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Title: The republic of the southern cross and other stories
Author: Brussof, Valery
Language: English
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                 CONSTABLE’S RUSSIAN LIBRARY UNDER THE
                     EDITORSHIP OF STEPHEN GRAHAM



                            THE REPUBLIC OF
                          THE SOUTHERN CROSS



                      CONSTABLE’S RUSSIAN LIBRARY

                      _Edited with Introductions_

                           By STEPHEN GRAHAM


                        THE SWEET SCENTED NAME

                          By Fedor Sologub

                        WAR AND CHRISTIANITY
                         THREE CONVERSATIONS

                          By Vladimir Solovyof

                        THE WAY OF THE CROSS

                           By V. Doroshevitch

                        A SLAV SOUL AND OTHER STORIES

                          By Alexander Kuprin

                        THE EMIGRANT

                          By L. F. Dostoieffshaya

                        THE JUSTIFICATION OF THE GOOD

                          By Vladimir Solovyof

                        THE REPUBLIC OF THE SOUTHERN CROSS
                         AND OTHER STORIES

                          By Valery Brussof



                            THE REPUBLIC OF
                          THE SOUTHERN CROSS

                           AND OTHER STORIES

                                  BY
                            VALERY BRUSSOF

                     WITH AN INTRODUCTORY ESSAY BY
                            STEPHEN GRAHAM

                                LONDON
                      CONSTABLE AND COMPANY LTD.
                                 1918



INTRODUCTION

VALERY BRUSSOF


Valery Brussof is a celebrated Russian writer of the present time. He is
in the front rank of contemporary literature, and is undoubtedly very
gifted, being considered by some to be the greatest of living Russian
poets, and being in addition a critic of penetration and judgment, a
writer of short tales, and the author of one long historical novel from
the life of Germany in the sixteenth century.

He is a Russian of strong European tastes and temperament, a sort of
Mediterraneanised Russian, with greater affinities in France and Italy
than in his native land; an artificial production in the midst of the
Russian literary world. A hard, polished, and even merciless
personality, he has little in common with the compassionate spirits of
Russia. If Kuprin or Gorky may be taken as characteristic of modern
Russia, Brussof is their opposite. He sheds no tears with the reader, he
makes no passionate and “unmanly” defiance of the world, but is
restrained and concentrated and wrapped up in himself and his ideas. The
average length of a sentence of Dostoieffsky is probably about
twenty-five words, of Kuprin thirty, but of Brussof only twenty, and if
you take the staccato “Republic of the Southern Cross,” only twelve. His
fine virile style is admired by Russians for its brevity and directness.
He has been called a maker of sentences in bronze.

It is curious, however, that the theme of his writing has little in
common with the virility of his style. As far as our Western point of
view is concerned it is considered rather feminine than masculine to
doubt the reality of our waking life and to give credence to dreams. Yet
such is undoubtedly the preoccupation of Brussof in these stories.

He says in his preface to the second edition of that collection which
bears the title _The Axis of the Earth_, “the stories are written to
show, in various ways, that there is no fixed boundary line between the
world of reality and that of the imagination, between the dreaming and
the waking world, life and fantasy; that what we commonly call
‘imaginary’ may be the greatest reality of the world, and that which all
call reality the most dreadful delirium.”

This volume, to which we have given the title of _The Republic of the
Southern Cross_ contains the best of Brussof’s tales, and they all
exemplify this particular attitude towards life. Six tales are taken
from _The Axis of the Earth_, but “For Herself or Another” is taken
from the volume entitled _Nights and Days_, and “Rhea Silvia” and
“Eluli, son of Eluli,” from the book bearing the title of _Rhea Silvia_,
in the Russian Universal Library.

In Russia, as I have previously pointed out, the short story is
considered of much more literary importance than it is here. It is the
fashion to write short stories, and readers remember those they have
read and refer to them, as we do to the distinctive and memorable poems
on our intimate bookshelves. But, then, as a rule in Russia a short
story must possess as its foundation some particular literary idea and
conception. The story written for the sake of the story is almost
unknown, and as a general rule the sort of love story and “love
interest” so indispensable with us is not asked there. It often happens,
therefore, that a volume of short tales makes a real and vital
contribution to literature. I think possibly that these specimen volumes
of Russian stories which I have edited from Sologub Kuprin and Brussof
may be helpful in our own literary world as affording new conceptions,
new models, and showing new possibilities of literary form. Brussof’s
volume is an emotional study of reality and unreality cast in the form
of brilliant tales.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Rhea Silvia,” the longest and perhaps the best, tells of the dream
which becomes reality in the Golden House of Nero which had been lost;
the subterranean Rome where a Goth can meet a crazed girl who imagines
she is the vestal Rhea Silvia, the mother of Romulus and Remus who
founded Rome itself, and that the Goth, one of the barbarian destroyers
of Rome, is the god Mars; the whole before and after intermingled.

