicious delight in making me jealous; at other
times she let herself go to an alarming extent, possibly, I thought,
under pressure of licentious and perverse desires.

One morning we went out in a sailing boat, accompanied by a young
fisherman. I took charge of tiller and mainsail, while the lad was
attending to the foresail. My wife was sitting near him. The wind
dropped and silence reigned in the boat. All at once I noticed that
the young fisherman, from under his cap, was casting lewd glances in
the direction of my wife's feet.... Her feet? ... Perhaps there was
more to be seen; I could not tell from where I sat. I watched her. Her
passionate eyes devoured the young man's frame. In order to remind her
of my presence I made a sudden gesture, like a dreamer rousing himself
from a dream. She pulled herself together with an effort, and, her eyes
resting on the huge tops of his boots, she clumsily extricated herself
from an awkward position by remarking--

"I wonder whether boots of this sort are expensive?"

What was I to think of such a stupid remark?

To divert her mind from the voluptuous current of her thoughts, I made
the lad change places with me under some pretext or other.

I tried to forget this irritating scene; tried to persuade myself that
I had been mistaken, although similar scenes were stored up in my
memory, recollections of her burning eyes scrutinising the lines of my
body underneath my clothes.

       *       *       *       *       *

A week later my suspicions were re-awakened by an incident which once
and for all destroyed all my hopes of ever seeing this perverse woman
realise my ideal of motherhood.

One of my friends spent a week-end with us. He made himself very
agreeable to her. She rewarded his courtesy by flirting with him
outrageously. It grew late; we said good-night to each other and
separated. I thought that she had gone to bed.

Half-an-hour later I heard voices on the balcony. I stepped out
quickly, and found wife and friend sitting together, drinking liqueurs.
I treated the matter as a joke, but on the following morning I
reproached her with making me a public laughing-stock.

She laughed, called me a man of prejudices, cursed with a fantastic and
vicious imagination ... in fact, deluged me with her whole repertory of
futile arguments.

I lost my temper; she had hysterics and played her part so well that I
apologised for doing her an injustice. Doing her an injustice--when I
considered her conduct absolutely culpable!

Her final words silenced me completely.

"Do you think," she said contemptuously, "I could bear to go through
divorce proceedings a second time?"

And brooding over my troubles I slept with the calm of the duped
husband.

What is a coquette?... A woman who makes advances. Coquetry is nothing
but making advances.

And what is jealousy?... The fear of losing one's most precious
possession.... The jealous husband? A ridiculous individual because of
his absurd objection to lose his most precious possession.



VII


Success followed success. All our debts were paid. It rained money.
But although a great proportion of my income went towards household
expenses, our financial position was chaos. Marie, who kept the
accounts and had the cash, was always clamouring for more money, and
her constant demands were the cause of violent scenes.

Her contract with the theatre was not renewed. It goes without saying
that I had to bear the consequences. It was all my fault!... If only
she had never married me!... The part which I had written for her was
forgotten; she had indeed completely ruined it, for she had bungled it,
and played it without the slightest conception of its subtleties.

About this time much interest was aroused in what has been called the
"woman question." The famous Norwegian male blue-stocking had written
a play on the subject, and all feeble minds were obsessed by a perfect
mania of finding oppressed women everywhere. I fought against those
foolish notions, and consequently was dubbed "mysogynist," an epithet
which has clung to me all my life.

A few home-truths on the occasion of our next quarrel threw Marie into
a violent fit of hysterics. It was just after the greatest discovery of
the nineteenth century in the treatment of neurotic diseases had been
made. The remedy was as simple as all great truths.

When the screams of the patient were at their loudest, I seized a
water-bottle and thundered the magic words--

"Get up, or I shall pour this water over you!"

She stopped screaming at once--and shot at me a look of sincere
admiration, mingled with deadly hatred.

For a moment I was taken aback, but my reawakened manhood would not be
denied....

Again I lifted the water-bottle--

"Stop your screaming, or I shall pour this water over you!"

She rose to her feet, called me a blackguard, a wretch, an
impostor--signs that my remedy had been effective.

Husbands, duped or otherwise, believe me, for I am your sincere friend:
this is the secret of the great cure for hysterics; remember it, maybe
the time will come when you need it.

       *       *       *       *       *

From that day my death was irrevocably settled. My love began to detest
me. I knew too much of female cunning; there was no room for me in this
world. The sex had determined my physical and mental destruction, and
my own wife, as the avenging fury, had accepted the awful and difficult
mission of torturing me to death.

She began her task by introducing her friend into the house as a
tenant, persuading her to rent a furnished room contiguous to our
flat; she did that in spite of my most violent opposition. She went
to the length of suggesting that she should take her meals with us,
a proposition which I fought tooth and nail. But notwithstanding my
protest and all my precautions, I was constantly brought into contact
with the intruder. I could almost fancy that I was a bigamist. The
evenings which I should have spent in my wife's company I spent by
myself, for she remained invisible, closeted with her friend. They
enjoyed themselves in her room at my expense, smoking my cigarettes
and drinking my wine. I hated the woman, and since I could not hide my
feelings--at any rate not sufficiently--I many a time brought on my
head Marie's wrath for having been found wanting in courtesy towards
the "poor child."

Not satisfied with having estranged Marie from husband and child--the
baby was boarded out with a neighbour, a termagant of forty-five years
of age--the fair friend demoralised the cook; the consumption of beer
rose to the almost incredible quantity of five hundred bottles a month;
my cook sat in the kitchen intoxicated, fast asleep; the food was
wasted.

The fair friend was a _mangeuse d'hommes_, and I was her prey.

One day Marie showed me a cloak which she said she wanted to buy. I
disapproved the colour and cut, and advised her to choose another. The
friend, who happened to be present, kept it for herself, and I forgot
all about it. Two weeks later I received a bill for a cloak bought
by my wife. I inquired into the matter and found that Marie had lent
herself to a trick well known by the theatrical demi-monde.

As usual, she was furious with me when I asked her to break off her
connection with the adventuress....

And things grew worse and worse.

A few days later Marie, trying to work on my feelings, posing as the
submissive wife, asked me, quite humbly, whether I had any, objection
to her chaperoning the "poor child" on a visit to an old friend of
her late father's, whom she intended to ask for a loan. The request
struck me as so strange that it set me thinking, especially when I took
into account her friend's bad reputation. I implored Marie, for our
child's sake, to open her eyes, to rouse herself from the trance in
which she seemed to live, and which would surely end with her complete
ruin--her only reply was a repetition of her old phrase: "Your base
imagination...."

And still matters declined.

Her friend gave a luncheon for the secret purpose of beguiling on this
occasion a well-known actor into making her a proposal of marriage. A
fresh revelation awaited me, a revelation which effectually roused me
from my lethargy.

Champagne had been drunk, and the ladies had taken more than was good
for them. Marie was reclining in an arm-chair, and before her knelt her
friend, kissing her on the lips. The famous actor, interested in the
strange spectacle, called to one of his friends, and pointing at the
couple as if he were bringing proof of an accusation, exclaimed--

"Look here! D'you see?"

Doubtless he was alluding to certain rumours, and there was a hidden
meaning in the laughing words.

As soon as we arrived home, I implored Marie to shake off this fatal
infatuation and be more careful of her reputation. She made no secret
of the pleasure she found in kissing pretty women; her friend was not
the only one of her colleagues whom she treated in this way; at the
theatre, in the dressing-rooms she bestowed the same favour on others.

She had no intention of denying herself this pleasure, this innocent
pleasure, which in my perverted imagination only was vicious.

It was impossible to make her see her conduct in a different light;
there was but one remedy....

       *       *       *       *       *

She was again going to be a mother; this time she was furious, but her
condition kept her at home for a time.



VIII


After her confinement she changed her tactics. Whether she was
influenced by fear of the consequences of her perverted passions, or
whether her female instincts had been reawakened, I cannot say. She
paid a great deal of attention to young men; but she did it too openly
to make me really, jealous.

Without an engagement, with nothing to occupy her time, full of whims,
despotic, she was bent on war with me to the knife.

One day she tried to prove to me that it was cheaper to keep three
servants than two. As I thought it waste of time to argue with a
lunatic, I simply turned her out of my room.

She swore vengeance. She engaged a third maid, who was absolutely
superfluous in the house. Consequently no work was done at all.
Everything was turned upside down, the three girls quarrelled all day
long, drank beer and entertained their lovers at my expense.

To complete the picture of my matrimonial happiness, one of my children
fell ill. This brought two more servants into the house and the visits
of two doctors. At the end of the month I had to face a deficit of five
hundred crowns. I redoubled my energies to meet the expenses, but the
strain on my nerves was beginning to tell.

She was for ever taunting me with having squandered her more than
doubtful dowry, and forced me to make an allowance to her aunt in
Copenhagen. This woman accused me of having wasted her "fortune," and
her incredibly silly arguments irritated me beyond endurance. She
affirmed that Marie's mother, on her deathbed, had distinctly expressed
the wish that she should share my wife's inheritance. I failed to see
what that had to do with me, for the "fortune" which she was to inherit
existed in imagination only; but the fact remained that the burden of
the aunt, who was lazy and incapable, was added to my other burdens.
I gave way in the matter; I even agreed to guarantee a sum of money,
raised by an older friend, adventuress number one, for my beloved wife
had hit on the idea of selling me her favour. I admitted everything
for the privilege of kissing her; I admitted having wasted her dowry,
squandered her aunt's "fortune," ruined her theatrical career by
marrying her, even having undermined her health.

Holy matrimony was degraded to legal prostitution.

She carefully treasured up all my admissions, and worked them into a
legend which the papers greedily snapped up later on, and which was
assiduously spread by all those of her friends whom I had turned out,
one after the other.

My ruin had become an obsession with her. At the end of the year
I found that I had given her twelve thousand crowns for household
expenses, and I was compelled to ask my publishers for a sum in advance.

Whenever I reproached her with her extravagance, she invariably
replied--

"Well, why have children and make your wife miserable? When I consider
that I gave up a splendid position to marry you...."

But I had an answer to that taunt--

"As Baroness, my dear, your husband gave you three thousand crowns and
debts. I give you three times as much, more than three times as much."

She said nothing, but she turned her back upon me, and in the evening
I admitted all her charges; I agreed that three thousand is three times
as much as ten thousand that I was a blackguard, a miser, a "bel ami,"
who had risen at the expense of his adored wife, adored more especially
in her nightgown.

She poured all her venom into the first chapter of a novel, the subject
of which was the exploitation of an oppressed wife by a criminal
husband. Through my writings, on the other hand, always glided the
white wraith of a lovely golden-haired woman, a madonna, a young
mother. I was for ever chanting her praises, creating a glorious myth
round the figure of the wondrous woman who by God's grace had been sent
to brighten the thorny path of a poet....

And the critics never tired of lauding the "good genius" of a
pessimistic novelist, of pouring on her full measures of entirely
undeserved praise....

The more I suffered under the persecutions of my shrew, the more
eagerly I strove to weave a crown of light for her sacred head. The
more I was depressed by the reality, the more I became inspired by my
hallucinations of her loveliness ... alas for the magic of love!



IX

MIDSUMMER IN WINTER

Winter night, the streets forsaken,
  Ice-king holds the world in thrall;
Sudden gusts of wind awaken
Eerie sounds, the walls are shaken
  By the wild, rebellious call.

Gay as gods we have been dining,
  All alone, just you and I.
Light the candles, let their shining
Drive out darkness and repining,
  Perfect joy is nigh.

Draw the blinds, the shutters tighten!
  Safely screened from prying eyes,
Take the cup and pledge me! brighten
Winter-gloom with song, and lighten
  Darkness with sweet harmonies.

Sing of woods, or sing the wonder
  Of the sea, serene and bland;
Or the sea, that lashed asunder
Breaks in crashing peals of thunder
  On the foam-flecked sand.

Like a great enchanted river,
  Full of witchcraft is your voice;
See my pelargoniums quiver
Like a leafy wood a-shiver
  In the breeze when daylight dies.

On my screen, her ensign flying,
  Leaps a brig with white sails set;
Snugly on the hearthrug lying
Silky fur with sable vying,
  Sleeps your Persian cat.

In the mirror's clear perspective
  I can see our little home;
Wrapped in dreams, my introspective
Humour conjures up affective
  Scenes of past joys, joys to come.

On the desk where I was writing
  Falls the candle's mellow glow;
Falls on virgin sheets, exciting
Rose-warm blushes, softly lighting
  Their unblemished snow.

In your chamber's sweet seclusion,
  Hung with green, a vernal nook,
I can glimpse a wild confusion--
Tangled skeins in rank profusion
  Cover work and household book.

In the glass our eyes are meeting;
  Flashing blue, like tempered steel
Are your glances, but a fleeting
Smile from tender lips in greeting,
  Tells me that your heart is leal.

Radiant brow, my soul entrancing,
  Puts the candle-light to shame;
From your jewels flashing, dancing
Sparks are flying and enhancing
  Long-lashed eyes' alluring flame.

Hush! the bell disturbs the slumber
  Of the house--the postman's ring!
Let him be! His dreary lumber
Shall not darken and encumber
  Love's eternal spring.

Letter-box holds proofs and letters
  Safely under lock and key;
Sing and play! Till morn unfetters
These officious care-begetters
  Love our guerdon be.

Sing, beloved, my soul's desire!
  World holds, naught but you and me;
Sing with lips no love can tire,
Sing of passion's quenchless fire,
  Fill the night with ecstasy!



X


There were times when I had no doubt that my wife hated me and wished
to get rid of me in order to marry again.

Sometimes strange reflections in the expression of her face made me
suspect her of having a lover, and her coldness towards me strengthened
my suspicion; all of a sudden my smouldering jealousy burst into fierce
flames, our marriage was shaken to its very foundations, and hell
opened wide at our feet.

My wife declared that she was ill, suffering from some vague disease of
the spine or the back, she was uncertain which.

I sent for the family doctor, an old college friend of mine. He
diagnosed rheumatic knots on the muscles of the back, and prescribed
a course of massage. I had no objection to make, for there seemed to
be no doubt of the reality of the disease. As I had no idea of the
intimate nature of the treatment, I remained completely absorbed in my
literary work, and paid no attention whatever to the progress of the
cure. My wife did not appear to be dangerously ill, for she came and
went as usual, visited the theatres, never refused an invitation, and
was always the last to leave a party.

One evening, at a small gathering of friends, some one suddenly began
to bewail the dearth of lady doctors. The speaker maintained that it
must be very unpleasant for a woman to undress before a stranger, and,
turning to Marie, he said--

"Am I not right? Isn't it very unpleasant?"

"Oh! a doctor doesn't count."

The nature of the treatment was revealed to me by a sudden flash. I
noticed an expression of sensuality on Marie's face, an expression
which had puzzled me for some time, and a terrible suspicion gripped
my heart. She undressed before a notorious voluptuary! And I had been
completely ignorant of it.

When we were alone, I asked her for an explanation.

She described the treatment, apparently quite unconcerned.

"But don't you mind?"

"Why should I mind?

"You always appeared to me almost prudish in your modesty."

Two days later the doctor called to see one of the children. Seated in
my room, I overheard a more than strange conversation between him and
my wife. They were laughing and whispering.

Presently they entered my room, the smile still on their lips. Plunged
in sinister speculations, my mind kept wandering from the subject of
our conversation; by and by it drifted to women patients.

"You thoroughly understand women's complaints, don't you, old boy?" I
said.

Marie looked at me. She was furious. There was so much hatred blazing
in her eyes that I felt a cold thrill running down my back.

When the doctor had left, she turned on me furiously.

"Prostitute!" I flung the word into her face. It escaped my lips
against my will, giving expression to an intuitive flash which I had
not had time to analyse. The insult came home to me and oppressed me.
My eyes fell on the children, and with a contrite heart I apologised.

But she remained angry, so angry that nothing would soften her.

To make amends for the great injustice which I had done her, and to
some extent, also, influenced by her hatred, I conceived the idea
of arranging for her a pleasure trip to Finland in the shape of a
theatrical tour, extending over several weeks.

I started negotiations with theatrical managers, succeeded in coming to
terms, and raised the money.

She went to Finland, where she won patriotic victories and a number of
laurel wreaths.

I was left alone with the children. I fell ill. Believing myself to
be on the point of death, I sent her a telegram, asking her to return
home. As she had fulfilled all her engagements, this did not interfere
with business.

On her return I was better; she accused me of having brought her back
on false pretences, telegraphed lies, merely to take her away from her
relations and her native country....

Soon after her return I noticed a new phase, a phase which filled me
with increased uneasiness. Contrary to her former habits, she gave
herself to me unreservedly.

What was the reason? I wondered, but I felt no inclination to probe too
deeply....

On the next morning and the days which followed she talked of nothing
but the pleasant time she had spent in Finland. Carried away for the
moment by her memories, she told me that she had made the acquaintance
of an engineer on the steamer, an enlightened, up-to-date man, who had
convinced her that there was no such thing as sin in the abstract,
and that circumstances and destiny alone were responsible for all
happenings.

"Certainly, my dear," I agreed, "but for all that our actions do not
fail to draw their consequences after them. I admit that there is no
such thing as sin, because there is no personal God; nevertheless we
are responsible to those we wrong. There may be no sin in the abstract,
but crime will exist as long as there is a Law. We may smile at the
theological conception of it, but vengeance or, rather, retribution,
remains a fact, and the aggressor never escapes."

She had grown grave, but pretended not to understand me.

"Only the wicked revenge themselves," she said at last.

"Agreed; but with so many wicked people in the world, who can be sure
that he is dealing with a man brave enough not to retaliate?"

"Fate guides our actions."

"True; but Fate also guides the dagger of the avenger."

       *       *       *       *       *

... At the end of the month she had a miscarriage, sufficient proof, I
thought, of her infidelity. And from that moment suspicion grew slowly
into certainty and filled my heart with bitterness.

She did her utmost to persuade me that I was "mad," that my suspicions
were but the figments of an overworked brain. And once again she
forgave me. To mark our reconciliation I wrote a play containing a
splendid part for her, a part which it was impossible to ruin. On the
seventeenth of August I handed her the play together with the deed of
gift, which conferred on her all the rights. She could do with it what
she liked as long as she herself played the part which I had written
for her. It was the result of two months' strenuous work. She accepted
it without a word of thanks, a sacrifice due to Her Majesty, the
second-rate actress.



XI


Our housekeeping went from bad to worse. I was unable to interfere,
for she regarded every opinion expressed by me, every suggestion of a
change made by me, as an insult. I had to remain passive, powerless in
face of the wanton extravagance of the servants who wasted the food and
neglected the children.

There was nothing but misery, discomfort and quarrels. When she
returned from her journey to Finland, the expenses of which I had paid
in advance, she had two hundred crowns in her pocket, the financial
result of her performances.... Since she kept the cash I made a mental
note of the sum, and when she asked me for money, long before the date
on which it was due, I asked her, surprised by the unexpected demand,
what she had done with her money? She replied that she had lent it
to her friend, and argued that according to the law she was free to
dispose of all moneys earned by her.

"And I?" I replied.... Moreover, to withdraw housekeeping money is not
disposing....

"It's a different thing in the case of the woman!"

"In the case of the oppressed woman, you mean? In the case of the
female slave who permits the man to defray, the whole expenses of the
household? These are the logical consequences of the humbug called 'the
emancipation of woman.'"

Emile Augier's prophesies in the _Fourchambault_, with reference to the
dotal system have indeed been fulfilled. The husband has become the
slave of the wife. And there are plenty of men who allow themselves to
be deceived to such an extent that they dig their own graves. Fools!

While the misery of my married life slowly unfolded itself, as a ribbon
winds off a spool, I took advantage of my literary reputation to tilt
at foolish prejudice and attack antiquated superstitions. I wrote
a volume of satires. I threw a handful of pebbles at the principal
charlatans of the metropolis, not forgetting the sexless women.

I was at once denounced as a writer of pamphlets. Marie was strong in
her disapproval, and immediately made friends with the enemy. She was
respectability personified, and complained bitterly of the misery of
being tied to a scandalmonger! She lost sight of the fact that the
satirist was also a famous novelist and had made a name as a playwright.

She was a saint, a martyr. She deplored the dismal prospects of her
unhappy children. They would have to bear the consequences of the
dishonourable actions of a father who had squandered their mother's
dowry, ruined her theatrical career, ill-treated her....

One day a paragraph appeared in one of the papers stating that I
was insane; a brochure, written to order and paid for in cash,
spread abroad the martyrdom of Marie and her friends; not one of the
absurdities which her little brain had hatched was forgotten.

She had won the game.

And as she saw me go down before my enemies, she assumed the role
of the tender mother, weeping over the prodigal son. Amiable to all
the world, except to me, she drew all my friends over to her side,
false ones and true ones alike. Isolated, in the power of a vampire,
I abandoned all attempt at defence. Could I raise my hand against the
mother of my children, the woman whom I loved?

Never!

I succumbed. She surrounded me with kindness--abroad, at home she had
nothing for me but contempt and insults.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was exhausted by overwork and misery; I suffered much from headaches,
nervous irritability, indigestion ... the doctor diagnosed catarrh of
the stomach.

It was a very unexpected result of mental strain.

It was strange that the illness did not break out until after I had
decided to go abroad, the only means of escape, so it seemed to me,
from the net woven round me by those countless friends who were
everlastingly condoling with my wife. The symptoms of this mysterious
malady first showed themselves on the day succeeding a visit to the
laboratory of an old friend, from where I had taken a bottle of
cyanide; it was to bring me release, and I had locked it in a piece of
furniture belonging to my wife.

Paralysed and depressed, I was lying on the sofa, watching my children
at play, thinking of the beautiful days that lay behind me, preparing
myself for death.

I determined to leave nothing in writing which could throw light on the
cause of my death and my sinister suspicions.

I was ready to make my exit, disappear from ken, killed by the woman
whom I forgave with my last breath.

Marie was watching me out of the corners of her eyes; wondering,
perhaps, how much longer I should linger on this earth, before I left
her to enjoy in peace the income which the collected works of the
famous writer would yield her, and the sum which doubtless Government
would grant her towards the education of the children.

She was a success in my play, so big a success that the critics called
her a great tragedienne. She almost burst with pride. She was allowed
to choose her next part; the result was a complete fiasco. Now she
could no longer deny the fact that it was I who had made her, that she
had to thank me for her laurels, and feeling herself in my debt, the
strength of her hatred increased. She besieged the various theatrical
managers, but could find no engagement. Eventually I was obliged to
reopen negotiations with Finland. I was willing to leave my country, my
friends, my publisher, to settle in the midst of her friends who were
my enemies. But Finland would have none of her. Her career was over.

During all this time she led the life of a woman free from all duties
as mother and wife. My health did not permit me to accompany her to the
artistic circles which she frequented, and consequently she went alone.
Sometimes she did not come home until early in the morning, very often
she was intoxicated and made sufficient noise to wake up the whole
house. I could hear her stumbling into the night nursery where she
slept.

What is a man to do in a case of this sort? Is he to denounce his own
wife? Impossible! Divorce her? No! I looked upon the family as an
organism, like the organism of a plant; a whole, of which I was a part.
I could not exist independently of it; without the mother, life seemed
impossible to me, even if I had had the custody of the children. My
heart's blood, transmitted through my wife, flowed through the veins of
their small bodies. The whole was like a system of arteries intimately
connected and interdependent. If a single one were cut, my life would
ebb away with the blood which trickled down and was sucked up by the
sand. For this reason the infidelity of the wife is a terrible crime.
One cannot help sympathising with the "Kill her!" of a well-known
author, who shows us a father stricken to death because he has come to
doubt the legitimacy of his offspring.

Marie, on the other hand, identified herself with the crazy endeavours
to increase women's rights and liberties, and fully endorsed the new
doctrine that the woman who deceives her husband is not guilty, because
she is not his property.

I could not degrade myself to spy on her, I did not want proof which
meant death to me. I wanted to deceive myself, live in a world of my
own, which I could create at my pleasure.

But I was deeply wounded. I doubted the legitimacy of my children; I
was haunted by the suspicion that although they bore my name and were
supported by my earnings, they were yet not my children. Nevertheless,
I loved them, for they had come into my life as a pledge of my future
existence. Deprived of the hope to live again in my children, I floated
in mid-air, like a poor phantom, breathing through roots which were not
my own.

Marie seemed to lose patience, because I lingered so long. It was true
before witnesses she treated me with the tender love of a mother, but
when no one was present she tortured me, just as the little acrobat is
pinched by his father behind the scenes. She tried to hasten my end by
cruelty. She invented a new torture; justifying her conduct with my
temporary weakness, she treated me as if I were a cripple. One day,
proudly boasting of her physical strength, she threatened to strike me.
She rushed at me, but I seized her by the wrists and forced her down on
the sofa.

"Admit that I am the stronger, in spite of my illness!"

She did not admit it; she merely looked disconcerted, and, furious at
having made a mistake, she left the room, sulking.

In our mutual struggle she had all the advantages of the woman and
actress. It was impossible for me, a hardworking man, to hold my own
against an idle woman who spent all her time spinning intrigues. In an
unequal struggle of this sort the man is certain to be caught in the
end in a net which enmeshes him on all sides.

"In love," said Napoleon, that most excellent judge of women, "one only
wins by flight." But how could a carefully guarded prisoner escape? and
as for a man sentenced to death....

       *       *       *       *       *

My brain recovered after a rest, and I conceived a plan of escape from
this stronghold, although it was most carefully guarded by my wife and
the friends which she had so successfully duped. I used cunning; I
wrote a letter to the doctor in which I expressed a haunting dread of
insanity, and suggested a trip abroad as a remedy. The doctor fell in
with my suggestion, and I at once informed Marie of his opinion against
which there was no appeal.

"By doctor's orders!"

Her very formula when she had successfully dictated to the doctor the
treatment she wished him to prescribe for her.

She grew pale when she heard it.

"I don't want to leave my country!"

"Your country?... Finland's your country! And as far as I know, there
is nothing in Sweden which you could possibly miss; you have no
relations here, no friends, no career."

"I refuse to accompany you!"

"Why?"

She hesitated, and after a while continued--

"Because I'm afraid of you! I won't be left alone with you!"

"You are afraid of a lamb that you lead by the nose? You aren't
serious!"

"You are a knave, and I won't stay with you unprotected!"

I felt sure that she had a lover. Or else she was afraid of my
discovering her indiscretions.

So she was afraid of me, of me who crouched at her feet like a dog,
whose leonine mane she had clipped, leaving him but a fringe like a
horse's; who waxed his moustache and wore up and down collars, to be
better equipped for the struggle with dangerous rivals. Her fear of me
increased my dread and stimulated my suspicions.

"This woman has a lover whom she is loath to leave, or else she is
afraid of retribution," I said to myself.

After endless discussions she wheedled a promise out of me to stay away
no longer than a year.

The will to live returned, and I eagerly finished a volume of poems
which was to be published in the winter following my departure.

Summer in my heart, I sang with fresh inspiration. I sang of my beloved
wife as she appeared to me on the day of our first meeting, a blue veil
fluttering from her straw hat, a blue veil which became the flag which
I hoisted when I sailed into the stormy sea. One evening I read this
poem to a friend. Marie listened with profound attention. When I had
finished she burst into tears, put her arms round me and kissed me.

A perfect actress, she played before my friend the part of the loving
wife. And the simpleton regarded me from that day as a jealous fool
whom heaven had blessed with the sweetest of wives.

"She loves you, old boy," my friend assured me again and again. And
four years later he reminded me of the scene as a convincing proof of
her fidelity.

"I swear to you at that moment she was sincere," he reiterated.

Sincere in her remorse, perhaps! Face to face with my love which
transformed the wanton into a madonna. It was not very surprising.



XII

SUN-MISTS


He looked round anxiously to see if everything was there, as if it were
possible to see anything at all in that confusion of people and luggage
on the upper deck.

He felt guilty of an unknown crime, until the steamer had passed the
mill. He was dazzled by the blinding sun, the sea appeared to be
boundless, and the hazy blue mountains called him with irresistible
force. His eyes fell on the children's perambulator; the one painted
white with the blue cover, not the other one; he knew it so well,
there were little white milkspots on the blue cover. And over there
was the big arm-chair and the drawing-room sofa and the bath with the
flower-pots. How dusty the poor things looked, they had spent the
whole winter in a cloud of tobacco smoke; the pelargoniums used to
stand on the writing-table in the lamplight, in the early spring, when
the evenings were still long; the arm-chair stood to the right of the
writing-table, and whenever he looked up from his work, whenever the
restless pen stopped for a second, he received a friendly nod. But when
there was no one sitting in the arm-chair, his tired eyes travelled to
the cretonne flowers on the sofa; but there were so many eyes staring
into the room, and how the lamp flickered! Ah! it was the sun shining
on the upper deck! What was that over there? A pair of eyes familiar
last year--how dull they were! Had he been ill? No! They had not met
since last year; one never met in town, one was so busy there! One left
one's school and went home! The children had had measles.... It was
cold on deck, he had better go downstairs into the saloon.

There were the eyes again, staring at the sofa and the arm-chair. But
they looked happy, longing, yearning for something which must surely
happen.

He left his place and stepped forward to let the fresh breeze cool his
face. Smoke and the smell of food were rising from the kitchen. There
was the cook, taking a rest, trying to grow cool. And the large cabin!

The table-cloth was as white as it had been last year, the silver
epergne sparkled as before, the flowers on the sideboard were as new
and fresh, the lamps were swinging in their brass brackets; everything
was exactly as it had been before, and yet everything was new, thanks
to the ever-rejuvenating power of nature, thanks to spring!

And the shore glided past, a long, triumphant march past, now
threatening and sinister, now happy and smiling, but always new,
endowed with eternal youth.

He was the helpless sport of gloomy dreams; he was pressed in between
houses in narrow, dark streets; he was at the bottom of a well; he was
trying to creep through a tunnel and was held fast; bricks were being
heaped on his breast, when he was awakened by a loud knocking at the
window shutters. He jumped up, but the room was pitch dark; he opened
the shutters and a sea of light and green greeted his eyes. Oh, Nature!
Reality which surpasses all dreams!

Behold, you dreamer, your brain could never invent such a dream, and
yet you would talk of cold reality!

The morning sun was shining on an August landscape. He put a piece
of bread in his pocket, slung his drinking-cup across his shoulder,
took a stick and a basket and went out in search of sport--sport, not
bloodshed.

His path lay between oak trees and hazels; autumn flowers grew here,
flowers which had waited until after the passing of the scythe before
they appeared, so that they could enjoy life undisturbed until the
frost killed them. He crossed the stubble field, climbed over the
fence, and the sport began.

On the short, springy turf, woven of reed-grass and stunted mudwort,
the mushrooms lay scattered like new-laid eggs, waiting for the sun to
enable them to fulfil their destiny before they decayed; but that was
impossible now, since fate had decreed that they should die in their
youth.

He left the battlefield and entered the forest with its odour of
turpentine--health and sick-room--balm for the wounded breast, as the
saying is; he walked below the branches in a dead calm, while twenty
yards above his head the tempest shrieked. A woodcock flew up; the
branches rattled. If only he had a gun!

Why does a man long for a gun whenever he happens to come across a
harmless creature of the woods? There are many occasions in life when a
gun would be much more in its place.

Here was a cart track; the wheels of the cart, drawn by oxen, had cut
deeply into the turf; nevertheless, a red species of the poisonous
spit-devils had shot up in the ruts; maybe they required strake-nails
and kicks from the hoofs of oxen before they could enter into material
existence.

The wood opened out and the path ceased at a place where many trees had
been felled; before him lay what remained of the giants of the forest,
cut down by the axe because it had been impossible to dig them-up with
the roots. He gazed at a huge stump which had been attacked by a host
of fungi of all sizes; they had settled on it as a swarm of flies
settles on carrion, but their crowd was densest round the decayed
parts which they could overcome more easily; they looked starved,
pale and bloodless; they were neither pretty nor poisonous, like the
spit-devils; they were merely useful.

Denser and darker grew the wood; the Scotch firs mingled their branches
with the moss which covered the ground, embraced the stones and built
cool little huts for the yellow merulius which grew embedded in the
moss and enjoyed a short life, protected alike from scorching sun and
preying insects.

The ground became damp; the bog-myrtle, in times gone by highly
valued and eagerly gathered on account of its medicinal qualities,
grew undisturbed between tiny hillocks, at the foot of degenerated
grey pines which had died of superabundance. A woodpecker hammered
high above and stopped every now and then to listen whether the sound
betrayed a hollow. The sun's rays were scorching; the ground became
stony, the wood opened again; he could hear a low, muffled roar; fresh
breezes, laden with the smell of oysters, cooled his face; he caught
glimpses of a shining blue expanse through the lower branches of the
Scotch firs.

A few more steps up the incline--and before him lay the sea--the sea!
The waves leaped up the cliffs and were thrown down again, only to
begin their game afresh.

Off with the clothes and down into the deep! What was it that he saw
down there for the space of a moment? A different world, where the
trees were red like seaweed and the air emerald green like the waves;
now he was again on the surface amid the bellowing, fighting breakers;
he fought with them until he was tired; he lay on his back and floated;
they threw him up sky-high, they dragged him down into dark chasms, as
if they meant to throw him into the abyss; he ceased to wish, he ceased
to will; he made no resistance; his body had lost all weight; the law
of gravity no longer applied to him; he floated between water and
air--in absolute calm, devoid of all sensation.

He let the waves carry him to the shore, the shallow, sandy shore,
where it formed a lumber-room between the rocks for the sea's
collection of all things it could not devour; here they lay, sorted,
washed and polished; broken oars, a legion of corks, bark, reed-pipes,
staves and hoops. He sat down and stared at a broken plank.

       *       *       *       *       *

They had been shut up in the house for a week, for it was raining. He
had established himself in the window-seat, for one of the panes was
all colours with age and sunlight, and when he looked through it at the
grey, cloud-covered expanse of water, the sun seemed to be shining;
the grey reefs, where the seagulls nested, looked red, the air was
flooded with gold, the trees were of a brilliant emerald green; and if
he looked through the window-pane at a certain angle he could see a
rainbow in the sky, and that kindled in him the hope of fine weather.

Far away, out in the sea, there was a small island, an island which
looked less profaned than the other islands; the Scotch firs grew more
closely together; the cliffs were greener and the shore was covered
with reeds. His soul yearned for it, for from there he could see the
open sea.

And the sun shone again. He set sail and steered for the little island.
The boat danced over the rolling waves, the channel broadened; far away
the green island called him; it swam nearer steadily, until at last the
boat was moored among the whispering reeds and he landed.

His dream had been realised; he was alone among the trees and reefs,
with the sea before him and the infinite blue sky above his head. No
sound betrayed the disturbing vicinity of a human being, no sail on the
horizon, no cottage on the shore. A solitary oyster-plover flew away
from him, terrified, uttering its impotent: help! help! A family of
creek-ducks, led by the mother, scudded away, running on the water,
frightened by the arrival of dread man; a grey adder uncurled and made
good its escape, slipping away between the stones, like a tiny, winding
brooklet. The seagulls came flying from the reefs to have a look at the
intruder, screamed like little children and hurried away again. A crow
rose from a large Scotch fir; it fluttered and beat its wings, screamed
and threatened and groaned and escaped to outlying reefs; every living
thing shunned the dreaded being who had fled from his own kind.

He walked along the sandy shore; he came upon the skeleton of a
pine-tree, washed by the sea and bleached by the sun to a deadly
pallor; it lay there like a skeleton of a dragon and between its ribs
flowered the purple lythrum and the golden lysimachia; little piles of
shells lay heaped round the wild aster which lived its life on empty
sepulchres; the air was laden with the scent of valerian which grew in
profusion on a bed of evil-smelling seaweed.

He left the shore and turned his footsteps towards the wood. How tall
and straight the trees were, a little too straight perhaps, but he
could see the sea through the trunks, the sea--solitude--nature! The
ground was as smooth as if it had been stamped down and flattened by
human feet; here was the stump of a tree--the axe had been here; over
there a nettle grew, men had been here; there could be no mistake, for
the nettle is a parasite which follows in the wake of man and never
ventures into the solitude of the woods or the large stretches of
meadow-land; the nettle is vermin, supported by man, and can only exist
in the vicinity of man; it collects all dust and dirt on its hairy,
sticky leaves and burns the finger which touches it,--a magnificent
breed, nourished by sin.

He went on. His eyes fell on a sparrow, the denizen of the gutter
and backyard--the winged creature which feels at home in the dust,
bathes in dirt and should have been a rat since it makes no use of its
wings--man's jackal. What was it doing out here where there were no
men? What did it live on? On the seed of the nettle?

A few more steps and he found the sole of a shoe; a large foot, a foot
deformed by hard work, had trodden heavily on this sole. Between the
trunks he came upon a fire-place made of boulders, an altar perhaps,
on which Nature's conqueror had sacrificed to Strength. The fire had
long been extinct, but the effects of it were still visible. The ground
was dug up as if by the hoofs of animals, the trees were stripped of
their bark, even the rocks were broken; there was a gigantic well in
the mountain, filled with dirty brown water; the bowels of the earth
had been laid bare and the broken pieces scattered as if by naughty
children, disappointed because they had not found what they sought. But
a great piece of mountain was missing. It had been taken away with a
feldspar to the china factory, and only when there was no more to be
got, man had stayed away.

He fled from the devastation, down to his boat. He noticed the traces
of footsteps on the sand. He cursed and turned to fly when he suddenly
saw in a flash that he had been cursing himself; and all at once he
understood why the seagulls and the adder and all the others had
shunned him, and he retraced his footsteps, for he could not escape
from himself.