       *       *       *       *       *

In “The Republic of the Southern Cross” Brussof projects himself several
centuries into the future and imagines an industrial community of
millions of workers, so divorced from reality that they are living at
the South Pole where no life is possible, in a huge town called Star
City where no star is visible, because they have built an immense opaque
roof to the town--literally a “lid,” as they imagine it in New York,
where they give you the freedom of the city “with the lid off”; where
the polar cold is defied by machinery which keeps the temperature at the
same point for ever, and the six months’ polar night--and, indeed, no
night--is ever known, because the great box is kept constantly
illuminated by electric light; Star City, where the Town Hall is
actually built on the _spot_ of the South Pole, the centre of the town,
whence you can only walk northward, whence the six main roads, with
thirteen-story buildings on each side, go out like meridians of
longitude, and the cross-roads are concentric circles of latitude; Star
City, stricken at last by the disease of contradiction, which creates
anarchy between the ideal and the real, impulse and action, as if the
approximation of latitude and longitude had hypnotised men’s souls;
plague-stricken Star City, where the only refuge is the Town Hall where
all earthly meridians become one, is all used with appalling power by
Brussof to suggest his mental conceit. I once read outside a Russian
theatre, “People of weak will are asked to refrain from taking tickets
for this drama.” A similar caution might be addressed to those who turn
to read “The Republic of the Southern Cross.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“The Mirror,” into which the vain woman looks and sees a reflection
which is not quite herself, who detects the particular personality of
her reflection, becomes afraid of it, is finally overcome by it and
forced to step into the mirror and let the reflection get out and walk
about the world, is subtly suggestive of the instability of what we call
the real, the solid ground under our feet. A characteristic detail is
that the special mirror before which the woman stands is a revolving
one, and when she gets angry she can make it go round like the earth on
its axis, and as the glass goes over and under, in again and out again,
so it is, as it were, night and day, dream and waking, reality and
unreality.

The drunken locksmith, seeing the seventh-century-old Italian bust of a
woman in the house to which he has been called to repair a desk, and
becoming obsessed with the idea that it is the face of a woman whose
love he betrayed, the woman of his bright and fortunate days, who tells
the long sad story which is more real to him than the realities of the
prison or the doss-house, though he does not himself know whether the
story be truth or whether he invented it, is another hauntingly
suggestive tale.

       *       *       *       *       *

In “Eluli, son of Eluli,” two excavators in the French Congo discover a
marvellous Phœnician tomb somewhere about the equatorial line and
only partially decipher the curse on those who shall disturb the rest of
the sleeping Eluli whose tomb it is. It is in a fever-stricken district
of exhausting climate, and the older and weaker of the archæologists
becomes obsessed with the reality of the dead Eluli, son of Eluli, who
visits his bedside and pronounces over him the awful curse. Both men
eventually perish. Only the normal and stronger man, namely, the one
further away from the axis of reality, remained untouched and unseeing.

       *       *       *       *       *

“For Herself or Another,” one of the cleverest tales in this
selection, describes the doubt that a Russian tourist has that a
fellow-countrywoman whom he sees in the crowd is or is not his
long-cast-off sweetheart. She is so like as to be a perfect double. It
seems impossible that such similarity between two persons should exist.
The man conceives the idea that the woman is feigning to be someone else
merely to punish him. He is so persistent that she for her part agrees
to pretend that she is indeed his old-time friend, and some of the most
tantalising description is that in which she seems to pretend that she
is that she is.

       *       *       *       *       *

What the new realists who dominate our Western schools of philosophy
would say to Valery Brussof would be curious. He is not an hysterical
type of writer and is not emotionally convinced of the truth of his
writing, but wilfully persistent, affirming unreality intellectually and
defending his conception with a sort of masculine impressionism. He
drives his idea to the reader’s mind clad in complete armour, no
tenderness, no apologetics, no willingness to please a lady’s eye in the
use of his words and phrases.

The theme of several of the stories might have been worked out readily
by our Mr. Algernon Blackwood, but so would have been more discursive,
and the mystery of them better hidden. But Brussof, as it were, draws
the skull and crossbones at the top of the page before he writes a word
and then goes on. Inevitably the interest is reflected from the stories
to the personality of the author.

It should be said that a slight strain of madness seems to cast a sort
of glamour on an artist in Russia, whereas in the West, unless the
artist be a musician, it is certainly a handicap. One of the strongest
prejudices against taking Nietzsche seriously in England is that he
finished his days in an asylum. And it is as prejudicial to be thought
_pas normal_ in France as to have lost a mental balance with us. But
Russia, with her epileptic Dostoieffsky, hypochondriac Gogol, inebriate
Nekrasof, has other traditions, and it is not unfitting that the artist
who made hundreds of marvellous studies of a primeval demon, the most
clever painter of modern Russia, Michael Vrubel, should have painted as
his last picture before removal to an asylum, Valery Brussof, the author
of these tales, a reproduction of this portrait serving aptly as a
frontispiece for this book.

Both Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells have been described as average or
standard types of intelligence, and both are proud of level-headedness.
But in the Russian literary world claims of that kind are not put
forward nowadays. In fact, Russia, though most heartily
progressive--perhaps too heartily from our point of view--does not
reckon the credibility of the earth and light and truth and ordinary
measurement as in any way superior to the credibility of the world of
fantasy. It is worth while writing in Russia, not so much to affirm the
real as to find and then set in ever more striking pose the paradoxes of
human life.

Brussof’s poetry, for which he enjoys a great reputation, is dedicated
to the same ideas as his stories, though in them he is before all else a
most polished craftsman and cares more for perfection of technique than
for anything else.

His poetry is not difficult, and can be recommended for those who read
Russian and prefer to study up-to-date matter. In my opinion, however,
the best volumes of Balmont have more lyrical beauty than the best of
Brussof. There is, moreover, a good deal of erotic verse which is
bankrupt of real vital thought, as there are stories of this kind not by
any means commendable for British consumption. Brussof evidently reads
English, and one or two of his poems are reminiscent of better things at
home.

In the midst of his wide literary activities Brussof is also an
interesting critic, and I know few more elucidative volumes than
“_Dalekie i Bliskie_, Near and Far,” a collection of essays on the
Russian poets.