He gazed at the sea through his field-glasses in the direction whence
he had come. A white dress and a blue cover shone among the oak-trees.
He climbed into the boat, ate his bread, drank a liqueur and muttered,
seizing the oars--

"You, whose every desire has been fulfilled, who possess the best of
all things Life has to bestow, why are you discontent?"



XIII


At last the house had been cleansed of her friends. The last one, the
pretty one, had disappeared in the company of a well-known professor,
who had returned from an expedition with four orders and an assured
position. Having no home of her own, the fair lady had lived in my
house, cost free. She had seized the opportunity, fastened herself on
to the poor fellow and seduced him one evening in a cab, where, for
some reason or other, she found herself with him; she forced him into
marrying her by making a scandalous scene in a third house, to which
they had both been invited. As soon as she felt sure of her position
she dropped the mask, and at a party, under the influence of too much
wine, she called Marie a degenerate. A colleague, who happened to hear
the remark, thought it his duty to tell me at once.

Marie, with a few words, proved that the accusation was unjust, and in
future my door was closed to the lady, although this meant the loss of
my old friend for ever.

I was not sufficiently curious to go more deeply into the meaning of
the word "degenerate," but it left its sting in my bleeding flesh. New
insults, uttered by the same impure lips, referred to the suspicious
life Marie had led during her tour in Finland. My old suspicions arose
with fresh vigor, her miscarriage, our conversation on destiny, her
complete surrender.... All these things strengthened my intention to
leave the country.

Marie had discovered the use of a sick poet, and constituted herself
sister of mercy, sick-nurse, keeper even, if a keeper was required.

She wove a martyr's crown for her own head, acted with absolute
independence behind my back, and, as I discovered later on, went so
far as to borrow money from my friends in my name. At the same time
valuable pieces of furniture disappeared from our house, and were
carted to adventuress No. I, to be sold by the letter.

All this aroused my attention.

"Had Marie expenses of which I was ignorant?" I often asked myself
this question. Was this the cause of those secret sales? The cause of
the enormous housekeeping expenditure? And if this was the cause, what
was the object of them? I enjoyed the income of a Swedish minister of
State, a larger income than that of a Swedish general, and yet I led
a miserable life; it was as if my feet were fettered, as if I were
dragging a leaden weight with me wherever I went. And yet we lived very
simply. Our table was the table of a labourer; the food was cooked so
badly that it was at times uneatable. We drank beer or brandy, like
a working-man; our cellar was so inferior that our friends upbraided
us more than once. I smoked nothing but--a pipe. I had hardly any
recreation, only very occasionally, about once a month, I spent an
evening with friends.

Once only, beside myself with anger, I determined to look into the
matter. I asked an experienced lady for advice. She laughed when I
asked her whether our household expenses were not rather, high, and
told me that we must be mad.

I had every reason therefore to believe in extraordinary and secret
expenditure. But the object? the object?

Relations? friends? lovers? Nobody cares to enlighten a husband, and so
everybody becomes an accessory in crime....

       *       *       *       *       *

After endless preparations the date of our departure was fixed. But
now a new difficulty arose, a difficulty which I had long forseen and
which was accompanied by a series of unpleasant scenes. The dog was
still alive! How much annoyance it had caused me already! especially as
so much attention was devoted to him that the children were habitually
neglected.

However, the day had dawned when to my inexpressible joy Marie's idol
and my evil genius, old, diseased, half-rotten, was to end its days;
Marie herself now desired the animal's death, and only the thought
of the innocent pleasure which its disappearance would cause me led
her to postpone the "dog-question" again and again, and invent fresh
annoyances to make me pay for the longed-for relief.

But at last a farewell feast was arranged. She made heart-rending
scenes, had a fowl killed, of which I, still a semi-invalid, received
the bones, and then--we were in the country at the time--she went to
town, taking the dog with her.

After two days' absence she announced her return in a few cold words.
What else could a murderer expect? Full of happiness, freed of a
burden which I had borne for six years, I went to the landing-stage to
meet her, expecting to find her alone. She received me as if I were a
poisoner, her eyes were suffused with tears, and when I approached to
kiss her, she pushed me aside. Carrying in her arms a large parcel of
extraordinary shape, she walked on, slowly, as if she were walking in
a funeral procession, with a certain rhythm as if to the strains of a
funeral march.

The parcel held the corpse! The funeral ceremony had been reserved
for me! She ordered a coffin and sent for two men to dig a grave.
Although determined to have nothing to do with the matter, I was
compelled to be present at the obsequies of the murdered innocent. It
was most touching. Marie collected her thoughts and then prayed to
God for the victim and its slayer. Amid the laughter of the onlookers
she placed a cross on the grave, the cross of the Saviour who had--at
last--delivered me from a monster, innocent itself, but yet terrible as
the embodiment and instrument of the malice of a woman who lacked the
courage to persecute her husband openly.

After a few days' mourning, during which she refused to have anything
to say to me--for she could have nothing to say to a murderer--we left
for Paris.



PART IV



I


The main destination of my journey was Paris, where I hoped to meet
old friends, well acquainted with my eccentricities; congenial spirits
who understood my moods, knew all about my whims, admired my courage,
and were consequently in a position to gauge accurately the temporary
state of my mind. In addition to this some of the foremost of the
Scandinavian poets had just taken up a permanent abode in Paris; I
meant to claim their protection and with their help defy Marie's
sinister schemes; for she intended to have me shut up in a lunatic
asylum.

During the whole journey she continued her hostilities and treated
me as a person altogether beneath contempt, whenever we were without
witnesses. She was always lost in thought, absent-minded, indifferent.
In vain I took her sight-seeing in the towns where we were forced to
spend the nights; she took no interest in anything, saw nothing, hardly
listened to me. My attentions bored her; she seemed to be fretting for
something. But for what? For the country where she had suffered, in
which she had not left one single friend, but--a lover, perhaps?

During the whole time she behaved like the most unpractical and
ignorant of women; she displayed none of the qualities of the organiser
and manager of which she had boasted so much. She insisted on staying
at the most expensive hotels, and for the sake of one night she often
had the whole furniture rearranged; a badly served cup of tea provoked
interviews with the hotel proprietor; the noise which she made in
the corridors drew unflattering comments upon us. We missed the best
trains because she would lie in bed until dinner-time; through her
carelessness our luggage went astray; and when we left, her tips to the
servants were of the meanest.

"You are a coward!" she said in reply to one of my remonstrances.

"And you are ill-bred and slovenly!"

It was a charming pleasure-trip, indeed.

       *       *       *       *       *

As soon as we had arrived in Paris and settled down among my friends,
who were proof against her spells, she found that I had got the better
of her, and felt like a wild animal caught in a trap. She was furious
because the leading Norwegian poet received me warmly, and overwhelmed
me with kindness. She promptly detested him, for she sensed in him a
friend who might some day raise his voice in my favour.

One evening, at a dinner given to artists and writers, he proposed
my health, calling me the chief representative of modern Swedish
literature. Marie, poor martyr by reason of her marriage with the
"notorious pamphleteer," was present. The applause of the diners
depressed her to a degree which excited my compassion, and when the
speaker tried to make me promise to stay for at least two years in
France, I could no longer resist the wistful expression of her eyes.
To comfort her, to give her pleasure, I replied that I never took an
important decision without consulting with my wife. My reward was a
grateful look and the sympathy of all the women present.

But my friend remained obdurate. He urged me to prolong my stay, and
with a fine flourish of oratory asked all those present to support his
proposition. All raised their glasses in response.

My friend's obstinacy always remained inexplicable to me, although I
quite well understood at the time that a secret struggle was being
fought between my wife and him, the motive of which I could not guess.
Maybe he was better informed than I, and had penetrated my secret with
the clear-sightedness which frequently accompanies first impressions;
moreover, he was himself married to a woman of strange morals.

       *       *       *       *       *

Marie did not feel at home in Paris, where her husband's genius was
generally acknowledged, and after three months' stay she hated the
beautiful city. She was indefatigable in warning me of "the false
friends who would one day bring me misfortune."

She was again expecting to become a mother, and again life with her was
unbearable. But this time I had no reason to doubt the paternity of the
expected baby.

Our stay in Paris came to an end; we broke up our tents and slowly made
our way to Switzerland.


_Isn't It Enough?_

It does not matter very much that the wealthy man did not ask Jesus
what he should do in order to solve the problem of life, for Jesus
would very likely have replied in the same way in which He replied to
the question relating to the Kingdom of Heaven: "Go and sell all thou
hast and give it to the poor." But it is a pity that the wealthy man
did not carry out this suggestion, and above all things that he did not
live to see a scorching day in June in the year 1885 in the humble form
of a sixty-year-old coster who pushed a heavy barrow down the Avenue de
Neuilly, ceaselessly calling out in a voice trembling with hunger and
increasing age--

               "Cresson de fontaine!
                La santé du corps!
                Quatre liards la botte!
                Quatre liards la botte!"

He went down on the left side of the avenue, halting before every door;
but everywhere the porters' wives shook their heads, for the younger
and stronger ones had stolen a march on the old man, and had already
supplied the necessary requirements for the day. He reached Porte
Mailot and gazed down the avenue which stretched before him, apparently
endlessly, down towards the Seine. He took off his black cotton cap
and with the sleeve of his blue blouse wiped the perspiration off his
forehead. Should he turn round and walk up on the right side, or should
he go to Paris to try his luck there? the wonderful luck to earn the
few pence by virtue of which he could keep up sufficient strength to
push his barrow along when to-morrow had dawned? Should he invest his
last shilling in the payment of the toll and go on to meet the unknown
fate awaiting him? He took the risk, paid the octroi and trudged along
the Avenue de la Grande Armée.

The sun had risen higher in the sky, and the pavements were still warm
from the previous day; the gay town smelled like the close, fetid
atmosphere of the bedroom, which streamed through the open windows
and hung heavily in the still air. The sunbeams heated the dust which
rose in clouds from the carpets beaten against the doorsteps; showy
advertisements flashed from privies and news-stalls, and a suffocating
smell of ammonia penetrated through the half-open doors; cigar ends,
tobacco, manure, orange skins, celery stalks, pieces of paper from
forgotten refuse heaps were carried away by the rushing stream which
gushed from the main and swept everything towards the gratings of the
gutter.

The old man cried his wares, but carts and omnibuses drowned his
voice, and no one bought. Tired, forsaken by every one, he sat down
on a seat under the plane trees. But the sunbeams found him out, and
scorched him in spite of the dusty leaves. How dismal the sun appeared
to the worn-out traveller, who longed for an overcast sky and a
downpour to relieve the unbearable heat, which robbed his nerves of
their strength and shrivelled up his muscles.

Yet the torture of the excessive heat did not make him insensible to
the torture of hunger and the dread of the morrow. He rose, seized the
shafts of his barrow, and toiled up the steep incline which leads to
the Arc de Triomphe, shouting incessantly--

     "Quatre liards la botte!"

At the last street corner a little dressmaker bought two bunches.

He dragged himself through the Champs Elysées, and met the wealthy man,
seated in his carriage behind his English coachman, on his way to the
Bois de Boulogne, there to brood over the problem of life. The palaces
and large restaurants bought nothing; the fierce rays of the sun dried
up the water-cress, and the long green leaves of his cauliflowers
hung limp, so that he was obliged to sprinkle them with water at the
fountain near the Rond-Point.

It was noon when he passed the Place de la Concorde and arrived at
the Quays. Before the restaurants men were sitting and lunching; some
of them had already arrived at the coffee. They looked well-fed, but
bored, as if they were fulfilling a melancholy and painful duty by
keeping alive. But to the old man they were happy mortals who had
staved off death for a few hours, while he felt his soul shrinking like
a dried apple.

The barrow rattled past the Pont-Neuf, and every stone against which
the wheels pushed shook the muscles and nerves of his tired arms. He
had not broken his fast since the early morning; his voice sounded thin
like the voice of a consumptive, so that his cries were more like cries
for help now, with little preliminary sighs caused by want of breath.

His feet were burning and his hands trembled; he felt as if the marrow
in his spine were melting with the heat, and the thin blood hammered
in his temples as he turned towards the city, seeking the shade of the
Quai de l'Horloge. He halted for a moment before a wine-shop in the
Place de Parvis, half inclined to spend his few pennies on a glass of
wine. But he pulled himself together and trudged on, past Notre-Dame,
towards the Morgue.

He could not drag himself away from this mysterious little house, where
so many problems of life have been solved, and he entered. How cool
and beautiful it was inside, where the dead lay on marble slabs, the
hoar-frost on their hair and beards sparkling as on a beautiful, bright
winter day. Some of them looked distressed, because the rush of the
water into their lungs, or the stab of the knife into the heart, had
given them pain; one of them smiled as if he were glad that all was
over; one lay there with an expression of indifference on his face, as
if nothing mattered; the problem was solved, at any rate: he had lived
until he died. No more clothes required, no more food, no shelter! No
sorrow, no cares. All held in their grasp the greatest boon life has to
bestow: a calm which neither want, failure of crops, sickness, death,
war or famine, American wheat or the hard laws which regulate wages,
could disturb. Sleep without dreams, how gentle a sleep! And without an
awakening, how splendid!

The old man must have envied the sleepers, for he turned his head on
leaving, to feast his eyes once more on the sight of those blessed
ones, who slept in cool seclusion behind the large glass panes.

He plodded on to the other side of the church and stopped at the
principal entrance. He asked the dealer in relics to keep an eye on his
barrow, and entered. He stirred the holy water with his right hand and
cooled lips and brow. Inside the church it was cool, for the sunbeams
were powerless to penetrate the stained-glass windows. The pulpit was
occupied by a little abbé, freshly shaved, with traces of powder still
visible on his bluish skin; he was speaking, and the old man listened.

"'Consider the lilies in the field,'" said the abbé, "'how they grow;
they toil not, neither do they spin, and yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like any one of these! Consider the ravens: for they
neither sow nor reap; which neither have store-houses nor barn; and God
feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls!'"

"How much more are we better than the fowls!" sighed the old man.

"But rather seek ye the Kingdom of God," concluded the abbé, "and all
else will be added, to you."

"All else," sighed the old man, "all else! First the Kingdom of God,
and then all else."

Leaning against a pillar in the side aisle, the wealthy man, holding
a Baedeker in his hand, tried to solve the problem of the essence and
origin of life by means of a careful study of the architecture of the
past. He did not believe in the Kingdom of God, but he brooded over the
purpose of life, and could not understand why a man should go to so
much trouble to kill time until he was seventy or at the most eighty
years old. Had it not been against all conventions, he would have gone
to the old man and said to him who had already passed his allotted
time--

"Give me your solution of the problem of life!"

And the old man, unless he had been too exhausted with hunger and
thirst, would have answered--

"The problem of life, as I understood it, is the maintenance of one's
own life."

"Is that all?" the wealthy man would have answered, astonished.

"All? Isn't it enough? All?"

"We do not understand one another."

"No, we do not understand one another; we have never understood one
another."

"Because you are a selfish old man, who has lived but for himself. But
humanity...."

"Sir, I too have lived for humanity, for I have brought up and educated
four children, a problem which was more difficult perhaps to solve than
yours, the solution of which you can buy at any bookseller's. Yes, go,
sell all you have and give it to the poor, then you will see whether
there is room in life for anything else!"

But the wealthy man preferred to leave the problem unsolved and keep
his gold; therefore he continued to study his Baedeker, and did not ask
the poor coster for his opinion.

The old man, with faith unshaken, left the church, the abbé's
comforting words ringing in his ears: "Take no heed of to-morrow," and
crossed to the left shore of the river.

At the corner of the Boulevard St. Michel he was fortunate enough to
sell six centimes' worth of his stuff at a reduced price. And on he
trudged and turned into the Rue Bonaparte.

It was afternoon, that saddest time of the day when the sun is setting,
but darkness has not yet fallen, darkness which brings in its train
peace for the weary souls who long to rest and play for a while before
they are compelled to face torturing dreams and memories.

He sat down on a stone step and counted his money: eighty centimes;
that was twenty centimes less than the franc which he had spent at the
gate. How could he pay six francs to the nursery gardener? How could he
buy food and drink, how return before nightfall to Suresnes? He saw in
imagination the endless Champs Elysées, the long Avenue de la Grande
Armée, the terrible Avenue Neuilly. No, it was too far to go back, too
far.

He looked about searchingly, and his dim eyes were dazzled by the gleam
of the blue and red glass bottles in the chemist's shop on the other
side of the street, which sparkled in the rays of the setting sun. They
stood on long shelves, filled with bottles and boxes; patent medicines
for indigestion; appetite restoratives; powders to calm feverish brains
which had brooded too long over the riddle of life; means of protection
from over-population or increasing poverty; headache pencils for those
who tried to solve social problems; rouge for night-birds, tabloids for
nervous ailments and financially independent people. All these things
could be bought there.

The old man rose hastily, as if a buyer had beckoned to him, and
entered the chemist's shop.

"Six centimes' worth of laudanum, please," he said. "My wife is
suffering from convulsions."

And as if to prove his words, he lifted his right hand to show the ring
on his third finger. But there was only a white line and a groove in
the brown skin.

But the chemist, who, perhaps, had also been waiting for a buyer, took
no notice of his gesture; he filled a small bottle with the required
liquid, licked a label, bit a cork, took the money, and resumed the
study of his pharmacopoeia. What business was it of his?

The old man, the bottle in his pocket, staggered out of the shop,
once again seized the shafts, and wandered up the street. He stopped
at a bookseller's, and as if to make one more bid for good fortune, he
called out for the last time--

      "Quatre liards la botte!
       Quatre liards la botte!"

Afraid that somebody might beckon to him in reply, he put the bottle
to his lips and greedily drank the dark-red liquid, as if to quench a
burning thirst. The pupils of his eyes contracted as if he were staring
into the sun; a vivid scarlet flame shot across his cheeks, his knees
bent, and he fell on the edge of the gutter. He snored loudly like a
man in a sound sleep; the perspiration stood in large drops on his
face, and there was a quivering movement of his legs.

By the time the police had arrived he lay quite still, but the
expression of his face plainly betrayed his last conscious thoughts--

"Life was sometimes good, evil every now and then, but the best thing
came last. I solved the problem as well as I could, and it was not
easy, although the rich man found that it was not enough. But we did
not understand one another. It is a pity that men are not meant to
understand one another."



II


Arrived in Switzerland, we took rooms in a private hotel, so as to
avoid all quarrels on the subject of housekeeping.

Marie made up for lost time, for being alone now, and unbacked
by sympathising friends, I was again in her power. From the very
beginning she posed as the keeper of a harmless lunatic. She made the
acquaintance of the doctor, informed proprietor and proprietress,
the waitresses, the servants, the other guests. I was shut off from
association with intelligent people of my own kindred who understood
me. At meals she revenged herself for the silence to which she had
been condemned in Paris. She missed no opportunity of joining in the
conversation, and literally inundated us with a never-ending stream of
foolish twaddle which, she knew, irritated me horribly. And since the
uncultured, commonplace crowd among whom we lived always very politely
agreed with her, there was nothing for me to do but to keep silence;
they regarded my silence as a proof of my inferiority.

She looked ill and fragile, and appeared to be suffering from a great
grief; she treated me with dislike and contempt.

All I loved, she detested: she was disappointed with the Alps because I
admired them; she scorned the beautiful walks; she avoided being alone
with me; she made a practice of anticipating my wishes so as to thwart
them; she said Yes whenever I said No, and vice versa; there was no
doubt that she hated me.

Alone and solitary in a strange country, I was compelled to seek her
society; but since we never talked for fear of quarrelling, I had to be
content with merely seeing her at my side, with feeling that I was not
quite isolated.

My illness became worse; I was so ill that I could take nothing but
beef tea; I lay awake at night, suffering agonies, tortured by an
unbearable thirst which I tried to relieve by drinking cold milk.

My brain, keen and refined by study and culture, was thrown into
confusion by contact with a coarser brain; every attempt to bring it
into harmony with my wife's caused me to have convulsions. I tried to
get into touch with strangers. But they treated me with the forbearance
which a sane person usually shows to a lunatic.

For three months I hardly opened my lips. At the end of that time I
noticed with horror that I had almost lost my voice, and, from sheer
want of practice, had no longer any control of the spoken word.

Determined not to be defeated in the struggle, I began a brisk
correspondence with my friends in Sweden. But their guarded language,
their deep sympathy, their well-meant advice, plainly betrayed the
opinion which they had formed of my mental condition.

She triumphed. I was on the verge of insanity, and the first symptoms
of persecutional mania showed themselves. Mania? Did I say mania? I was
being persecuted, there was nothing irrational in the thought.

It was just as if I had become a child again. Extremely feeble, I lay
for hours on the sofa, my head on her knees, my arms round her waist,
like Michel Angelo's Pieta. I buried my face in her lap, and she
called me her child. "Your child, yes," I stammered. I forgot my sex
in the arms of the mother, who was no longer female, but sexless. Now
she regarded me with the eyes of the conqueror, now she looked at me
kindly, seized with the sudden tenderness which the hangman is said to
feel sometimes for his victim. She was like the female spider which
devours her mate immediately after the hymeneal embrace.

       *       *       *       *       *

While I suffered thus, Marie led a mysterious life. She always remained
in bed till the one o'clock dinner. After dinner she went to town,
frequently without any definite purpose, and did not return until
supper, sometimes even later. When I was asked where she had gone, I
replied--

"To town!"

And the inquirer smiled furtively.

I never suspected her. I never thought of playing the spy. After supper
she remained in the drawing-room, talking to strangers.

At night she often treated the servants to liqueurs; I heard their
whispering voices, but I never stooped so low as to listen at her
door....

What was it that held me back? I don't know. Only an instinct,
I suppose, which teaches us that those actions are unmanly and
dishonourable. Moreover, it had become a sort of religion with me to
leave her an absolutely free hand.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three months passed. Then the fact suddenly struck me that our
expenditure was enormous. Now that our expenses were regulated, it was
easy to check them.

We paid twelve francs a day at our hotel, that is three hundred and
sixty francs a month, and I had given Marie a thousand francs a month.
She had therefore spent six hundred francs a month in incidental
expenses.

I asked her to account for her extravagance.

"The money has been spent on incidental items!" she exclaimed furiously.

"What! with an ordinary expenditure of three hundred and sixty francs,
you spent six hundred francs incidentally? Do you take me for a fool?"

"I don't deny that you have given me a thousand francs, but you have
spent the greater part on yourself!"

"Have I? Let's see! Tobacco (very inferior quality), and cigars at one
penny each: ten francs; postage: ten francs; what else?"

"Your fencing lessons!"

"I've only had one: three francs!"

"Riding lessons!"

"Two: five francs."

"Books!"

"Books? Ten francs--together thirty francs; let us say one hundred
francs; that leaves five hundred francs for incidental expenses....
Preposterous!"

"Do you mean to say I'm robbing you? You cad!" What could I say?
Nothing at all!...

I was a cad, and on the following day all her friends in Sweden were
informed of the progress of my insanity.

And gradually the myth grew and developed. The salient characteristics
of my personality became more and more unmistakable as time went on,
and instead of the harmless poet, a mythological figure was sketched,
blackened, touched up until it closely resembled a criminal.

I made an attempt to escape to Italy, where I felt sure of meeting
artists and men after my own heart. The attempt was a failure. We
returned to the shores of the Lake of Geneva, there to await Marie's
confinement.

When the child was a few days old, Marie, the martyr, the oppressed
wife, the slave without rights, implored me to have it baptised.
She knew very well that in my controversial writings I had fought
Christianity tooth and nail, and was therefore strongly opposed to the
ritual of the church.

Although she was not in the least religious herself, and had not set
a foot inside a church for the last ten years, or been to communion
for goodness knows how long; although she had only prayed for dogs,
fowls and rabbits, the thought of this baptism, which she meant to
elaborate into a great festival, completely obsessed her. I had no
doubt that the motive which actuated her was the thought of my dislike
to ceremonies which I considered insincere, and which are opposed to
all my convictions.

But she implored me with tears in her eyes, appealed to my kind and
generous nature. In the end I yielded to her importunity, on condition,
however, that I was not expected to be present at the ceremony. She
kissed my hand, thanked me effusively for what she called a mark of my
affection for her, and assured me that her baby's baptism was a matter
of conscience to her, a very vital point.

The ceremony took place. After her return from church, she ridiculed
the "farce" in the presence of many witnesses, posed as a free-thinker,
made fun of the ceremonial, and even boasted that she knew nothing
whatever of the church into which her son had just been received.

She had won the game and could afford to laugh at the whole business;
the "vital question" transformed itself into a victory over me, a
victory which served to strengthen the hands of my adversaries.

Once again I had humiliated myself, laid myself open to attack, in
order to humour the fads and fancies of an overbearing woman.

But my measure of calamities was not yet full. A Scandinavian lady
appeared, on the scene, full of the mania called the "Emancipation of
Woman." She and Marie became friends at once, and between them I had no
chance.

She brought with her the cowardly book of a sexless writer who,
rejected by all parties, became a traitor to his own sex by embracing
the cause of all the blue-stockings of the civilised world. After
having read _Man and Woman_, by Emile Girardin, I could well understand
that this movement was bound to result in great advantages to the
hostile camp of the women.

To depose man and put woman in his place by the re-introduction of
the matriarchate; to dethrone the true lord of creation who evolved
civilisation, spread the benefits of culture, created all great
ideals, art, the professions, all that there is great and beautiful in
the world, and crown woman who, with few exceptions, has not shared
in the great work of civilisation, constituted to me a challenge
to my sex. The very thought of having to witness the apotheosis of
those intelligences of the iron age, those manlike creatures, those
semi-apes, that pack of dangerous animals, roused my manhood. It was
strange, but I was cured of my illness, cured through my intense
repugnance to an enemy who, though intellectually my inferior, was more
than a match for me on account of her complete lack of moral feeling.

In a tribal war the less honest, the more crafty, tribe generally
remains in possession of the battlefield. The more a man respects
woman, the more leisure he leaves her to arm and prepare herself for
the fight, the smaller are his prospects of winning the battle. I
determined to take the matter seriously. I armed myself for this new
duel and wrote a book which I flung, like a gauntlet, at the feet of
the emancipated women, those fools who demanded freedom at the price of
man's bondage.

In the following spring we changed our hotel. Our new abode was a kind
of purgatory where I was continually watched by twenty-five women who,
incidentally, furnished me with copy for my book.

In three months' time the volume was ready for publication. It was a
collection of stories of matrimonial life with an introduction in
which I voiced a great number of disagreeable home-truths.

"Woman," I contended, "is not a slave, for she and her children are
supported by her husband's work. She is not oppressed, for nature has
ordained that she should live under the protection of the man while she
fulfills her mission in life as mother. Woman is not man's intellectual
equal; the man, on the other hand, cannot bear children. She is not
an essential factor in the great work of civilisation; this is man's
domain, for he is better fitted to grapple with spiritual problems than
she is. Evolution teaches us that the greater the difference between
the sexes, the stronger and more fit will be the resulting offspring.
Consequently the aping of the masculine, the equality of the sexes,
means retrogression, and is utter folly, the last dream of romantic and
idealistic socialism.

"Woman, man's necessary complement, the spiritual creation of man, has
no right to the privileges of her husband, for she can only be called
'the other half of humanity' by virtue of her numbers, proportionally
she is merely the sixth part of a sixth. She should not, therefore,
invade the labour market as long as it falls to the lot of the man to
provide for his wife and family. And the fact should not be lost sight
of that every time a woman wrests an appointment from a man, there is
one more old maid or prostitute."

The fury of the feminists, and the formidable party which they formed,
may easily be imagined when one realises that they demanded the
confiscation of my book and brought a lawsuit against me.

But despite their attempt to represent my attack as an offence against
religion (the folly of the unsexed actually aspired to raise their
cause to the dignity of a religion), they were not clever enough to win
their case.

Marie obstinately opposed my intention to go to Sweden unaccompanied
by her; to take my family with me was out of the question on account
of my limited means. Secretly she was afraid that I might escape from
her strict guardianship and, worse still, that my appearance in court,
before the public, would give the lie to the rumours concerning my
mental condition which she had so sedulously disseminated.

She pleaded illness, without, however, being able to make a definite
statement as to the nature of her illness, and kept her bed.
Nevertheless I decided to appear personally in court, and left for
Sweden.

The letters which I wrote to her during the following six weeks, while
I was threatened with two years' penal servitude, were full of love,
love rekindled by our separation. My overwrought brain cast a glamour
over her fragile form, wove a resplendent halo round her sweet face;
restraint and longing clothed her with the white garments of the
guardian angel. Everything that was base, ugly, evil, disappeared; the
madonna of my first love-dream reappeared. I went so far as to admit to
an old friend, a journalist, "that the influence of a good woman had
made me more humble and pure-minded." Probably this confession made the
round of the papers of the United Kingdoms.

Did the unfaithful wife laugh when she read it?

The public got its money's worth, at any rate.

Marie's replies to my love-letters bore witness to the keen interest
which she took in the financial side of the question. But her opinion
underwent a change in the same proportion in which the ovations I
received in the theatre, in the street and in court increased, and she
called the judges stupid, and regretted that she was not a member of
the jury.

She met my ardent declarations of love with clever reserve; she refused
to be drawn into an argument, and confined herself to the repetition
of the words: "To understand one another," "To comprehend each other's
nature and ideas." She blamed my failure to understand her for the
unhappiness of our marriage. But I could swear that she herself never
understood a single word of the language of her learned poet.

Amongst the number of her letters there was one which reawakened my old
suspicions. I had mentioned my intention to live permanently abroad, if
I was fortunate enough to escape the meshes of the law.

This upset her; she scolded me, threatened me with the loss of her
love; she appealed to my pity, went down on her knees before me, as it
were, evoked the memory of my mother, and confessed that the thought of
never again seeing her country (by which she did not mean Finland) sent
cold shudders down her spine and would kill her.

Why cold shudders? I wondered....

To this day I have not found an explanation.

I was acquitted. A banquet was given in my honour, and--oh, irony of
fate!--Marie's health was drunk "because she had persuaded me to appear
personally before my judges."

It was indeed amusing!

As soon as possible I returned to Geneva, where my family had lived
during my absence. To my great surprise Marie, whom I had believed to
be ill and in bed, met me at the station; she looked well and happy,
but a trifle absent-minded.

I soon recovered my spirits, and the evening and night which followed
fully compensated me for all the sufferings I had endured during those
six weeks.

On the following day I discovered that we were living in a
boarding-house which was mainly patronised by students and light women.
While listening to their chatter, it came home to me with a pang that
Marie had found pleasure in drinking and playing cards with these
shady characters. The familiar tone which prevailed revolted me. Marie
posed to the students as the little mother (her old game); she was the
bosom friend of the most objectionable of the women; she introduced her
to me: a slut, who came down to dinner semi-intoxicated.

And in this hell my children had lived for six weeks! Their mother
approved of the place, for she was without prejudices! And her
illness--her simulated illness--had not prevented her from taking part
in the amusements of this disreputable company.

She lightly dismissed all my remonstrances. I was jealous, a stickler,
a snob....

And again it was war between us.

       *       *       *       *       *

We were now confronted by a new difficulty: the question of the
education of the children. The nurse, an uneducated country girl, was
made their governess, and, in collusion with the mother, committed the
most outrageous follies. Both women were indolent, and liked to stay
in bed until broad daylight. Consequently the children were obliged
to stay in bed also, during the morning, no matter how wide awake
they were; if they insisted on getting up, they were punished. As
soon as I became aware of this state of things, I interfered; without
much ado I sounded the reveille in the nursery, and was greeted with
shouts of delight as a deliverer from bondage. My wife reminded me of
our contract: personal freedom--her interpretation of which was the
limitation of the liberty of others--but I took no notice of her.

The monomania of weak and inferior brains, that desire to equalise
what can never be equal, was the cause of much mischief in my family.
My elder daughter, a precocious child, had for years been allowed to
play with my illustrated books, and had, besides, enjoyed many of the
priviliges usually enjoyed by the firstborn. Because I would not
extend the same privileges to the younger one, who had no idea of
handling an expensive book, I was accused of injustice.

"There ought to be no difference whatever," she said.

"No difference? Not even in the quantity of clothes and shoes?"

There was no direct reply to my remark, but a contemptuous "fool" made
up for the omission.

"Every one according to merit and ability! This for the elder, that for
the younger one!"

But she refused to understand my meaning, and stubbornly maintained
that I was an unjust father, and "hated" my younger daughter.

To tell the truth, I was more attached to the elder one, because she
awakened in me memories of the first beautiful days of my life, and
because, also, she was sensible in advance of her years; I may also
have been influenced by the fact that the younger one was born at a
time when I had grave doubts of my wife's fidelity.

The mother's "justice," I may say, evidenced itself in complete
indifference to the children. She was always either out or asleep. She
was a stranger to them, and they became devoted to me; their preference
for me was so marked that it aroused her jealousy, and in order to
conciliate her, I made a practice of letting her distribute the toys
and sweets which I bought for them, hoping that in this way she might
win their affection.

The little ones were a very important factor in my life, and in my
darkest moments, when I was almost broken by my isolation, contact with
them bound me afresh to life and their mother. For the sake of the
children the thought of divorcing my wife was unthinkable; an ominous
fact, as far as I was concerned, for I was becoming more and more her
abject slave.



III


The result of my attack on the strongholds of the feminists soon made
itself felt. The Swiss press attacked me in such a manner that my life
in Switzerland became unbearable. The sale of my books was prohibited,
and I fled, hunted from town to town, to France.

But my former Paris friends had deserted me. They had become my wife's
allies, and, surrounded and hemmed in like a wild beast, I again
changed the arena; almost without means I at last made port in a colony
of artists in the neighbourhood of Paris.

Alas! I was caught in a net, and I remained enmeshed for ten miserable
months!

The society in which I found myself consisted of young Scandinavian
artists, recruited from various professions, some of them of strange
origin; but, worse still, there was a number of lady-artists, women
without prejudices, completely emancipated and so enamoured with
hermaphroditic literature that they believed themselves the equals of
man. They tried to conceal their sex as far as possible by adopting
certain masculine characteristics; they smoked, drank, played billiards
... and made love to each other. They wallowed in the lowest depths of
immorality.

As an alternative to utter isolation, we made friends with two of those
monstrous women; one of them was a writer, the other an artist.

The writer called on me first, as is customary when one happens to be a
well-known author. My wife was jealous at once: she was anxious to win
an ally sufficiently enlightened to appreciate my arguments against
the unsexed.

But certain events happened which made my henceforth notorious mania
break out in irrepressible fury.

The hotel boasted of an album which contained caricatures of all the
well-known Scandinavians, sketched by Scandinavian artists. My portrait
was amongst them, adorned with a horn cleverly contrived by the
manipulation of a lock of hair.

The artist was one of our most intimate friends. I concluded that my
wife's infidelity was an open secret; everybody knew it, everybody
except myself. I asked the proprietor of the collection for an
explanation.

Marie had taken care to inform him of my mental condition soon after
our arrival, and he swore that the decoration of my forehead existed
in my imagination only, that there was no trace of it in the sketch,
and that I had worked myself into a passion for no reason whatever. I
had to be content with this explanation until I was able to obtain more
reliable information.

One evening we were sipping our coffee in the hotel garden in the
company of an old friend who had just arrived from Sweden. It was still
broad daylight, and from where I sat I could watch every expression
on Marie's face. The old man gave us all the latest news. Amongst
other names he mentioned that of the doctor who had treated my wife by
massage. She did not let the name pass without comment, but interrupted
him with a defiant--

"Ah! you know the doctor?"

"Oh yes, he is a very popular man.... I mean to say he enjoys a certain
reputation----"

"As a conceited fool," I interposed.

Marie's cheeks grew pale; a cynical smile drew up the corners of her
mouth, so that her white teeth became visible. The conversation
dropped amid a general sense of embarrassment.

When I was left alone with my friend, I begged him to tell me frankly
what he knew of those rumours which were giving me so much uneasiness.
He swore a solemn oath that he knew nothing. I continued urging him,
and at last drew from him the following enigmatical words of comfort--

"Moreover, my dear fellow, if you suspect one man, you may be sure that
there are several."

That was all. But from this day onward Marie, who had been so fond
of telling tales, of mentioning the doctor's name in public, that it
sometimes seemed as if she were trying to get accustomed to talk about
him without blushing, never again alluded to him.

This discovery impressed me so much that I took the trouble to search
my memory for similar evidence. I recollected a play which had appeared
at the time of her divorce. It threw light, vague, uncertain light, it
is true, but yet sufficient light, on the channel which led up to the
source of those rumours.

A play--by the famous Norwegian blue-stocking, the promoter of the
"equality-mania," had fallen into my hands. I had read it without
connecting it in the least with my own case. Now, however, I applied it
easily, so easily that the blackest suspicions of my wife's good fame
seemed justified.

This was the story of the play--

A photographer (the realism of my writings had won me this designation)
had married a girl of doubtful morality. She had been the mistress of
a smelter, and funds which she received from her former lover kept her
home going. She made herself proficient in her husband's profession;
and while she worked left him to loaf and spend his time in the cafés,
drinking with boon companions.

The facts, albeit disguised in this way, must have been plain enough
to the publisher; for although the latter knew that Marie was a
translator, he did not know that I edited her translations and paid her
the proceeds of her work without condition or deduction.

Matters did not improve when the unfortunate photographer discovered
that his daughter, whom he idolised, had come into the world
prematurely and was not his child at all, that he had been duped by his
wife when she had prevailed on him to marry her.

To complete his degradation the deceived husband accepted a large sum
from the old lover in lieu of damages.

In this I saw an allusion to Marie's loan which the Baron had
guaranteed; it was the same guarantee which I had been compelled to
countersign on our wedding-day.