STEPHEN GRAHAM.



CONTENTS


                                                    PAGE

   I. THE REPUBLIC OF THE SOUTHERN CROSS               1

  II. THE MARBLE BUST                                 33

 III. FOR HERSELF OR FOR ANOTHER                      41

  IV. IN THE MIRROR                                   55

   V. PROTECTION                                      73

  VI. THE “BEMOL” SHOP OF STATIONERY                  84

 VII. RHEA SILVIA                                     94

VIII. ELULI, SON OF ELULI                            140

  IX. IN THE TOWER                                   155



THE REPUBLIC OF THE SOUTHERN CROSS


There have appeared lately a whole series of descriptions of the
dreadful catastrophe which has overtaken the Republic of the Southern
Cross. They are strikingly various, and give many details of a
manifestly fantastic and improbable character. Evidently the writers of
these descriptions have lent a too ready ear to the narratives of the
survivors from Star City (_Zvezdny_), the inhabitants of which, as is
common knowledge, were all stricken with a psychical distemper. For that
reason we consider it opportune to give an account here of all the
reliable evidence which we have as yet of this tragedy of the Southern
Pole.

The Republic of the Southern Cross came into being some forty years ago,
as a development from three hundred steel works established in the
Southern Polar regions. In a circular note sent to each and every
Government of the whole world, the new state expressed its pretensions
to all lands, whether mainland or island, within the limits of the
Antarctic circle, as also all parts of these lands stretching beyond
the line. It announced its readiness to purchase from the various other
states affected the lands which they considered to be under their
special protectorate. The pretensions of the new Republic did not meet
with any opposition on the part of the fifteen great powers of the
world. Debateable points concerning certain islands lying entirely
outside the Polar circle, but closely related to the Southern Polar
state were settled by special treaties. On the fulfilment of the various
formalities the Republic of the Southern Cross was received into the
family of world states, and its representatives were recognised by all
Governments.

The chief city of the Republic, having the name of Zvezdny, was situated
at the actual Pole itself. At that imaginary point where the earth’s
axis passes and all earthly meridians become one, stood the Town Hall,
and the roof with its pointed towers looked upon the nadir of the
heavens. The streets of the town extended along meridians from the Town
Hall and these meridians were intersected by other streets in concentric
circles. The height of all the buildings was the same, as was also their
external appearance. There were no windows in the walls, as all the
houses were lit by electricity and the streets were lighted by
electricity. Because of the severity of the climate, an impenetrable and
opaque roof had been built over the town, with powerful ventilators for
a constant change of air. These localities of the globe have but one day
in six months, and one long night also of six months, but the streets of
Zvezdny were always lighted by a bright and even light. In the same way
in all seasons of the year the temperature of the streets was kept at
one and the same height.

According to the last census the population of Zvezdny had reached two
and a half millions. The whole of the remaining population of the
Republic, numbering fifty millions, were concentrated in the
neighbourhood of the ports and factories. These other points were also
marked by the settlement of millions of people in towns which in
external characteristics were reminiscent of Zvezdny. Thanks to a clever
application of electric power, the entrance to the local havens remained
open all the year round. Overhead electric railways connected the most
populated parts of the Republic, and every day tens of thousands of
people and millions of kilogrammes of material passed along these roads
from one town to another. The interior of the country remained
uninhabited. Travellers looking out of the train window saw before them
only monotonous wildernesses, white in winter, and overgrown with
wretched grass during the three months of summer. Wild animals had long
since been destroyed, and for human beings there was no means of
sustenance. The more remarkable was the hustling life of the ports and
industrial centres. In order to give some understanding of the life, it
is perhaps enough to say that of late years about seven-tenths of the
whole of the world’s output of metal has come from the State mines of
the Republic.

The constitution of the Republic, according to outward signs, appeared
to be the realisation of extreme democracy. The only fully enfranchised
citizens were the metal-workers, who numbered about sixty per cent of
the whole population. The factories and mines were State property. The
life of the miners was facilitated by all possible conveniences, and
even with luxury. At their disposal, apart from magnificent
accommodation and a _recherché_ cuisine, were various educational
institutions and means of amusement: libraries, museums, theatres,
concerts, halls for all types of sport, etc. The number of working hours
in the day were small in the extreme. The training and teaching of
children, the giving of medical and legal aid, and the ministry of the
various religious cults were all taken upon itself by the State. Ample
provision for all the needs and even whims of the workmen of the State
factories having been made, no wages whatever were paid; but families of
citizens who had served twenty years in a factory, or who in their years
of service had died or become enfeebled, received a handsome
life-pension on condition that they did not leave the Republic. From
the workmen, by universal ballot, the representatives of the Law-making
Chamber of the Republic were elected, and this Chamber had cognisance of
all the questions of the political life of the country, being, however,
without power to alter its fundamental laws.

It must be said that this democratic exterior concealed the purely
autocratic tyranny of the shareholders and directors of a former Trust.
Giving up to others the places of deputies in the Chamber they
inevitably brought in their own candidates as directors of the
factories. In the hands of the Board of Directors was concentrated the
economic life of the country. The directors received all the orders and
assigned them to the various factories for fulfilment; they purchased
the materials and the machines for the work; they managed the whole
business of the factories. Through their hands passed immense sums of
money, to be reckoned in milliards. The Law-making Chamber only
certified the entries of debits and credits in the upkeep of the
factories, the accounts being handed to it for that purpose, and the
balance on these accounts greatly exceeded the whole budget of the
Republic. The influence of the Board of Directors in the international
relationships of the Republic was immense. Its decisions might ruin
whole countries. The prices fixed by them determined the wages of
millions of labouring masses over the whole earth. And, moreover, the
influence of the Board, though indirect, was always decisive in the
internal affairs of the Republic. The Law-making Chamber, in fact,
appeared to be only the humble servant of the will of the Board.