I could not, at first, see any similitude between the illegitimate
birth of the child in the play and my own case, for my little daughter
was not born until two years after our marriage.

But I reflected.... What about the child who died?... I was on the
right track!... Poor little dead baby!... It had been the cause of our
marriage which otherwise might never have taken place.

I knew that my conclusion was not altogether sound, nevertheless I had
arrived at a conclusion of some sort. Everything fitted in. Marie had
visited the Baron after the divorce, he was on friendly terms with us,
the walls of my home were decorated with his pictures, there was the
loan, and all the rest of it.

I was determined to act, and laid my plans accordingly. I intended
to suggest that Marie should draw up an indictment, or rather a
defence, which would clear us both, for both of us had been attacked
by the feminists' man of straw; he, doubtless, had been bribed into
undertaking this profitable job.

When Marie entered my room, I received her in the most friendly manner.

"What is the matter?" she asked.

"A very serious thing which concerns us both!" I told her the story
of the play, and added that the actor who played the part of the
photographer had made up to resemble me.

She reflected, silently, a prey to very evident excitement.

Then I suggested the defence.

"If it is true, tell me; I shall forgive you. If the little one who
died was indeed Gustav's baby, well--you were free at the time; vague
promises only bound you to me, and you had never accepted any money
from me. As for the hero of the play, he behaved, in my opinion, like a
man of heart; he was incapable of ruining the future prospects of his
wife and daughter. The money which he accepted on behalf of the child
was nothing but a quite legitimate compensation for an injury done to
him."

She listened with great attention; her small soul nibbled at the bait
without, however, swallowing it.

To judge from the calm which smoothed her conscience-stricken features,
my assertion that she had a right to dispose of her body because she
had never taken money from me pleased her. She agreed that the deceived
husband was a man of heart. "A noble heart," she maintained.

The scene ended without my succeeding to draw a confession from her. I
showed her the way out of the difficulty; I appealed to her for advice
as to the best means of repairing our honour; suggested that we should
publish our "defence" in the shape of a novel, and so cleanse ourselves
before the world and our children from all those infamies....

I talked for an hour. She sat at my writing-table, playing with my
penholder, in a state of intense agitation, without making a sound,
only giving vent occasionally to a short exclamation.

I went out for a walk and then played a game of billiards. When I
returned, after a couple of hours, I found her still sitting in the
same place, motionless, like a statue.

She roused herself when she heard my footsteps.

"You were setting a trap for me!" she exclaimed.

"Not at all! Do you think I want to lose the mother of my children for
ever?"

"I consider you capable of anything. You want to be rid of me; you made
an attempt some time ago when you introduced a certain friend of yours
to me." She mentioned a name which had never before been mentioned in
this connection. "You hoped that I should betray you with him, didn't
you?"

"Who told you that?"

"Helga!"

"Helga?"

She was Marie's last "friend" before we left Sweden. The revenge of the
Lesbian!

"And you believed her?"

"Of course I did.... But I deceived you both, him and you!"

"You mean there was a third?"

"I didn't say so!"

"But you just confessed it! Since you deceived both of us, you must
have deceived me! That is a logical conclusion."

She fought my arguments desperately, and demanded that I should prove
them.

"Prove them!..."

Her treachery, surpassing the lowest depths of degradation of which I
held a human heart capable, weighed on me like a crushing load. I bowed
my head, I fell on my knees, I whined for mercy.

"You believed in the tittle-tattle of that woman! You believed that
I wanted to be rid of you! And yet I have never been anything to you
but a true friend, a faithful husband; I can't live without you! You
complained of my jealousy ... while I regarded all women who run after
me, trying to make love to me, as evil spirits. You believed what that
woman said!... Tell me, did you really believe it?"

She was moved to compassion, and, all at once, yielding to a prompting
to tell the truth, she confessed that she had never really believed it.

"And you deceived me.... Confess it, I'll forgive you.... Deliver me
from the terrible, pitiless thoughts which torment me.... Confess
it...."

She confessed nothing, and merely confined herself to calling my friend
a "scoundrel."

A scoundrel he, my most intimate, my closest friend!

Oh, that I lay before her dead! Life was unbearable....

During dinner she was more than kind to me. When I had gone to bed,
she came into my room, and, sitting on the edge of my bed, stroked my
hands, kissed my eyes, and at last, shaken to the very foundation of
her soul, burst into uncontrollable weeping.

"Don't cry, darling, tell me what's the matter; let me comfort you!..."

She stammered unintelligible, disconnected words about my generous
heart, my kindness, my forbearance, the great compassion which I
extended even to the worst of sinners.

How absurd it all was! I accused her of infidelity, she praised and
caressed me.

But the fire had been kindled, and the flames could not be extinguished.

She had deceived me.

I must know the name of my rival!

The following week was one of the darkest of my whole life.

I fought a desperate fight against all those inbred principles which
we inherit, or, rather, which we acquire through education. I resolved
to open Marie's letters and make sure how I stood with her. And yet,
although I allowed her to open all communications which came for me
during my absence, I recoiled from tampering with the sacred law of the
inviolability of letters, this most subtle obligation imposed on us by
silent agreement between the whole community.

But my desire to know the full truth was stronger than my sense of
honour, and a day dawned when the sacred law was forgotten. A letter
had arrived; I opened it with trembling fingers; my hands shook as if
they were unfolding the death-warrant of my honour.

It was a letter from the adventuress, friend No. 1. The subject of it
was my insanity, mockingly, contemptuously discussed; it concluded
with a prayer that God might soon deliver "her dear Marie" from her
martyrdom by extinguishing the last glimmer of my reason.

I copied the worst passages, re-sealed the envelope, and laid the
letter aside, ready to hand it to my wife with the evening mail. When
the time came I gave it to her, and sat down by her side to watch her
while she read it.

When she came to the part where the writer prayed for my death--at the
top of the second page--she burst into shrill laughter.

So my beloved wife saw no other way out of her difficulties than my
death. It was her only hope of escape from the consequences of her
indiscretions. When I was gone, she would cash my life insurance and
receive the pension due to the widow of a famous writer; then she would
marry again, perhaps, or remain a gay widow all her life ... my beloved
wife....

_Moriturus sum!_ I resolved to hasten the catastrophe by a liberal
recourse to absinthe, sole source of happiness now, and in the meantime
play billiards to calm my excited brain.

       *       *       *       *       *

A fresh complication confronted me, worse, if possible, than any of
the previous ones. The authoress who had pretended to be in love with
me made a conquest of Marie, and Marie became so devoted to her that
her attachment gave rise to a great deal of gossip. This roused the
jealousy of the authoress's former "inseparable," a fact which was not
calculated to contradict the ugly rumours.

One evening Marie asked me whether I was in love with her friend....

"No, on the contrary! A common tippler! You can't be serious!"

"I am mad on her," she replied. "It is strange, isn't it?... I am
afraid of being alone with her!"

"Why?"

"I don't know! She is so charming ... delicious...."

"Indeed...."

In the following week we invited some of our Paris friends, artists,
without scruples or prejudices, and their wives.

The men came, but alone; the wives sent apologies, so transparent that
they amounted to insults.

Dinner degenerated into perfect orgy. The scandalous conduct of the men
revolted me.

They treated Marie's two friends as if they were prostitutes, and
when every one was more or less intoxicated I saw one of the officers
present repeatedly kissing my wife.

I waved my billiard cue above their heads and demanded an explanation.

"He's a friend of my childhood, a relative! Don't make yourself a
laughing-stock, you silly!" replied Marie.

"Moreover, it is a Russian custom to kiss in public, and we are Russian
subjects."

"Rubbish!" exclaimed one of the convives. "A relative? Humbug!"

I nearly committed a murder then. I had every intention to ... but the
thought of leaving my children without father and mother arrested my
arm.

When the company had left I had a scene with Marie.

"Prostitute!"

"Why?"

"Because you submit to being treated like one."

"Are you jealous?"

"Yes, I am jealous; jealous of my honour, the dignity of my family, the
reputation of my wife, the future of my children! It is because of your
unworthy conduct that we are ostracised by all decent women. To allow
a stranger to kiss you in public! Don't you realise that you are mad,
that you neither see, nor hear, nor understand what you are doing, that
you are absolutely devoid of all sense of duty? I shall have you shut
up if you don't mend your ways, and, to begin with, I forbid you to
have anything more to do with those two women!"

"It's all your fault! You egged me on!"

"I wanted to see how far you would go!"

"See how far I would go! What proof have you that the relationship
between me and my friends is such as you suspect?"

"What proof! None! But I have your admissions, your slippery tales. And
didn't one of your friends admit that in her own country she would fall
into the hands of the law?"

"I thought you denied the existence of vice!"

"I don't care how your friends amuse themselves so long as their
amusements do not interfere with the welfare of my family. From the
moment, however, that their 'peculiarities,' if you prefer this word,
threaten to injure us, they are, as far as we are concerned, criminal
acts. True, as a philosopher, I don't admit the existence of vice,
but only of physical or moral defects. And, quite recently, when this
unnatural tendency was discussed in the French parliament, all the
French physicians of note were of opinion that it was not the province
of the law to interfere in these matters, except in cases where the
interests of individual citizens were violated."

I might as well have preached to stone walls. How could I hope to make
this woman, who acknowledged no other law but her animal instincts,
grasp a philosophical distinction!

To be quite sure of the facts, I wrote to a friend in Paris and asked
him to tell me the plain truth.

In his reply, which was very candid, he told me that my wife's perverse
tendencies were no secret in Scandinavia, and that the two Danes were
well-known Lesbians in Paris.

We were in debt at our hotel, and had no money; therefore we were
unable to move. But the two Danish ladies got into trouble with the
peasants, and were compelled to leave.

We had known them for eight months, and an abrupt termination of our
friendship was impossible; moreover, they belonged to good families,
and were well educated; they had been comrades in trouble, and I
resolved to grant them a retreat with honours. A farewell banquet was
therefore arranged in the studio of one of the young artists.

At dessert, when every one was more or less gay with the wine which
had been drunk, Marie, overcome by her feelings, rose to sing a song
of her own composition. It was an imitation of the well-known song in
_Mignon_, and in it she bade farewell to her friend. She sang with fire
and genuine feeling, her almond-shaped eyes were full of tears and
glowed softly in the reflection of the candle-light; she opened her
heart so wide that even I was touched and charmed. There was a candour,
an ingenuousness in this woman's love-song to a woman, so pathetic that
it kept all unchaste thoughts at bay. And how strange it was! She had
neither the appearance nor the manners of the hermaphrodite; she was
essentially woman; loving, tender, mysterious, unfathomable woman.

How different from her was the object of her tenderness! She was a pure
Russian type, with masculine features, a hooked nose, a massive chin,
yellow eyes and bloated cheeks, a flat chest, crooked fingers--a truly
hideous woman--a peasant would not have looked at her.

When she had finished her song Marie sat down by the side of this
freak; the latter rose, took Marie's head in her two hands and kissed
her on the lips. That at least was pure and unadulterated sensuality.

I drank with the Russian until she was quite intoxicated; she stumbled,
looked at me with large, bewildered eyes, and, sobbing like an
imbecile, clutched the wall to support herself. I had never before seen
such ugliness in human shape.

The banquet ended with a row in the street. On the following morning
the two Danes left.

       *       *       *       *       *

Marie passed through a terrible crisis; I was genuinely sorry for her;
her longing for her friend, her suffering, were unmistakable. It was a
genuine instance of unhappy love. She went for solitary walks in the
woods, sang love-songs, visited the favourite haunts of her friends,
exhibited every symptom of a wounded heart. I began to entertain fears
for her sanity. She was unhappy, and I could not console her. She
avoided my caresses, pushed me aside when I tried to kiss her. My heart
was full of hatred for the woman who had robbed me of my wife's love.
Perfectly unconscious of herself, Marie made no secret of the identity
of the person for whom she was mourning. She talked of nothing but her
love and her sorrow. It was incredible!

       *       *       *       *       *

The two friends carried on a brisk correspondence. Infuriated with her
indifference to me, I one day seized one of her friend's letters. It
was a genuine love-letter. "My 'darling, my little puss, my clever,
delicate, tender, noble-hearted Marie; that coarse husband of yours is
but a stupid brute...." and so on. The letter further suggested that
she should leave me, and proposed ways and means of escape....

I stood up against my rival, and on the same evening--oh, my God!
Marie and I fought in the moonshine. She bit my hands, I dragged her to
the river to drown her like a kitten--when suddenly I saw a vision of
my children. It brought me to my senses.

I resolved to put an end to myself, but before doing so I determined to
write the story of my life.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first part of the book was finished when the news spread through
the village that the Danish ladies had engaged rooms.

I instantly had the trunks packed, and we left for German Switzerland.



IV


Lovely Argovia! Sweet Arcady, where the postmaster tends his flocks,
where the colonel drives the only cab, where the young girls are
virgins when they marry, and the young men shoot at targets and
play the drum. Utopia! land of the golden beer and smoked sausages;
birthplace of the game of ninepins, the House of Habsburg, William
Tell, rustic merry-makings and naïve songs straight from the heart,
pastors' wives and vicarage idylls!

Peace returned to our troubled hearts. I recovered, and Marie, weary
of strife, wrapped herself in undisguised indifference. We played
backgammon as a safety-valve, and our conversations, so fraught with
danger, were replaced by the rolling of dice. I drank good, wholesome
beer instead of wine and the nerve-shattering absinthe.

The influence of our environment soon made itself felt. I was amazed to
find that such serene calm could follow the storms we had weathered,
that the elasticity of the mind could withstand so many shocks, that we
could forget the past, that I could fancy myself the happiest husband
of the most faithful wife.

Marie, deprived of all society and friends, uncomplainingly devoted
herself to her children. After a month had elapsed the little ones were
dressed in frocks which she had cut out and made with her own hands.
She was never impatient with them, and allowed them to absorb her
completely.

For the first time now I noticed a certain lassitude in her; her love
of pleasure was less pronounced, approaching middle-age made itself
felt. How grieved she was when she lost her first tooth! Poor girl!
She wept, put her arms round me and implored me never to cease loving
her. She was now thirty-seven years old. Her hair had grown thinner,
her bosom had sunk like the waves of the sea after a storm, the stairs
tired her little feet, her lungs no longer worked with the old pressure.

And I, although I had not yet reached my prime, although my strength
was increasing and I enjoyed excellent health, I loved her more than
ever at the thought that now she would belong entirely to me and her
children. Shielded from temptation, surrounded by my tender care, she
would grow old in the fulfilment of her duties towards her family....

Her return to a more normal state of mind manifested itself in many
pathetic ways. Realising her hazardous position as the wife of a
comparatively young man of thirty-eight, she took it into her head to
be jealous of me; she was more particular about the details of her
dress, and took care of herself during the day, so that she might be
fresh and able to please me in the evening.

She need have had no fear, for I am monogamous by temperament, and,
far from abusing the situation, I did my utmost to spare her the cruel
pangs of jealousy by giving her proof after proof of my renewed love.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the autumn I made up my mind to make a tour through French
Switzerland; I intended to be away for three weeks, and never stay
longer than a day at any one place.

Marie, still clinging to the idea of my shattered health, tried to
dissuade me.

"I am sure it will kill you," she reiterated.

"We shall see!"

The tour was a point of honour with me, an attempt to win her back
completely, to reawaken in her the love of the virile.

       *       *       *       *       *

I returned after incredible hardships, strong, brown and healthy.

There was a look of admiration, a challenge in her eyes when she met
me, which was, however, quickly superseded by a look of disappointment.

I, on the other hand, after my three weeks' absence and abstinence,
treated her as a man treats a beloved mistress, a wife from whom he
has been parted all too long. I put my arm round her waist and, like a
conqueror, seized my own, after a journey of forty-eight hours without
a break.... She did not know what to think; she was amazed, afraid of
betraying her real feelings; frightened at the thought of finding the
"tamer" in her husband.

When my excitement had abated a little, I noticed that Marie's
expression had undergone a change. I scrutinised her appearance: her
missing tooth had been replaced, a fact which made her look much
younger. Certain details of her dress betrayed a wish to please. It
roused my attention. I soon discovered the reason in the presence of a
young girl of about fourteen, with whom she was exceedingly friendly.
They kissed one another, went for walks together, bathed together....

There was nothing left for me to do but to take her away it once.



V


We took rooms in a German private hotel on the shores of the Lake of
Lucerne.

Marie relapsed into her former ways. She paid a great deal of attention
to one of the guests, a young officer; played ninepins with him, and
took melancholy walks in the garden while I worked.

I noticed at dinner that they exchanged tender glances, although no
words were uttered. They seemed to caress one another with the eyes. I
resolved to put them to the test at once, and, turning round sharply,
looked straight into my wife's face. She tried to throw me off the
scent by letting her eyes glide along the young man's temples until
they rested on the wall, on a spot which was adorned by a huge poster
advertising a brewery. She made an inane remark to cover her confusion.

"Is that a new brewery?" she stammered.

"Yes ... but don't imagine that you can hoodwink me," I retorted.

She bent her neck, as if I had pulled in the reins, and remained silent.

Two days later, in the evening, on pretence of being tired, she kissed
me good-night and left the room. I too went to bed, and after reading
for a little while, fell asleep.

All of a sudden I awoke. Some one was playing the piano in the
drawing-room; a voice was singing--it was Marie's voice.

I arose and called the children's nurse.



"Go and tell your mistress to go to bed at once," I said. "Tell her
that if she refuses I shall come down myself and shake her in the
presence of the whole company."

Marie came up-stairs at once. She seemed ashamed, and with an air of
injured innocence she asked me why I had sent her so strange a message;
why I would not allow her to stay in the drawing-room, although there
were other ladies present?

"I don't mind your staying in the drawing-room," I replied angrily.
"But I do object to your sly ways of getting rid of me whenever you
want to be there by yourself."

"If you insist, very well, I'll go to bed."

This candour, this sudden submission.... What had happened?

       *       *       *       *       *

Winter had set in in good earnest. There was an abundance of snow; the
sky was leaden, and we were cut off from all society. Everybody had
left; we were the last guests in the modest hotel. The extreme cold
compelled us to take our meals in the large public dining-room of the
restaurant.

One morning, while we were at luncheon, a strong, thick-set man, rather
nice-looking, evidently belonging to the servant class, entered, sat
down at one of the tables, and asked for a glass of wine.

Marie scrutinised the stranger in her free and easy manner, took his
measure, as it were, and became lost in a reverie.

The man went away, confused and flattered by her attention.

"A nice-looking man," she remarked, turning to the host.

"He used to be my porter."



"Was he? He really is unusually good-looking for his class! A very
nice-looking man indeed!"

And she went into details, praising his virile beauty in terms which
puzzled our host.

On the following morning the dashing ex-porter was already in his place
when we entered. Dressed in his Sunday best, hair and beard trimmed,
he appeared to be fully aware of his conquest. He bowed; my wife
acknowledged his bow with a graceful bending of her head; he squared
his shoulders and gave himself the airs of a Napoleon.