For the preservation of power in its own hands the Board was obliged to
regulate mercilessly the whole life of the country. Though appearing to
have liberty, the life of the citizens was standardised even to the most
minute details. The buildings of all the towns of the Republic were
according to one and the same pattern fixed by law. The decoration of
all buildings used by the workmen, though luxurious to a degree, were
strictly uniform. All received exactly the same food at exactly the same
time. The clothes given out from the Government stores were unchanging
and in the course of tens of years were of one and the same cut. At a
signal from the Town Hall, at a definite hour, it was forbidden to go
out of the houses. The whole Press of the country was subject to a sharp
censorship. No articles directed against the dictatorship of the Board
were allowed to see light. But, as a matter of fact, the whole country
was so convinced of the benefit of this dictatorship that the
compositors themselves would have refused to set the type of articles
criticising the Board. The factories were full of the Board’s spies. At
the slightest manifestation of discontent with the Board the spies
hastened to arrange meetings and dissuade the doubters with passionate
speeches. The fact that the life of the workmen of the Republic was the
object of the envy of the entire world was of course a disarming
argument. It is said that in cases of continued agitation by certain
individuals the Board did not hesitate to resort to political murder. In
any case, during the whole existence of the Republic, the universal
ballot of the citizens never brought to power one representative who was
hostile to the directors.

The population of Zvezdny was composed chiefly of workmen who had served
their time. They were, so to speak, Government shareholders. The means
which they received from the State allowed them to live richly. It is
not astonishing, therefore, that Zvezdny was reckoned one of the gayest
cities of the world. For various _entrepreneurs_ and entertainers it was
a goldmine. The celebrities of the world brought hither their talents.
Here were the best operas, best concerts, best exhibitions; here were
brought out the best-informed gazettes. The shops of Zvezdny amazed by
the richness of their choice of goods; the restaurants by the luxury and
the delicacy of their service. Resorts of evil, where all forms of
debauch invented in either the ancient or the modern world were to be
found, abounded. However, the governmental regulation of life was
preserved in Zvezdny also. It is true that the decorations of lodgings
and the fashions of dress were not compulsorily determined, but the law
forbidding the exit from the house after a certain hour remained in
force, a strict censorship of the Press was maintained, and many spies
were kept by the Board. Order was officially maintained by the popular
police, but at the same time there existed the secret police of the
all-cognisant Board.

Such was in its general character the system of life in the Republic of
the Southern Cross and in its capital. The problem of the future
historian will be to determine how much this system was responsible for
the outbreak and spread of that fatal disease which brought to
destruction the town of Zvezdny, and with it, perhaps, the whole young
Republic.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first cases of the disease of “contradiction” were observed in the
Republic some twenty years ago. It had then the character of a rare and
sporadic malady. Nevertheless, the local mental experts were much
interested by it and gave a circumstantial account of the symptoms at
the international medical congress at Lhasa, where several reports of it
were read. Later, it was somehow or other forgotten, though in the
mental hospitals of Zvezdny there never was any difficulty in finding
examples. The disease received its name from the fact that the victims
continuously contradicted their wishes by their actions, wishing one
thing but saying and doing another. [The scientific name of the disease
is _mania contradicens_.] It begins with fairly feeble symptoms,
generally those of characteristic aphasia. The stricken, instead of
saying “yes,” say “no”; wishing to say caressing words, they splutter
abuse, etc. The majority also begin to contradict themselves in their
behaviour; intending to go to the left they turn to the right, thinking
to raise the brim of a hat so as to see better they would pull it down
over their eyes instead, and so on. As the disease develops
contradiction overtakes the whole of the bodily and spiritual life of
the patient, exhibiting infinite diversity conformable with the
idiosyncrasies of each. In general, the speech of the patient becomes
unintelligible and his actions absurd. The normality of the
physiological functions of the organism is disturbed. Acknowledging the
unwisdom of his behaviour the patient gets into a state of extreme
excitement bordering even upon insanity. Many commit suicide, sometimes
in fits of madness, sometimes in moments of spiritual brightness. Others
perish from a rush of blood to the brain. In almost all cases the
disease is mortal; cases of recovery are extremely rare.

The epidemic character was taken by _mania contradicens_ during the
middle months of this year in Zvezdny. Up till this time the number of
cases had never exceeded two per cent of the total number of patients in
the hospitals. But this proportion suddenly rose to twenty-five per cent
during the month of May (autumn month, as it is called in the Republic),
and it continued to increase during the succeeding months with as great
rapidity. By the middle of June there were already two per cent of the
whole population, that is, about fifty thousand people, officially
notified as suffering from “contradiction.” We have no statistical
details of any later date. The hospitals overflowed. The doctors on the
spot proved to be altogether insufficient. And, moreover, the doctors
themselves, and the nurses in the hospitals, caught the disease also.
There was very soon no one to whom to appeal for medical aid, and a
correct register of patients became impossible. The evidence given by
eye-witnesses, however, is in agreement on this point, that it was
impossible to find a family in which someone was not suffering. The
number of healthy people rapidly decreased as panic caused a wholesale
exodus from the town, but the number of the stricken increased. It is
probably true that in the month of August all who had remained in
Zvezdny were down with this psychical malady.

It is possible to follow the first developments of the epidemic by the
columns of the local newspapers, headed in ever larger type as the mania
grew. Since the detection of the disease in its early stages was very
difficult, the chronicle of the first days of the epidemic is full of
comic episodes. A train conductor on the metropolitan railway, instead
of receiving money from the passengers, himself pays them. A policeman,
whose duty it was to regulate the traffic, confuses it all day long. A
visitor to a gallery, walking from room to room, turns all the pictures
with their faces to the wall. A newspaper page of proof, being corrected
by the hand of a reader already overtaken by the disease, is printed
next morning full of the most amusing absurdities. At a concert, a sick
violinist suddenly interrupts the harmonious efforts of the orchestra
with the most dreadful dissonances. A whole long series of such
happenings gave plenty of scope for the wits of local journalists. But
several instances of a different type of phenomenon caused the jokes to
come to a sudden end. The first was that a doctor overtaken by the
disease prescribed poison for a girl patient in his care and she
perished. For three days the newspapers were taken up with this
circumstance. Then two nurses walking in the town gardens were overtaken
by “contradiction,” and cut the throats of forty-one children. This
event staggered the whole city. But on the evening of the same day two
victims fired the _mitrailleuse_ from the quarters of the town militia
and killed and injured some five hundred people.

At that, all the newspapers and the society of the town cried for prompt
measures against the epidemic. At a special session of the combined
Board and Legal Chamber it was decided to invite doctors from other
towns and from abroad, to enlarge the existing hospitals, to build new
ones, and to construct everywhere isolation barracks for the sufferers,
to print and distribute five hundred thousand copies of a brochure on
the disease, its symptoms and means of cure, to organise on all the
streets of the town a special patrol of doctors and their helpers for
the giving of first aid to those who had not been removed from private
lodgings. It was also decided to run special trains daily on all the
railways for the removal of the patients, as the doctors were of opinion
that change of air was one of the best remedies. Similar measures were
undertaken at the same time by various associations, societies, and
clubs. A “society for struggle with the epidemic” was even founded, and
the members gave themselves to the work with remarkable self-devotion.
But in spite of all these measures the epidemic gained ground each day,
taking in its course old men and little children, working people and
resting people, chaste and debauched. And soon the whole of society was
enveloped in the unconquerable elemental terror of the unheard-of
calamity.

The flight from Zvezdny commenced. At first only a few fled, and these
were prominent dignitaries, directors, members of the Legal Chamber and
of the Board, who hastened to send their families to the southern cities
of Australia and Patagonia. Following them, the accidental elements of
the population fled--those foreigners gladly sojourning in the “gayest
city of the southern hemisphere,” theatrical artists, various business
agents, women of light behaviour. When the epidemic showed no signs of
abating the shopkeepers fled. They hurriedly sold off their goods and
left their empty premises to the will of Fate. With them went the
bankers, the owners of theatres and restaurants, the editors and the
publishers. At last, even the established inhabitants were moved to go.
According to law the exit of workmen from the Republic without special
sanction from the Government was forbidden on pain of loss of pension.
Deserters began to increase. The employés of the town institutions fled,
the militia fled, the hospital nurses fled, the chemists, the doctors.
The desire to flee became in its turn a mania. Everyone fled who could.

The stations of the electric railway were crushed with immense crowds,
tickets were bought for huge sums of money and only held by fighting.
For a place in a dirigible, which took only ten passengers, one paid a
whole fortune.... At the moment of the going out of trains new people
would break into the compartments and take up places which they would
not relinquish except by compulsion. Crowds stopped the trains which had
been fitted up exclusively for patients, dragged the latter out of the
carriages and compelled the engine-drivers to go on. From the end of May
train service, except between the capital and the ports, ceased to work.
From Zvezdny the trains went out overfull, passengers standing on the
steps and in the corridors, even daring to cling on outside, despite the
fact that with the speed of contemporary electric railways any person
doing such a thing risks suffocation. The steamship companies of
Australia, South America and South Africa grew inordinately rich,
transporting the refugees of the Republic to other lands. The two
Southern companies of dirigibles were not less prosperous,
accomplishing, as they did, ten journeys a day and bringing away from
Zvezdny the last belated millionaires.... On the other hand, trains
arrived at Zvezdny almost empty; for no wages was it possible to
persuade people to come to work at the Capital; only now and again
eccentric tourists and seekers of new sensations arrived at the towns.
It is reckoned that from the beginning of the exodus to the
twenty-second of June, when the regular service of trains ceased, there
passed out of Zvezdny by the six railroads some million and a half
people, that is, almost two-thirds of the whole population.