He returned on the third day, determined to break the ice. He started
a polite conversation, reminiscent of the back-door, all the while
addressing himself directly to my wife without wasting any time over
the usual trick of first conciliating the husband.

It was intolerable!

Marie, in the presence of her husband and children, allowed herself to
be drawn into a discussion by a stranger.

Once more I tried to open her eyes, begged her to be more careful of
her reputation.

Her only answer was her usual: "You have a nasty mind!"

A second Apollo came to the rescue. He was the village tobacconist, an
undersized man, at whose shop Marie was in the habit of making small
purchases. More shrewd than the porter, he tried to make friends with
me first; he was of a more enterprising nature. At the first meeting he
stared impudently at Marie and loudly exclaimed to our host--

"I say, what a distinguished-looking family!"

Marie's heart caught fire, and the village beau returned night after
night.

One evening he was intoxicated, and therefore more insolent than
usual. He approached Marie while we were playing backgammon, and asked
her to explain the rules of the game to him. I answered as civilly as I
could under the circumstances, and the worthy man returned to his seat,
snubbed. Marie, more sensitive than I, was under the impression that
she ought to make amends for my rudeness; she turned to him with the
first question which came into her mind--

"Do you play billiards?" she said.

"No, madame, or rather, I play badly...."

He rose again, approached a step or two, and offered me a cigar. I
declined.

He turned to Marie. "Won't you smoke, madame?" Fortunately for her, for
the tobacconist and the future of my family, she too declined, but she
refused in a manner which flattered him.

How dared this man offer a lady a cigarette in a restaurant in the
presence of her husband?

Was I a jealous fool? Or was my wife's conduct so scandalous that she
excited the desire of the first-comer?

We had a scene in our room, for I regarded her as a somnambulist whom
it was my duty to awaken. She was walking straight to her doom, without
being in the least aware of it. I gave her an epitome of her sins, old
and new, and minutely criticised her conduct.

Silently, with a pale face and dream-shadowed eyes, she listened until
I had finished. Then she rose and went down-stairs to bed. But this
time--for the first time in my life--I fell so low as to play the spy.
I crept down-stairs, found her bedroom door, and looked through the
keyhole.

The rich glow of the lamp fell on the children's nurse, who sat
opposite the door right in the field of my vision. Marie was pacing the
room excitedly, vehemently denouncing my unfounded suspicions; she
conducted her case as a criminal conducts his defence.

And yet I was innocent, quite innocent, in spite of all my
opportunities to sin....

She produced two glasses of beer, and they drank together. They sat
down, side by side, and Marie looked at her caressingly. Closer and
closer she moved to the girl, put her head on the shoulders of this new
friend, slipped her arm round her waist and kissed her....

Poor Marie! Poor, unhappy woman, who sought comfort far from me, who
alone could set her mind at rest and give her peace. All of a sudden
she drew herself up, listened, and pointed towards the door.

"Some one's there!"

I slipped away.

When I returned to my post of observation I noticed that Marie was
half undressed, exposing her shoulders to the gaze of the girl, who,
however, remained quite unmoved. Then she resumed her defence.

"There can be no doubt that he is mad! I shouldn't be surprised if he
tried to poison me.... I suffer unbearable pains in my inside.... But
no, it's hardly probable ... perhaps I ought to fly to Finland.... What
do you think?... Only it would kill him, for he loves the children...."

What was this, if not the outpourings of an evil conscience?... Stung
with remorse, she was terror-stricken and sought refuge on the bosom
of a woman! She was a perverted child; an unfaithful wife, a criminal;
but, above all, she was an unhappy woman.

I lay awake all night, a prey to my tormenting thoughts. At two o'clock
in the morning I heard her moaning in her sleep. Full of pity, I
knocked on the floor to dispel the visions which terrified her. It was
not the first time that I had done this.

She thanked me on the following morning for having awakened her from
her nightmare. I made much of her, and begged her to tell me, her best
friend, everything.

"Tell you what?... I have nothing to tell."

I should have given her absolution for whatever crime she had confessed
to me at that moment, for my heart was full of compassion. I loved
her with an infinite love, despite of, or perhaps because of, all the
misery she had wrought. She was but an unhappy woman. How could I raise
my hand against her?

But instead of delivering me once and for all from the terrible doubts
which haunted me, she offered me the most strenuous resistance. She had
persuaded herself that I was insane; her instinct of self-preservation
had built up a legend behind which she could shield herself from the
attacks of her anguished conscience.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Sunwards_.

Not a single ray of sunlight had gladdened the little village of Gersau
on the shore of the Lake of Lucerne for three long weeks, not, in fact,
since the beginning of October, when the Foehn began to blow. There had
been a dead calm; after sunset I had fallen asleep and slept until I
was awakened, in the middle of the night, by the ringing of the church
bells and a noise which mingled with the peculiar rushing sound of
the tempest as it came sweeping across the Alps, flung itself on the
southern shore of the lake, was compressed into the valley and forced
into the streets of our village, where it tore at the signs, shook the
window shutters, rattled the slates and howled through the branches of
trees and shrubs.

The waves of the lake dashed against the dam, foamed over the border
and plashed against the sides of the boats. Handfuls of storm-lashed
sand were flung at our windows; the leaves, torn from their branches,
went dancing and whirling by, the doors of the stoves clattered, the
walls shook. I looked out of the window; the church was lighted up,
and the bells were ringing to awaken those who still slept. In these
parts the Foehn is accounted as full of danger as an earthquake, for
it does not only sweep away the houses, but it tears the mountains to
pieces and flings them into the valleys. Our house was situated at the
base of a mountain which, though only fifteen hundred metres high,
carried on its summit a loose litter of rocks, peculiarly adapted to
stone-throwing on a large scale. The tempest raged for three hours,
then the danger was over; but on the following morning everybody in
the village knew that at Schwyz a rock had fallen on a farmhouse and
carried away the right wing without injury to those who lived in the
left.

After this warm but terrific gale a fog descended on village and lake.
The sky was overcast, but no rain fell; yet there was no sunshine. This
continued for three weeks, and if the outlook had been grey to begin
with, it ended by being black. The beautiful alpine landscape, the
unrivalled restorer of flagging spirits, had lost its potency, for it
was impossible to see further ahead than a hundred yards up the steep
rocks; the heart became heavy as lead and indescribably depressed.
The tourists had turned their faces homewards, the hotels were empty,
November was upon us, sombre and gloomy. The hours dragged on wearily;
one longed for the end of the dreary day and the cheerful light of the
lamps; the dismal sky was grey, the lake was grey, the landscape was
grey.

No wind, no rain, no thunder. Nature, so varied and diversified, had
become monotonous, calm and quiet; so peaceful that an earthquake would
have been a relief.

Wherever the light did not fall, greyness reigned; vision was dimmed,
and drowsiness, akin to laziness, enveloped the soul.

One evening, when I complained to the magistrate of the long absence
of the sun, he answered with the phlegm which characterises the
German-Swiss--

"The sun! You can see the sun all day long on the Hochfluh!"

The Hochfluh was one of the small mountain ranges which surrounded the
valley in which we lived; it was only two hundred metres lower than the
Sulitelma, and consequently a favourite walk of young English tourists.
Being a worshipper of the sun, I decided to make a pilgrimage to my
deity, and early one November morning I set out on my travels.

The inhabitants of Gersau, living at the base of a mountain which, as
I have already mentioned, every now and then transforms itself into
a volcano and rains rocks and stones on the valleys, have from time
immemorial cultivated the habit of preparing themselves for death by
visiting their church three times a day, at morning, noon and evening.
I was not surprised, therefore, to meet the church-goers now, at eight
o'clock in the morning, carrying their Prayer Books in their hands.
Two old women, patiently performing their daily half-mile trudge to
morning prayers, were counting their beads on the highroad. One of them
started the angelic salutation "Ave Maria!" and her companion joined in
the burden "In sæcula sæculorum, Amen." They kept up their monotonous'
mumbling the whole way, and though this counting of beads may not have
done any actual good, it at least prevented any misuse of the tongue;
I could not help thinking of the well-known anecdote of the count who
made his butler whistle whenever he was busy in the wine cellar.

Soon after I had left the old women and the highroad behind, and begun
the ascent, I came upon some sights which were so striking that they
made a lasting impression on me. Close to the first curve of the road
grew a walnut tree, to which were nailed a crucifix and a tablet; the
inscription on the latter informed the passer-by that farmer Seppi,
while busy with the harvest, fell from the tree and was killed. God
have mercy on his soul! Pray for him! Amen!

At the next corner there was a queer little shrine built of whitewashed
bricks, small like a child's dolls'-house. A peep through the railings
disclosed pictures of the Holy Family, painted, perhaps, in the
sixteenth century, and a legend to the effect that criminals on their
way to execution were allowed a few minutes' respite before the shrine
to utter a last prayer. I was, therefore, on the road which led to the
gallows, and a few minutes later I arrived at the place of execution,
a pleasant open spot on the top of an overhanging cliff which jutted
out in the direction of the lake. From this point one had a magnificent
view. To bid farewell to life with a last look at such a picture as
greets the eye from the summit of Pilatus, Buechserhorn or Buergenstock
is quite conceivably a genuine pleasure. Even Voltaire could have felt
none of the repugnance which was excited in him by the idea of being
hanged in secret, a contingency which filled him with such extreme
disgust, that he was quite consistent in accusing Rousseau of a vanity
so great that it would permit him to submit cheerfully to be hanged, if
he could be sure of his name being nailed to the gallows.

In the distance, near the shore, I could dimly discern a faint
outline of a haunted little church, called "Kindlimord" because a
grief-stricken father is said there to have killed his starving child.

I left these four melancholy landmarks behind me in the grey morning
light, and hastened my ascent to those happier heights where the sun
was shining.

Very soon beeches took the place of chestnut and walnut trees. I rested
for a while in a dairy cottage in the company of fine cattle and a
horrible cur, and then entered cloudland. I seemed to be walking in a
dense fog, which grew in density and almost completely blotted out the
landscape. The effort to see made my eyes ache; trees and shrubs loomed
indistinctly through a cloud of smoke; the millions of cobwebs which
festooned the branches were richly studded with raindrops; it looked
as if the old woman of the wood, if there is such a being, had hung up
thousands of lace handkerchiefs to dry.

It was difficult to breathe; the fog hung on my coat, hair, beard and
eyebrows, gave out a stale, sickly smell, and rendered the rocks so
smooth and slippery that I could hardly keep my footing; it darkened
the heart of the wood, where the trunks were quickly swallowed up in a
monotonous grey, which limited the range of vision to a few yards.

I had to climb up through this layer of fog, extending about a thousand
metres upwards, a cold and damp purgatory, before I could reach the
sun; and I struggled on, with sublime faith in the magistrate's word
of honour that the fog would cease before the mountain ceased and grey
space began.

I had no barometer with me, but I felt that I was ascending, that
the fog was growing less dense, and that I was approaching a purer
atmosphere.

A feeling of intoxication seized me--a faint glimmer from above dimly
illuminated the narrow pass, like the first dawn of day shining through
the picture of a landscape painted on a window-blind; the trees stood
out more distinctly, the field of vision increased, the tinkling of
cowbells--from above--fell on my ear. And now, right on the summit,
there hung a golden cloud; a few more steps and the stunted beeches
and brushwood shone and glittered, dazzling splashes of gold, copper,
bronze and silver, wherever a stream of broken sunlight fell on the
faded foliage which was still clinging to the branches. I was standing
in an autumn landscape looking out into a sun-bathed summerland;
through my mind flashed the memory of a sail on the Lake of Mälar; I
remembered how I was sitting in the sunshine, watching the passing of
a black hail-storm no further off than a cable-length to leeward. And
now I, too, stood in the sunlight, gazing at a northern landscape made
up of firs and birch trees, green fields and red cattle, little brown
cottages with old women on the thresholds, knitting socks for father,
who was toiling far down in the canton of Tessin; my eyes rested on
potato fields and lavender bushes, dahlias and marigolds.

The sun dried my hair and coat, and warmed my shivering limbs; I bared
my head before the glowing orb, source and preserver of all there is,
completely indifferent whether I was worshipping unquenchable flames of
burning hydrogen, or the not yet scientifically acknowledged primordial
substance, helium. Was it not the All-Father, who had given birth to
the Cosmos, the Almighty, the Lord of life and death, ice and heat,
summer and winter, dearth and plenty?

My eyes, which had been feasting on summer joy and green fields,
plunged into the gloom of the abyss whence I had climbed. The mantle of
cold and darkness which had been lying on the surface of the lake was
cold and dark no longer; dazzling clouds, like snowy, sunlit piles of
wool, hid from my gaze the twilight and the polluted earth; above them
rose snow-clad peaks, glistening and sparkling, fashioned of condensed
silver fog, a crystallised solution of air and sunlight, drift-ice
on a sea of newly fallen snow. It was a vision of transcendent
beauty, compared to which the cowbell-idyll under the birch trees was
commonplace.

The dead silence was suddenly broken by a sound from below, where
melancholy men and women toiled and trembled in the grey gloom. It was
a splashing sound which approached deliberately; so deliberately that
my eyes unconsciously tried to follow its course under the cloud-cover.
It sounded like a millstream, a brook swollen with rain, a tidal wave.
Then a scream rent the air, loud and wild, as if all the dwellers in
the four cantons were calling for help against Uri-Rotstock; it was
the shrill whistle of the paddle-boat which, penetrating the layer of
clouds, gained in volume in the pure air and was caught up and tossed
from rock to rock by the redundant echo of the Hochfluh.

It was noon! Time to begin my descent through the fog down to the
greyness, the darkness, the damp, the dirt, and wait for another three
weeks, perhaps, for another glimpse of the sun.



VI


After the New Year we left Switzerland and took up our abode in
Germany; we had decided to stay for a while at the lovely shores of the
Lake of Constance.

In Germany, the land of militarism, where the patriarchate is still in
full force, Marie felt completely out of it. No one would listen to
her futile talk about women's rights. Here young girls had just been
forbidden to attend the University lectures; here the dowry of a woman
who marries an officer of the army has to be deposited with the War
Office; here all government appointments are reserved for the man, the
breadwinner of the family.

Marie struggled and fought as if she had been caught in a trap. On her
first attempt to hoodwink me she was severely taken to task by the
women. For the first time in my life I found the fair sex entirely
on my side; henceforth she had to play second fiddle. The friendly
intercourse with the officers braced me; their manners influenced mine;
and after ten years of spiritual emasculation my manhood reasserted
itself.

I let my hair grow as it liked, and abolished the fringe on which
Marie had insisted; my voice, which had grown thin from everlastingly
speaking in soothing tones to a woman, regained its former volume. The
hollows in my cheeks filled out, and although I was now beginning my
fortieth year my whole physique gained in strength and vigour.

I was friendly with all the women in the house, and soon fell into the
habit of taking a very active part in the conversation, while Marie,
poor, unpopular Marie, once again sat in silence.

She began to be afraid of me. One morning, for the first time in the
last six years of our marriage, she appeared fully dressed in my
bedroom before I was up. I could not understand this sudden move, but
we had a stormy scene, during which she admitted that she was jealous
of the girl who came into my room every morning to light the fire in my
stove.

"And I do detest your new ways!" she exclaimed. "I hate this so-called
manliness, and loathe you when you give yourself airs!"

Well, I knew that it had always been the page, the lap-dog, the
weakling, "her child" that she loved. The virago never loves virility
in her husband, however much she may admire it elsewhere.

I became more and more popular with the women. I sought their society;
my whole nature was expanding in the friendly warmth which they
emanated, these true women, who inspired the respectful love, the
genuine devotion which a man only feels for a womanly woman.

       *       *       *       *       *

We were discussing our return home. But again my old suspicions
tormented me. I shrank from the renewal of old relations with former
friends, some of whom might quite conceivably have been my wife's
lovers. To put an end to my doubts, I determined to cross-examine her,
for my letters to friends in Sweden had been so much waste of paper. I
had been unable to elicit a candid statement.

Everybody pitied the "mother." No one cared whether or not the "father"
would be ruined by the ridicule which threatened to befall him.

An excellent idea occurred to me. I would make use of the resources
of the new science of psychology and thought-reading. I introduced
it into our evening amusements, as if it were a game, employing the
methods of Bishop and his kind. Marie was suspicious. She charged
me with being a spiritualist; laughingly called me a superstitious
free-thinker; overwhelmed me with abuse--in fact, used every means in
her power to divert my attention from practices the danger of which she
apparently anticipated. I pretended to give in, and dropped hypnotism,
but I resolved to make my attack some time when she was off her guard.

The opportunity came one evening when we were sitting alone in the
dining-room, facing each other. I gradually led the conversation to
gymnastics. I succeeded in interesting her so much that she became
excited and, compelled either by my will-power or the association of
ideas which I had aroused in her mind, she mentioned massage. This
suggested the pain caused by the treatment, and remembering her own
experience in this connection she exclaimed--

"Oh yes, the treatment is certainly painful--I can feel the pain now
when I think of----"

She paused. She bowed her head to hide her pallor; her lips moved as
if she were anxious to change the subject; her eyelids flickered. A
terrible silence followed which I prolonged as much as possible. This
was the train of thought which I had set in motion and guided, full
steam on, in the intended direction. In vain she tried to put on the
brake. The abyss lay before her; she could not stop the engine. With a
superhuman effort she broke from the grip of my eyes and rushed out of
the room.

The blow had struck home.

She returned a few minutes later; her face had lost its strained
expression. Under pretence of demonstrating to me the beneficial
effect of massage, she came behind my chair and stroked my head.
Unfortunately the little scene was acted before a mirror. A furtive
glance showed me her pale, terrified face, her troubled eyes which
scrutinised my features ... our searching glances met.

Contrary to her habit she came and sat on my knee, put her arms round
me lovingly and murmured that she was very sleepy.

"What wrong have you committed to-day that you caress me like this?" I
asked.

She hid her face on my shoulder, kissed me and went out of the room,
bidding me good-night.

I am perfectly well aware that this sort of evidence would not satisfy
a jury, but it was sufficient for me, who knew her so well.

And to my thinking the evidence was strengthened by the fact that a
short time ago my brother-in-law had forbidden the doctor his house,
because the latter had made advances to my sister.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was therefore determined not to return to my own country. At home I
should be compelled to associate daily with men whom I distrusted, and
to escape the ridicule which inevitably falls to the share of the duped
husband, I fled to Vienna.

Alone in my hotel, the vision of the wife I had worshipped haunted
me. Utterly unable to work, I began a correspondence with her. I
wrote her love-letters twice a day. The unknown town affected me like
a cemetery. I moved through the thronging crowd like a phantom. But
after a while my imagination began to people this solitude. I invented
a romantic story for the sole reason of introducing Marie into this
dreary desert, and soon life was pulsing everywhere. I pictured her
as a famous singer, and to lend my dream a semblance of reality and
make of the fine city a more convincing background for her, I made
the acquaintance of the director of the Conservatoire. I, who detested
the theatre, visited the opera or a concert every night. Everything
interested me intensely, because I reported everything to her. No
sooner had I arrived at my hotel than I sat down and gave her a minute
description of Miss So-and-so's performance, drawing comparisons which
were invariably in her own favour.