By his enterprise, valour, and strength of will, one man earned for
himself eternal fame, and that was the President of the Board, Horace
Deville. At the special session of the fifth of June, Deville was
elected, both by the Board and by the Legal Chamber, Dictator over the
town, and was given the title of Nachalnik. He had sole control of the
town treasury, of the militia, and of the municipal institutions. At
that time it was decided to remove from Zvezdny to a northern port the
Government of the Republic and the archives. The name of Horace Deville
should be written in letters of gold among the most famous names of
history. For six weeks he struggled with the growing anarchy in the
town. He succeeded in gathering around him a group of helpers as
unselfish as himself. He was able to enforce discipline, both in the
militia and in the municipal service generally, for a considerable time,
though these bodies were terrified by the general calamity and decimated
by the epidemic. Hundreds of thousands owe their escape to Horace
Deville, as, thanks to his energy and organising power, it was possible
for them to leave. He lightened the misery of the last days of thousands
of others, giving them the possibility of dying in hospitals, carefully
looked after, and not simply being stoned or beaten to death by the mad
crowd. And Deville preserved for mankind the chronicle of the
catastrophe, for one cannot but consider as a chronicle his short but
pregnant telegrams, sent several times a day from the town of Zvezdny to
the temporary residence of the Government of the Republic at the
Northern port. Deville’s first work on becoming Nachalnik of the town
was to attempt to restore calm to the population. He issued manifestos
proclaiming that the psychical infection was most quickly caught by
people who were excited, and he called upon all healthy and balanced
persons to use their authority to restrain the weak and nervous. Then
Deville used the Society for Struggle with the Epidemic and put under
the authority of its members all public places, theatres,
meeting-houses, squares, and streets. In these days there scarcely ever
passed an hour but a new case of infection might be discovered. Now
here, now there, one saw faces or whole groups of faces manifestly
expressive of abnormality. The greater number of the patients, when they
understood their condition, showed an immediate desire for help. But
under the influence of the disease this wish expressed itself in various
types of hostile action directed against those standing near. The
stricken wished to hasten home or to a hospital, but instead of doing
this they fled in fright to the outskirts of the town. The thought
occurred to them to ask the passer-by to do something for them, but
instead of that they seized him by the throat. In this way many were
suffocated, struck down, or wounded with knife or stick. So the crowd,
whenever it found itself in the presence of a man suffering from
“contradiction,” took to flight. At these moments the members of the
Society would appear on the scene, capture the sick man, calm him, and
take him to the nearest hospital; it was their work to reason with the
crowd and explain that there was really no danger, that the general
misfortune had simply spread a little further, and it was their duty to
struggle with it to the full extent of their powers.

The sudden infection of persons present in the audience of theatres or
meeting-houses often led to the most tragic catastrophes. Once at a
performance of Opera some hundreds of people stricken mad in a mass,
instead of expressing their approval of the vocalists, flung themselves
on the stage and scattered blows right and left. At the Grand Dramatic
Theatre, an actor, whose rôle it was to commit suicide by a revolver
shot, fired the revolver several times at the public. It was, of course,
blank cartridge, but it so acted on the nerves of those present that it
hastened the symptoms of the disease in many in whom it was latent. In
the confusion which followed several scores of people were killed. But
worst of all was that which happened in the Theatre of Fireworks. The
detachment of militia posted there in case of fire suddenly set fire to
the stage and to the veils by which the various light effects are
obtained. Not less than two hundred people were burnt or crushed to
death. After that occurrence Horace Deville closed all the theatres and
concert-rooms in the town.

The robbers and thieves now began to constitute a grave danger for the
inhabitants, and in the general disorganisation they were able to carry
their depredations very far. It is said that some of them came to
Zvezdny from abroad. Some simulated madness in order to escape
punishment, others felt it unnecessary to make any pretence of
disguising their open robberies. Gangs of thieves entered the abandoned
shops, broke into private lodgings, and took off the more valuable
things or demanded gold; they stopped people in the streets and stripped
them of their valuables, such as watches, rings, and bracelets. And
there accompanied the robberies outrage of every kind, even of the most
disgusting. The Nachalnik sent companies of militia to hunt down the
criminals, but they did not dare to join in open conflict. There were
dreadful moments when among the militia or among the robbers would
suddenly appear a case of the disease, and friend would turn his weapon
against friend. At first the Nachalnik banished from the town the
robbers who fell under arrest. But those who had charge of the prison
trains liberated them, in order to take their places. Then the Nachalnik
was obliged to condemn the criminals to death. So almost after three
centuries’ break capital punishment was introduced once more on the
earth. In June a general scarcity of the indispensable articles of food
and medicine began to make itself felt. The import by rail diminished;
manufacture within the town practically ceased. Deville organised the
town bakeries and the distribution of bread and meat to the people. In
the town itself the same common tables were set up as had long since
been established in the factories. But it was not possible to find
sufficient people for kitchen and service. Some voluntary workers toiled
till they were exhausted, and they gradually diminished in numbers. The
town crematoriums flamed all day, but the number of corpses did not
decrease but increased. They began to find bodies in the streets and
left in houses. The municipal business--such as telegraph, telephone,
electric light, water supply, sanitation, and the rest, were worked by
fewer and fewer people. It is astonishing how much Deville succeeded in
doing. He looked after everything and everyone. One conjectures that he
never knew a moment’s rest. And all who were saved testify unanimously
that his activity was beyond praise.

Towards the middle of June shortage of labour on the railways began to
be felt. There were not enough engine-drivers or conductors. On the 17th
of July the first accident took place on the South-Western line, the
reason being the sudden attack of the engine-driver. In the paroxysm of
his disease the driver took his train over a precipice on to a glacier
and almost all the passengers were killed or crippled. The news of this
was brought to the town by the next train, and it came as a thunderbolt.
A hospital train was sent off at once; it brought back the dead and the
crippled, but towards the evening of that day news was circulated that a
similar catastrophe had taken place on the First line. Two of the
railway tracks connecting Zvezdny with the outside world were damaged.
Breakdown gangs were sent from Zvezdny and from North Port to repair the
lines, but it was almost impossible because of the winter temperature.
There was no hope that on these lines train service would be resumed--at
least, in the near future.

These catastrophes were simply patterns for new ones. The more alarmed
the engine-drivers became the more liable they were to the disease and
to the repetition of the mistake of their predecessors. Just because
they were afraid of destroying a train they destroyed it. During the
five days from the eighteenth to the twenty-second of June seven trains
with passengers were wrecked. Thousands of passengers perished from
injuries or starved to death unrescued in the snowy wastes. Only very
few had sufficient strength to return to the city by their own efforts.
The six main lines connecting Zvezdny with the outer world were rendered
useless. The service of dirigibles had ceased earlier. One of them had
been destroyed by the enraged mob, the pretext given being that they
were used exclusively for the rich. The others, one by one, were
wrecked, the disease probably attacking the crew. The population of the
city was at this time about six hundred thousand. For some time they
were only connected with the world by telegraph.

On the 24th of June the Metropolitan railway ceased to run. On the 26th
the telephone service was discontinued. On the 27th all chemists’ shops,
except the large central store, were closed. On the 1st of July the
inhabitants were ordered to come from the outer parts of the town into
the central districts, so that order might better be maintained, food
distributed, and medical aid afforded. Suburban dwellers abandoned their
own quarters and settled in those which had lately been abandoned by
fugitives. The sense of property vanished. No one was sorry to leave his
own, no one felt it strange to take up his abode in other people’s
houses. Nevertheless, burglars and robbers did not disappear, though
perhaps now one would rather call them demented beings than criminals.
They continued to steal, and great hoards of gold have been discovered
in the empty houses where they hid them, and precious stones beside the
decaying body of the robber himself.

It is astonishing that in the midst of universal destruction life tended
to keep its former course. There still were shopkeepers who opened their
shops and sold for incredible sums the luxuries, flowers, books, guns,
and other goods which they had preserved.... Purchasers threw down their
unnecessary gold ungrudgingly, and miserly merchants hid it, God knows
why. There still existed secret resorts, with cards, women, and wine,
whither unfortunates sought refuge and tried to forget dreadful reality.
There the whole mingled with the diseased, and there is no chronicle of
the scenes which took place. Two or three newspapers still tried to
preserve the significance of the written word in the midst of
desolation. Copies of these newspapers are being sold now at ten or
twenty times their original value, and will undoubtedly become
bibliographical rareties of the first degree. In their columns is
reflected the horrors of the unfortunate town, described in the midst of
the reigning madness and set by half-mad compositors. There were
reporters who took note of the happenings of the town, journalists who
debated hotly the condition of affairs, and even feuilletonists who
endeavoured to enliven these tragic days. But the telegrams received
from other countries, telling as they did of real healthy life, caused
the souls of the readers in Zvezdny to fall into despair.

There were desperate attempts to escape. At the beginning of July an
immense crowd of women and children, led by a certain John Dew, decided
to set out on foot for the nearest inhabited place, Londontown. Deville
understood the madness of this attempt, but could not stop the people,
and himself supplied them with warm clothing and provisions. This whole
crowd of about two thousand people were lost in the snow and in the
continuous Polar night. A certain Whiting started to preach a more
heroic remedy: this was, to kill all who were suffering from the
disease, and he held that after that the epidemic would cease. He found
a considerable number of adherents, though in those dark days the
wildest, most inhuman, proposal which in any way promised deliverance
would have obtained attention. Whiting and his friends broke into every
house in the town and destroyed whatever sick they found. They massacred
the patients in the hospitals, they even killed those suspected to be
unwell. Robbers and madmen joined themselves to these bands of ideal
murderers. The whole town became their arena. In these difficult days
Horace Deville organised his fellow-workers into a military force,
encouraged them with his spirit, and set out to fight the followers of
Whiting. This affair lasted several days. Hundreds of men fell on one
side or the other, till at last Whiting himself was taken. He appeared
to be in the last stages of _mania contradicens_ and had to be taken to
the hospital, where he soon perished, instead of to the scaffold.

On the eighth of July one of the worst things happened. The controller
of the Central Power Station smashed all the machinery. The electric
light failed, and the whole city was plunged in absolute darkness. As
there was no other means of lighting and warming the city, the people
were left in a helpless plight. Deville had, however, foreseen such an
eventuality and had accumulated a considerable quantity of torches and
fuel. Bonfires were lighted in all the streets. Torches were distributed
in thousands. But these miserable lights could not illumine the gigantic
perspectives of the city of Zvezdny, the tens of kilometres of straight
line highways, the gloomy height of thirteen-storey buildings. With the
darkness the last discipline of the city was lost. Terror and madness
finally possessed all souls. The healthy could not be distinguished from
the sick. There commenced a dreadful orgy of the despairing.

The moral sense of the people declined with astonishing rapidity.
Culture slipped from off these people like a delicate bark, and
revealed man, wild and naked, the man-beast as he was. All sense of
right was lost, force alone was acknowledged. For women, the only law
became that of desire and of indulgence. The most virtuous matrons
behaved as the most abandoned, with no continence or faith, and used the
vile language of the tavern. Young girls ran about the streets demented
and unchaste. Drunkards made feasts in ruined cellars, not in any way
distressed that amongst the bottles lay unburied corpses. All this was
constantly aggravated by the breaking out of the disease afresh. Sad was
the position of children, abandoned by their parents to the will of
Fate. They died of hunger, of injury after assault, and they were
murdered both purposely and by accident. It is even affirmed that
cannibalism took place.