Her spirit pervaded the picture galleries. I spent an hour before
the Venus of Guido Reni in the Belvedere, because she was so like my
beloved.

In the end my longing grew so irresistible that I packed my box and
returned home as fast as the express could carry me. Surely I was
bewitched; there was no means of escape from her.

I had a royal reception.

My love-letters seemed to have rekindled Marie's love. I ran up the
little garden to meet her. I covered her face with passionate kisses. I
took her little head between my hands.

"Can you really work magic, little witch?"

"What do you mean? Your journey was not an attempt at flight, was it?"

"It was! But you are stronger than I am.... I throw down my arms...."

On my writing-table lay a spray of red roses.

"You do love me a little?"

She was covered with confusion like a young girl--she blushed ... it
was all over with me, my honour, my efforts to break the chains which
bound me, and which I longed for when I was free.

Six months went by; we lived in a wonderful dream: we chirruped
like starlings, we kissed, our love was endless. We played duets
and backgammon. The most beautiful days of the last five years were
surpassed. Spring had returned in the autumn of our lives! And had we
not dreaded the approach of the winter?

       *       *       *       *       *

I was fast again in her toils. She was convinced that the love philtre
which she had given me to drink had intoxicated me afresh, and relapsed
into her former indifference. She neglected her appearance, and despite
all my remonstrances no longer took the trouble to make the best of
herself. I foresaw that the result would be coldness on both sides, in
spite of ourselves. Even her preference for her own sex reappeared,
more dangerous and more pitiable, for this time she made love to young
girls.

One evening we had invited the commandant and his fourteen-year-old
daughter, cur hostess and her daughter, a girl of fifteen, and a third
girl of about the same age to a quiet little dinner-party, which was to
be followed by a dance.

Towards midnight--to this day I grow hot when I think of it--I saw that
Marie, who had been drinking freely, had gathered the young girls round
her and, looking at them with lascivious eyes, was kissing them on the
lips.

The commandant was watching the scene from a dark corner of the room,
hardly able to control himself. In imagination I saw prison, penal
servitude, a scandal which we could never live down; I made a rush at
the group and broke it up, telling the girls to join in the dancing....

When we were left alone I took Marie to task. We argued and stormed
till daylight. Since she had had more wine than was good for her, she
lost her head and confessed things which I had never even dreamed of.

Beside myself with anger, I repeated all my indictments, all my
suspicions, and added a new charge, in which I did not really believe
myself.

"And this mysterious illness, these headaches from which I suffer...."

"What! You blame me for that too!"

I had not meant what she insinuated; I had merely referred to the
symptoms of cyanide poisoning which I had observed in myself.

All of a sudden a reminiscence flashed into my mind; the thought of
something which at the time had seemed too improbable that it had left
no permanent trace in my memory....

My suspicion was strengthened when I remembered a certain epithet used
in an anonymous letter which I had received a short time after Marie's
divorce. The letter referred to her as "the prostitute of Södertälje."

What did it mean? I had made inquiries which had come to nothing. Was I
on the point of making a fresh discovery?

When the Baron, Marie's first husband, made her acquaintance at
Södertälje, she was half and half engaged to a young officer, a man
with admittedly bad health. Poor Gustav had played the part of a
greenhorn. That accounted for the warm gratitude which she felt for
him even after the divorce; she had confessed at the time that he had
delivered her from dangers ... what dangers she had not mentioned.

But "the prostitute of Södertälje"? I reflected ... the retired life
which the young couple led, without friends, without society; they had
been ostracised by the class to which they belonged.

Had Marie's mother, formerly a governess of middle-class origin, who
had wheedled Marie's father into a marriage with her; who had fled
to Sweden to escape from pressing debts; had she, the widow who so
cleverly contrived to conceal her poverty, stooped to sell her daughter
when they were living at Södertälje?

The old woman, a coquette still at the age of sixty, had always
inspired me with mingled feelings of compassion and dislike; mean,
pleasure-loving, with the manners of an adventuress, a veritable
"man-eater," she regarded every man as her legitimate prey. She had
made me support her sister; she had deceived her first son-in-law, the
Baron, with the story of a dowry swindled out of one of her creditors.

Poor Marie! Her remorse, her unrest, her dark moods were rooted in
that shady past. In putting old events by the side of new ones I had
the key to the quarrels between mother and daughter, brutal quarrels,
frequently verging on violence. I could understand Marie's hitherto
incomprehensible words, "I could kick my mother!"

Had her game been to silence the old woman? Probably; for the latter
had threatened to ruin our lives by confessing "everything."

There could have been no doubt of Marie's dislike for her mother,
to whom the Baron frequently referred as "that old blackguard," an
invective which he justified with the half-truth that she had taught
her daughter all the tricks of coquetry to enable her to catch a
husband.

All these coincidences strengthened my determination to separate from
her. It had to be! There was no alternative. And I left for Copenhagen
to make inquiries into the past of the woman in whose keeping I had
confided my honour.

       *       *       *       *       *

In meeting my countrymen after several years' absence I found that
they had formed very definite opinions of me; the eager exertions of
Marie and her friends had borne fruit. She was a holy martyr; I was a
madman, whose lunacy consisted in believing himself to be saddled with
an unfaithful wife.

Make inquiries? It was like beating my head against a stone wall.
People listened to what I had to say with a furtive smile and stared at
me as if I were a rare animal. No information was vouchsafed to me; I
was deserted by every one, especially by those who secretly yearned for
my ruin, so that they might rise over my fallen body.

I returned to my prison. Marie met me with evident misgivings; I
learned more from the expression of her face than I had learned during
the whole of my melancholy journey.

For two months I champed upon the bit; then I fled for the fourth time,
in the height of summer, this time to Switzerland. But the chain which
held me was not an iron chain which I might have been able to break;
it was rather an indiarubber cable, elastic and capable of infinite
expansion. The stronger the tension, the more irresistibly I was pulled
back to the starting point.

Once more I returned, to be rewarded with open contempt; she was sure
that another attempt to free myself from her net would kill me, and my
death was her only hope.

I fell ill, severely ill, so that I believed myself to be dying; I
made up my mind to write the whole story of the past. I could see
plainly now that I had been in the power of a vampire. I only wanted to
live long enough to cleanse my name from the filth with which she had
sullied it. I wanted to live long enough to revenge myself; but first
of all I must have proofs of her infidelity.

I hated her now with a hatred more fatal than indifference because it
is the anthithesis of love. I hated her because I loved her.

It was on a Sunday, while we were dining in the summer-arbour, that the
electric fluid which had gathered during the last ten years discharged
itself. I cannot remember my actual motive, but I struck her, for the
first time in my life. I struck her face repeatedly, and when she
tried to defend herself I seized her wrists and forced her on her
knees. She gave a terrified scream. The temporary satisfaction which I
had felt at my action gave way to dismay, for the children, frightened
to death, cried out with fear. It was a horrible moment! It is a crime,
a most unnatural crime, to strike a woman, a mother, in the presence of
her children. It seemed to me that the sun ought to hide his face.... I
felt sick to death.

And yet there was peace in my soul, like the calm after a storm, a
satisfaction such as is only derived from duty done. I regretted my
action, but I felt no remorse. My deed had been as inevitable as cause
and effect.

In the evening I saw her walking in the moonlit garden. I joined her;
I kissed her. She did not object; she burst into tears. We walked for
a few minutes, then she accompanied me to my room and stayed with me
until midnight.

How strange is life! In the afternoon I had struck her. At night she
held me in her arms and kissed me.

What an extraordinary woman she was, to kiss her executioner with
willing lips!

Why had I not known it before? If I had struck her ten years ago I
should now have been the happiest of husbands.

Remember this, my brothers, if ever you are deceived by a woman!

But she had no intention of foregoing her revenge. A few days after
this incident she came into my room, began telling me a long, rambling
story, and after endless digressions gave me to understand that she had
once, only once, been violated; it had happened, she said, while on her
theatrical tour in Finland.

It was true, then!

She implored me not to think that it had happened more than once;
not to suspect her of having had a lover. That meant several times,
several lovers.

"Then it is true that you have deceived me, and in order to deceive
the world, too, you have invented the myth of my insanity. To hide
your crime more completely you meant to torture me to death. You are a
criminal. I have no longer any doubt of it. I shall divorce you!"

She threw herself on her knees, weeping bitterly, and asking me to
forgive her.

"I'll forgive you; nevertheless our marriage must be annulled."

       *       *       *       *       *

On the following day she was very quiet; on the second day she had
regained her former self-possession; on the third she behaved in every
respect like an innocent woman.

Since she had confessed herself, she was more than innocent; she was a
martyr who treated me with insulting condescension.

She did not realise the consequences of a crime such as she had
committed, and therefore she did not understand my dilemma. If I
continued to live with her, I became a public laughing-stock; on the
other hand, to leave her spelled disaster also; my life was ruined.

Ten years of martyrdom to be paid for with a few blows and a day of
tears. Was it fair?

For the last time I left my home, secretly, for I had not the heart to
say good-bye to the children.

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon I went on board a steamer bound for
Constance. I had decided to visit my friends in France, and there to
write the story of this woman, the true representative of the age of
the unsexed.

At the last moment Marie appeared on the landing-stage, tear-stained,
excited, feverish, yet pretty enough to turn the head of any man. But
I remained cold, callous, silent, and received her treacherous kiss
without returning it.

"Say at least that we are parting friends!"

"Enemies for the short time which remains for me on earth!"

We parted.

The steamer started. I watched her walking along the quay, trying to
draw me back with the magic of her eyes which had held me under their
spell for so many years. She came and went like a forsaken little dog.
I waited for the moment when she would jump into the water; I should
jump after her, and we should drown together. But she turned away and
disappeared in a little side-street, leaving me with a last impression
of her bewitching figure, her little feet, which I had allowed to
trample on me for ten years without a murmur. Only in my writings
perhaps I had occasionally given vent to my feelings, but even there I
had always tried to mislead the reader by concealing her real crimes.

To steel my heart against grief and regret, I went at once into the
saloon. I sat down to dinner, but an aching lump in my throat compelled
me to rise, and I climbed again on deck.

I watched the green hill gliding past, and thought of the little white
cottage with the green shutters which crowned it. My children lived
there, but the home was desolate, they were without protection, without
means.... An icy pang shot through my heart.

I was like the cocoon of the silkworm when the great steam-engine;
slowly reels off the shining thread. At every stroke of the piston I
grew thinner, and as the thread lengthened the cold which chilled me
increased.

I was like an embryo prematurely detached from the umbilical cord. What
a complete and living organism is the family! I had thought so at that
first divorce, from which I had recoiled conscience-stricken. But she,
the adulteress, the murderess, had remained unmoved.

At Constance I caught the train for Basle. What a wretched Sunday
afternoon!

I prayed to God, if God there was, to preserve even my bitterest foes
from such agony.

At Basle I was overwhelmed with an irresistible desire to revisit all
those places in Switzerland where we had stayed together, to gladden my
sad heart with memories of happy hours spent with her and the children.

I stayed for a week in Geneva and some days at Ouchy, hunted by my
misery from hotel to hotel, without peace or rest, like a lost soul,
like the wandering Jew. I spent my nights in tears, haunted by the
little figures of my beloved children; I visited the places they had
visited; I fed "their" seagulls on the Lake of Geneva, a poor, restless
ghost, a miserable phantom.

Every morning I expected a letter from Marie, but no letter came. She
was too clever to furnish her opponent with written evidence. I wrote
to her several times a day, love-letters, forgiving her for all her
crimes--but I never posted them.

Doubtless, my judges, if I had been destined to end my days in a
lunatic asylum, my fate would have come upon me in those hours of
keenest agony and bitterest sorrow.

My power of endurance was exhausted; I wondered whether Marie's
confession had not been a ruse, so as to get rid of me and begin life
all over again with her unknown lover, or, perhaps, to live with her
Danish friend. I saw my children in the hands of a "stepfather" or the
clutches of a "stepmother"; Marie would be quite rich with the proceeds
of my collected works; she would perhaps write the story of my life as
seen through the eyes of the unnatural woman who had come between us.
The instinct of self-preservation stirred within me; I conceived a
cunning plan. The separation from my family paralysed me mentally; I
decided to return to them and stay with them until I had written the
story of Marie's crimes. In this way she would become the unconscious
tool of my revenge, which I could throw away when I had no further use
for it.

With this object in view I sent her a telegram, business-like, free
from all sentimentality; I informed her that my petition for a divorce
had been refused; pretended that I required a power of attorney from
her, and suggested an interview at Romanshorn, on this side of the Lake
of Constance.

       *       *       *       *       *

I despatched the telegram with a sense of relief. On the following
day I took the train and in due time arrived at the appointed place.
The week of suffering was a thing of the past; my heart was beating
normally, my eyes shone with added lustre; I drew a deep breath at the
sight of the hills on the opposite shore, where my children lived. The
steamer approached the landing stage; my eyes searched for Marie.

Presently I caught sight of her on the deck, her face woe-begone, ten
years older. The sight of her, suddenly grown old, wrung my heart. She
walked with dragging footsteps, her eyelids were red with weeping, her
cheeks hollow and drooping.

At that moment all feeling of hatred and disgust was swamped by pity. I
felt a strong temptation to take her into my arms, but I pulled myself
together, drew myself up and assumed the devil-may-care expression of a
young blood who had come to a tryst. When I looked at her more closely
I discovered in her a strange resemblance to her Danish friend; the
likeness was really extraordinary; she had the same expression, the
same pose, the same gestures, the same way of wearing her hair. Had
she played me this last trick? Had she come to me straight from her
"friend"?

Warned by these details, I recapitulated the part I meant to play.
While I accompanied her to the hotel she was depressed and ill at ease,
but she kept her self-possession. She questioned me very intelligently
on the projected divorce proceedings, and when she found that I
exhibited no trace of grief or emotion, she dropped her woe-begone
aspect and began to treat me, as far as she dared, with a certain
condescension.

During the interview she reminded me so much of her friend that I was
tempted to ask for news of the lady. I was especially struck by a
very tragic pose, a favourite one of her friend's, a pose which was
accompanied by a certain gesture of the hand which rested on the table
... ugh!

I rang for wine. She drank greedily and became sentimental.

I took the opportunity to ask after the little ones. She burst into
tears; she said that she had suffered greatly during the past week;
from morning till night the children had worried her with questions
about their father; she did not see how they could get on without me.

All at once she noticed the absence of my wedding-ring; she became
agitated.

"Your wedding-ring?" she gasped breathlessly.

"I sold it in Geneva. There's no need to ask what I did with the money."

She grew pale.

"Then we are quits. Shall we make a fresh start?"

"Is that what you call fair play? You committed an act fraught with
tragic consequences for the whole family, for through it I am compelled
to doubt the legitimacy of my children. You are guilty of having
tampered with the lineage of a family. You have dishonoured four
people: your three children of doubtful paternity and your husband,
whom your infidelity has made a public laughing-stock. What, on the
other hand, are the consequences of my act?"

She wept. I remained firm. I said that the divorce proceedings must go
on, that I should adopt the children--in the meantime she could remain
in my house, if she liked. Would it not be the free life she had always
been dreaming of? She had always cursed matrimony.

She reflected for a moment. My proposal did not please her.

"I remember you saying you would like the position of a governess in
the house of a widower. Here's the widower for you!"

"Give me time.... We shall see.... But in the meantime do you intend to
live with us?"

"If you ask me to."

"We are waiting for you."

And for the sixth time I returned to my family, but this time firmly
resolved to use the remaining weeks to finish my story....



EPILOGUE


Seated at my writing-table, pen in hand, I fainted; a feverish attack
prostrated me. This very inopportune attack frightened me, for I had
not been seriously ill for fifteen years. It was not fear of death,
oh no. Death held no terrors for me; but I was thirty-nine years old
and at the end of a turbulent career, my last word still unsaid, the
promises of my youth only partly fulfilled, pregnant with plans for the
future. This sudden cutting of the knot was far from pleasing me. For
the last four years I had lived with my family in half-voluntary exile;
I was at the end of my resources, and had settled down in a small town
in Bavaria; I had come into conflict with the law, for one of my books
had been confiscated, and I had been banished from my own country. I
had but one desire left when I was thrown on my sick-bed--the desire
for revenge.

A struggle arose within me; I had not sufficient strength left in me
to call for help. The fever shook me as one shakes a feather bed; it
seized me by the throat and throttled me; it put its foot on my breast
and scorched my brain, so that my eyes started from their sockets. I
was alone with Death, who had crept in by stealth and was attacking me.

But I was unwilling to die; I resisted, and an obstinate fight began.
The tension of my nerves relaxed, the blood coursed through my veins.
My brain twitched like a polypus that has been thrown into vinegar. But
before loner I realised that I must succumb in this dance of death. I
relinquished my hold, fell backwards and submitted to the fatal embrace
of the dread monster.

Immediately an indescribable calm came over me, a voluptuous weakness
composed my limbs, and perfect peace soothed body and soul, which had
lacked all wholesome recreation during so many years of toil.

I fervently desired that it really should be the end. Slowly all will
to live ebbed away. I ceased to observe, to feel, to think. I became
unconscious, and a delicious sensation of blankness filled the void
created by the cessation of the racking pain, the tormenting thoughts,
the secret terrors.

When I regained consciousness I found my wife sitting by my bedside and
gazing at me with terrified eyes.

"What is the matter with you dear?" she said.

"Nothing; I am ill," I replied. "And there are times when illness is
welcome."

"What do you mean? You are jesting!"

"No, it is the end at last ... anyhow, I hope it is."

"Heaven forbid that you should leave us in these straits!" she
exclaimed. "What is to become of us in a strange country, without
friends, without means?"

"There is my life insurance," I said, attempting to console her. "I
know it isn't much, but it is enough to take you home."

She had not thought of this, and she looked a little reassured as she
continued--

"But you cannot lie here like this! I shall send for a doctor."

"No, I won't have a doctor!"

"Why not?"

"Because--I won't!"

The glances which we exchanged spoke volumes.

"I want to die," I said, anxious to put an end to our conversation. "I
am sick of life; the past is a tangled skein which I cannot unravel.
It is time that my eyes closed for ever--that the curtain fell!"

She remained unmoved.

"Your old suspicion ... is it still alive, then?" she asked.

"Yes, still alive. Drive away the spectre, you alone can do it."

She assumed her favourite part of little mother, and gently laid her
soft hand on my burning forehead.

"Does that relieve you?"

"Yes...."

It was a fact. The mere touch of that light hand which rested so
heavily on my life exorcised the evil spirit, the secret trouble which
would not let me rest.

Another and more violent attack of fever followed. My wife rose to make
me some elder tea.

Left by myself I sat up in bed and looked out through the window
opposite. It was a large window in the shape of a triptychon, framed by
wild vine; I saw a part of the landscape surrounded by green leaves;
in the fore-ground the beautiful scarlet fruit of a quince tree rocked
gently among the dark green foliage; apple trees, a little further off,
studded the green grass; still further away the steeple of a small
church rose into the radiant air, behind it a blue spot, the Lake of
Constance, was visible, and far in the background the Tyrol Alps.

We were in the height of summer, and, illuminated by the slanting rays
of the afternoon sun, the whole scene formed a charming picture.

From below rose the twittering of the starlings which sat on the
vine-props in the vineyards, the chirping of the young chickens, the
strident note of the crickets, the tinkling cowbells, clear as crystal.
The loud laughter of my children, the directing voice of my wife, who
was talking to the gardener's wife about my illness, mingled with
these gay sounds of country life.

And as I gazed and listened life seemed good to me, death to be
shunned. I had too many duties to perform, too many debts to pay.
My conscience tortured me, I felt an overpowering need to confess
myself, to ask all men's forgiveness for the wrongs I had committed, to
humiliate myself before some one. I felt guilty, stricken with remorse,
I did not know for what secret crime; I was burning with the desire to
relieve my conscience by a full confession of my fancied culpability.

During this attack of weakness, the result of a sort of innate
despondency, my wife returned carrying a cup in her hand; alluding to
a slight attack of persecutional mania from which I had once suffered,
she tasted the contents before offering it to me.

"You may drink without fear," she said smilingly, "it contains no
poison."

I felt ashamed. I did not know what to say. And to make amends for my
suspicion I emptied the cup at one draught.

The somniferous elder tea, the fragrance of which recalled in me
reminiscences of my own country where the mystic shrub is held sacred
by the people, made me feel so sentimental that I there and then gave
expression to my remorse.

"Listen to me carefully," I said, "for I believe that my days
are numbered. I confess that I have always lived a life of utter
selfishness. I have sacrificed your theatrical career to my literary
ambition.... I will tell you everything now ... only forgive me...."

She tried to calm me, but I interrupted her and continued--

"In compliance with your wishes we married under the dotal system. In
spite of it, however, I have wasted your dowry to cover sums which I
had recklessly guaranteed. My greatest grief now is the fact that you
cannot touch the proceeds of my works. Send for a notary at once, so
that I can settle on you all my nominal or real property. ... Above
everything, promise that you will return to the stage which you gave up
to please me."

She refused to listen any further, treated my confession as a joke,
advised me to go to sleep and rest, and assured me that everything
would come right, and that I was not on the point of death.

I seized her hand, exhausted. I begged her to stay with me until I had
fallen asleep. Grasping her little hand more firmly, I again implored
her to forgive me for all the wrong I had done her. A delicious
drowsiness stole over me and closed my tired eyelids. Under the
radiations of her shining eyes, which expressed infinite tenderness, I
felt as if I were melting away as ice melts in the rays of the sun. Her
cool lips, touching my forehead, seemed to press a seal on it, and I
was plunged into the depths of ineffable bliss.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was broad daylight when I awoke from my stupor. The rays of the
sun fell on a Utopian landscape. To judge from the matutinal sounds
which rose from below, it must have been above five o'clock. I had
slept soundly during the whole night without dreaming or waking up.
On the little table by my bedside stood the cup which had contained
the elder-tea; the chair on which my wife had been sitting when I fell
asleep was still in its place. I was covered with her cloak; the soft
hairs of the fox skins with which it was lined tickled my chin.

My brain felt as refreshed and rested as if I had slept for the
first time in ten years. I collected my thoughts, which had been
rushing hither and thither in wild disorder, and with this powerful,
well-drilled and disciplined army I prepared to meet those attacks of
morbid remorse which frequently accompany physical weakness.

Looming large, filling my mind completely, were the two ugly blots
which, under guise of a confession, I had revealed to my wife on the
previous day; the two dark blots which had spoiled my life for so many
years.

I resolved to re-examine them at once, to dissect those two "facts"
which up to now I had allowed to pass unchallenged, for I had a vague
presentiment that they were unsound.

"Let me see," I said to myself, "what have I done that I should look
upon myself as a selfish coward, who has sacrificed the artistic career
of his wife to his ambition? Let me see what really happened...."

At the time of our betrothal she was playing very small parts. Her
position in the artistic world had sunk to a very modest one, once
her want of talent, character and originality had made her second
appearance in public a fiasco. She lacked all the essentials which go
to make a successful actress. On the day before our wedding she was
playing the part of a society woman in a very commonplace play; she had
only a dozen words to speak.

For how many tears, how much misery was our marriage made responsible!
It robbed the actress of all charm, and yet she had been so fascinating
as Baroness, divorced from her husband that she might devote her life
entirely to art.

It was true, I was to blame for this deterioration, which, after two
years' weeping over steadily shrinking parts, resulted in her leaving
the stage.

At the very moment when her engagement came to an end I had a success,
an undoubted success, as a novelist. I had already conquered the stage
with small, unimportant plays. Now I was burning to write a play which
would create a sensation; it should be one of those spectacular plays
which delight audiences; my purpose, of course, was to help my wife to
a re-engagement. It was a repugnant task, for one of my most cherished
dreams was the reform of the drama. In writing my new play I sacrificed
my literary faith. But I meant to force my wife on a hostile public,
throw her at their heads with all the means in my power, move heaven
and earth to make her popular. All my efforts were in vain. The public
would have none of the divorced wife who had married a second time; the
manager hastened to cancel a contract which brought him no advantage.

"Well, was that my fault?" I asked myself, voluptuously stretching my
limbs, well satisfied with the result of this first self-examination.
Was there a greater blessing than a good conscience?

With a lighter heart I continued my musing--

A miserable year passed, was wept away, despite the happiness it
brought us in the birth of a little girl.

And all of a sudden my wife had another attack of stage mania, more
violent than the previous one. We besieged the agencies, stormed the
managerial offices, advertised ourselves hugely--but everywhere we
failed, all doors were closed to us, everybody threw cold water on our
schemes.

Disillusioned by the failure of my drama, and on the point of making
a name in science, I had sworn never again to write a play round an
actress, more especially as this sort of work had no attraction for
me. In addition, I was little disposed to break up our home merely to
satisfy a passing whim of my wife's, and therefore I resigned myself to
bearing my share of the incurable sorrow.

But after a time I found the task beyond my strength. I made use of my
connections with a theatre in Finland, and, thanks to my efforts, my
wife was engaged for a number of performances.

I had made a rod for my own back. For a whole month I was widower,
bachelor, head of the family, housekeeper. In compensation my wife,
on her return, brought home with her two large packing-cases full of
wreaths and bouquets.

But she was so happy, so young and so charming, that I took at once
the necessary steps to secure a fresh engagement for her. I knew that
by doing this I was running the risk of having to leave my country,
my friends, my position, my publisher--and for what? For a woman's
whim.... But let that pass! Either a man is in love or he isn't....

Fortunately for me, my correspondent had no room in his company for an
actress without a repertoire.

Was that my fault? At the thought of it I literally rolled over
in my bed with pleasure. What a good thing an occasional little
self-examination is! It unburdens the heart ... it rejuvenated me.

But to proceed. Children were born to us at short intervals.
One--two--three. But again and again her yearning for the stage
returned. One ought to persevere! A new theatre was being opened. Why
not offer the manager a new play with a good part for the leading
actress, a sensational play, dealing with the "woman question" which
loomed so large at the time?

No sooner thought than done. For, as I have already said, either a man
is in love, or he isn't.

The play was produced. It contained a splendid part for the leading
actress, magnificent dresses (of course), a cradle, much moonshine, a
villain; an abject husband in love with his wife (myself), a wife about
to become a mother (a stage novelty), the interior of a convent--and so
on.

The actress had an extraordinary success, but from the literary point
of view the play was a failure, an awful failure ... alas!

She was saved. I was lost, ruined. But in spite of everything, in
spite of the supper which we gave to the manager at a hundred crowns
per head; in spite of a fine of fifty crowns which we had to pay for
illegal cheering, late at night before the agent's office--in spite
of all our efforts, no engagement was offered to her. It was not my
fault. I was blameless in the matter. I was the martyr, the victim.
Nevertheless, in the eyes of her sex I henceforth was a ruffian who
had ruined his wife's career. For years I had suffered remorse on this
account, remorse so bitter that it poisoned my days and robbed my
nights of peace.

How often had the reproach been publicly flung into my face! It was
always I who was guilty!... That things came about in quite a different
way, who cared? ... One career had been ruined, that I admit ... but
which, and by whom?

A horrible thought came into my mind; the idea that posterity might
blame me for this ruined career seemed to me no laughing matter, for
I was defenceless and without a friend capable of stating the facts
undisguised and unmisrepresented.

       *       *       *       *       *

There remained the spending of her dowry.

I had once been made the subject of a paragraph entitled: "A squanderer
of his wife's fortune." I also, on another occasion, had been charged
with living on my wife's income, a charge which had made me put six
cartridges into my revolver.

Let us examine this charge also, since an investigation has become
desirable, and after due examination let us pronounce sentence.

My wife's dowry consisted of ten thousand crowns in doubtful shares;
I had raised a mortgage on these shares with a bank of mortgages,
amounting to fifty per cent of their face value. Like a bolt from the
blue the general smash came. The shares were so much waste-paper, for
we had omitted to sell them at the right moment. I was consequently
compelled to pay the full amount of my mortgage: fifty per cent of
the face value. Later on my wife received twenty-five per cent of her
claim, this being the proportion which the creditors received after the
bank's failure.

How much did I squander?

Not one penny, in my opinion. The holder of the shares received the
actual value of her unsaleable investments which my personal guarantee
had increased by twenty-five per cent.

Truly I was as innocent in this connection as in the other.

And the anguish, the despair which had more than once driven me to
the verge of suicide! The suspicion, the old distrust, the cruel
doubts, began to torture me afresh. The thought that I nearly died
as a scoundrel almost drove me mad. Worn out with care, overwhelmed
with work, I had never had time to pay much attention to the dark
innuendoes, the veiled allusions. And while I, completely absorbed in
my daily toil, lived unsuspectingly from day to day, slanderous rumours
had been started, which became more and more insistent and definite,
although they had no other foundation than the talk of the envious
and the idle gossip of the cafés. And I, fool that I was, believed
everybody, doubted no one but myself. Ah!...

Was I really never insane, never ill, no degenerate? Was I merely
fooled by a trickster whom I worshipped, whose little embroidery
scissors had cut off Samson's locks when he laid his weary head on
the pillow, worn out by heavy toil, exhausted by care and anxiety on
her account and the children's? Trustful, unsuspicious, I had lost my
honour, my manhood, the will to live, my intellect, my five senses,
and alas! much more even, in this ten years' sleep in the arms of the
sorceress.

Was it possible--the thought filled me with shame--that a crime had
been committed in these fogs in which I had lived for years like a
phantom? An unconscious little crime, caused by a vague desire for
power, by a woman's secret wish to get the better of the man in the
duel called matrimony?

Doubtless I had been a fool! Seduced by a married woman; compelled to
marry her to save her honour and her theatrical career; married under
the dotal system and the condition that each should contribute half of
the expenses, I was ruined after ten years, plundered, for I had borne
the financial burden on my own shoulders entirely.

At this very moment when my wife denounced me as a spendthrift,
incapable of providing the necessities of life; when she represented
me as the squanderer of her so-called fortune; at this very moment she
owed me forty thousand crowns, her share of the expenses, according to
the verbal agreement made on our wedding day.

She was my debtor!

Determined to settle all accounts once and for ever, I jumped out of
bed like a man who has dreamed that he is paralysed, and on awakening
flings away the crutches with which he had walked in his dream. I
dressed quickly and ran down-stairs to confront my wife.

Through the half-open door my enraptured gaze met a charming spectacle.

She lay, stretched out at full length, on her tumbled bed, her lovely
little head buried in the pillow over which the flood of her golden
hair waved and curled; her transparent nightgown had slipped off
her shoulders, and her virginal bosom gleamed white under the lace
insertion; the soft, red-and-white striped coverlet betrayed the
swelling curves of her graceful, fragile body, leaving her bare feet
uncovered--tiny arched feet with rosy toes and transparent flawless
nails--a genuine work of art, perfect, fashioned in flesh after the
model of an antique marble statue: and this was my wife.

Light-hearted and smiling, with an expression of chaste motherliness,
she watched her three little ones as they were climbing and tumbling
about among the flowered down pillows, as if on a heap of newly mown
flowers.

The delightful spectacle softened me. But a whispering doubt in my
heart warned me: "Beware of the she-panther playing with her cubs!"

Disarmed by the majesty of motherhood, I entered her room with
uncertain steps, timid as a schoolboy.

"Ah! You are up already, my dear," she greeted me, surprised, but not
as pleased as one might have expected.

I stammered a confused reply, smothered by the children, who had
climbed on my back when I stooped to kiss their mother.

Was it possible? Could she really be a criminal? I pondered the
question as I went away, subdued by her chaste beauty, the candid smile
of those lips which could surely never have been tainted by a lie. No,
a thousand times no!...

I stole away, convinced of the contrary.

And yet doubt remained, doubt of everything: of my wife's constancy,
my children's legitimate birth, my sanity; doubt which persecuted me,
relentlessly and unremittingly.

It was time to make an end, to arrest the flood of sterile thoughts. If
only I could have absolute certainty! A crime had been committed in
secret, or else I was mad! I must know the truth!

To be a deceived husband! What did I care, as long as I knew it! I
should be the first to laugh at it. Was there a single man in the world
who could be absolutely certain that he was his wife's only lover?...

When I thought of the friends of my youth, now married, I could not
pick out one who was not, to some extent, hoodwinked. Lucky men whom no
doubts tortured! It was silly to be small-minded. Whether one is the
only one, or whether one has a rival, what does it matter? The ridicule
lies in the fact of not knowing it; the main thing is to know all about
it.

Yet if a man were married for a hundred years he would still know
nothing of the true nature of his wife. However deep his knowledge of
humanity, of the whole cosmos, he would never fathom the woman whose
life is bound up with his own life. For this reason the story of poor
Monsieur Bovary is such pleasant reading for all happy husbands....

But as far as I was concerned I wanted the truth. I must have it.
For the sake of revenge? What folly! Revenge on whom? On my favoured
rivals? They did but make use of their prerogative as males! On my
wife? Did I not say one ought not to be small-minded? And to hurt the
mother of my darlings? How could I do it?

But I wanted to know; I wanted to know everything. I determined to
examine my life, carefully, tactfully, scientifically; to make use of
all the resources of psychology: suggestion, thought-reading, mental
torture--none should be neglected; I determined to probe the deepest
depths, not even despising the well-worn, old-fashioned means of
burglary, theft, interception of letters, forged signatures....

I determined to make the most searching investigations.... Was that
monomania, the paroxysm of rage of a lunatic? It is not for me to say.

I appeal to the reader for a verdict after a careful study of my
confession. Perhaps he will find in it elements of the physiology
of love, some light on the pathology of the soul, or even a strange
fragment of the philosophy of crime.

_September_ 1887--_March_ 1888.


       *       *       *       *       *


CONCLUDING REMARKS OF THE AUTHOR


This is a terrible book, I fully admit it, and I regret that I ever
wrote it.

How did I come to write it?

I had to wash my corpse before it was laid in its coffin.

Four years ago, if I remember rightly, a friend of mine, a writer, a
declared enemy of the indiscretions--of others--said to me one day when
talking about my first marriage--

"Do you know, it would make excellent copy for the sort of novel which
I should like to write."

Certain of my friend's applause, I decided there and then to write it
myself.

"Don't be angry with me, dear old fellow, that I, as the original
owner, make use of my property."

I also remember, it is twelve years ago now, a remark my future
mother-in-law made to me one evening when I was watching her daughter
carrying on a flirtation with a group of young men--

"Wouldn't she make a splendid heroine for a novel?"

"With what title?"

"A passionate woman!"

Happy mother, who died in the nick of time, I have carried out your
suggestion. The novel has been written. I can die in peace.

                                               MS. 1888.

The other day I met again the hero of this novel. I upbraided him for
having induced me to publish the story of his first marriage. He is
married again, father of a sweet little girl, and looks ten years
younger.

"Dear old boy," he said in reply to my reproaches, "the sympathy
which everybody felt for the heroine of the novel, when it was first
published, absolves me. You! may gauge from this fact the great depth
of the love I bore her, for not only did it survive so much brutality,
but it communicated itself even to the reader. This, however, has
not prevented a French academician from denouncing my constancy as
weakness, my steadfast loyalty to my family, including my children,
baseness, in view of my wife's brutality, inconstancy and dishonesty.
I wonder whether this man would consider an insignificant Caserio
superior to an eminent Carnot, simply because the former stabbed the
latter?

"Moreover, this book, which you had wanted to write yourself, is only
the woof of a fabric the richness of which is known only to those of my
countrymen who have followed my literary career as it unfolded itself
side by side with the sorrows of my heart, without suffering to be
influenced. I could have left the battlefield. I remained steadfastly
at my post. I fought against the enemy at home, day and night. Was this
not courage?

"The 'poor, defenceless woman' was backed by the four Scandinavian
kingdoms, where she counted nothing but allies in her war against a
man who was sick, solitary, poor, and threatened with confinement in a
lunatic asylum because his intellect rebelled against the deification
of woman, this penultimate superstition of the free-thinkers.

"The dear souls who conceal their revengeful thoughts under the term
'divine justice' have condemned my 'Confession' in the name of their
Nemesis divina, bringing spurious evidence for their assertion that
I had deceived the husband of Marie's first marriage. Let them read
the scene where the Baron throws his wife into my arms, when I stood
before him with clean hands and confessed to him my guiltless love for
the wife he neglected. Let them remember the important fact that I took
upon my young shoulders the whole burden of our fault, to save his
position in the army and the future of his little girl. Let them then
say whether it is just to punish an act of self-sacrifice by an act of
brutal revenge.

"One must be young and foolish to act as I have acted, I admit that.
But it will not happen again--never again.... But ... enough of it! And
then ... no ... good-bye!"

He walked away quickly, leaving me under the spell of his perfect
honesty.

I never again regretted having published the story of this idealist,
who has now disappeared from literature and the world. But I abandoned
my former intention to write "The Confession of a Foolish Woman,"
because, after all, it goes too much against common-sense to allow a
criminal to give evidence against her victim.

                           French Original Edition, 1894.

It was the outspoken account of his first marriage, written in
self-defence and as a last testament, for he intended to take his
life as soon as the book was finished. For five years the sealed
manuscript, which was not meant for publication, was in the safe
keeping of a relative. Only in the spring of 1893, under the pressure
of circumstances and after public opinion and the press had attacked
him in the most unjust manner, did he sell the book to a publisher.

                                        "Separated," 1902.

THE END





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