In this last period of tragedy Horace Deville could not, of course,
afford help to the whole population. But he did arrange in the Town Hall
shelter for those who still preserved their reason. The entrances to the
building were barricaded and sentries were kept continuously on guard.
There was food and water for three thousand people for forty days.
Deville, however, had only eighteen hundred people, and though there
must have been other people with sound minds in the town, they could not
have known what Deville was doing, and these remained in hiding in the
houses. Many resolved to remain indoors till the end, and bodies have
been found of many who must have died of hunger in their solitude. It is
remarkable that among those who took refuge in the Town Hall there were
very few new cases of the disease. Deville was able to keep discipline
in his small community. He kept till the last a journal of all that
happened, and that journal, together with the telegrams, makes the most
reliable source of evidence of the catastrophe. The journal was found in
a secret cupboard of the Town Hall, where the most precious documents
were kept. The last entry refers to the 20th of July. Deville writes
that a demented crowd is assailing the building, and that he is obliged
to fire with revolvers upon the people. “What I hope for,” he adds, “I
know not. No help can be expected before the spring. We have not the
food to live till the spring. But I shall fulfil my duty to the end.”
These were the last words of Deville. Noble words!

It must be added that on the 21st of July the crowd took the Town Hall
by storm, and its defenders were all killed or scattered. The body of
Deville has not yet been found, and there is no reliable evidence as to
what took place in the town after the 21st. It must be conjectured, from
the state in which the town was found, that anarchy reached its last
limits. The gloomy streets, lit up by the glare of bonfires of furniture
and books, can be imagined. They obtained fire by striking iron on
flint. Crowds of drunkards and madmen danced wildly about the bonfires.
Men and women drank together and passed the common cup from lip to lip.
The worst scenes of sensuality were witnessed. Some sort of dark
atavistic sense enlivened the souls of these townsmen, and half-naked,
unwashed, unkempt, they danced the dances of their remote ancestors, the
contemporaries of the cave-bears, and they sang the same wild songs as
did the hordes when they fell with stone axes upon the mammoth. With
songs, with incoherent exclamations, with idiotic laughter, mingled the
cries of those who had lost the power to express in words their own
delirious dreams, mingled also the moans of those in the convulsions of
death. Sometimes dancing gave way to fighting--for a barrel of wine, for
a woman, or simply without reason, in a fit of madness brought about by
contradictory emotion. There was nowhere to flee; the same dreadful
scenes were everywhere, the same orgies everywhere, the same fights, the
same brutal gaiety or brutal rage--or else, absolute darkness, which
seemed more dreadful, even more intolerable to the staggered
imagination.

Zvezdny became an immense black box, in which were some thousands of
man-resembling beings, abandoned in the foul air from hundreds of
thousands of dead bodies, where amongst the living was not one who
understood his own position. This was the city of the senseless, the
gigantic madhouse, the greatest and most disgusting Bedlam which the
world has ever seen. And the madmen destroyed one another, stabbed or
strangled one another, died of madness, died of terror, died of hunger,
and of all the diseases which reigned in the infected air.

       *       *       *       *       *

It goes without saying that the Government of the Republic did not
remain indifferent to the great calamity which had overtaken the
capital. But it very soon became clear that no help whatever could be
given. No doctors, nurses, officers, or workmen of any kind would agree
to go to Zvezdny. After the breakdown of the railroad service and of the
airships it was, of course, impossible to get there, the climatic
conditions being too great an obstacle. Moreover, the attention of the
Government was soon absorbed by cases of the disease appearing in other
towns of the Republic. In some of these it threatened to take on the
same epidemic character, and a social panic set in that was akin to what
happened in Zvezdny itself. A wholesale exodus from the more populated
parts of the Republic commenced. The work in all the mines came to a
standstill, and the entire industrial life of the country faded away.
But thanks, however, to strong measures taken in time, the progress of
the disease was arrested in these towns, and nowhere did it reach the
proportions witnessed in the capital.

The anxiety with which the whole world followed the misfortunes of the
young Republic is well known. At first no one dreamed that the trouble
could grow to what it did, and the dominant feeling was that of
curiosity. The chief newspapers of the world (and in that number our own
_Northern European Evening News_) sent their own special correspondents
to Zvezdny--to write up the epidemic. Many of these brave knights of the
pen became victims of their own professional obligations. When the news
became more alarming, various foreign governments and private societies
offered their services to the Republic. Some sent troops, others
doctors, others money; but the catastrophe developed with such rapidity
that this goodwill could not obtain fulfilment. After the breakdown of
the railway service the only information received from Zvezdny was that
of the telegrams sent by the Nachalnik. These telegrams were forwarded
to the ends of the earth and printed in millions of copies. After the
wreck of the electrical apparatus the telegraph service lasted still a
few days longer, thanks to the accumulators of the power-house. There is
no accurate information as to why the telegraph service ceased
altogether; perhaps the apparatus was destroyed. The last telegram of
Horace Deville was that of the 27th of June. From that date, for almost
six weeks, humanity remained without news of the capital of the
Republic.

During July several attempts were made to reach Zvezdny by air. Several
new airships and aeroplanes were received by the Republic. But for a
long time all efforts to reach the city failed. At last, however, the
aeronaut, Thomas Billy, succeeded in flying to the unhappy town. He
picked up from the roof of the town two people in an extreme state of
hunger and mental collapse. Looking through the ventilators Billy saw
that the streets were plunged in absolute darkness; but he heard wild
cries, and understood that there were still living human beings in the
town. Billy, however, did not dare to let himself down into the town
itself. Towards the end of August one line of the electric railway was
put in order as far as the station Lissis, a hundred and five kilometres
from the town. A detachment of well-armed men passed into the town,
bearing food and medical first-aid, entering by the northwestern gates.
They, however, could not penetrate further than the first blocks of
buildings, because of the dreadful atmosphere. They had to do their work
step by step, clearing the bodies from the streets, disinfecting the air
as they went. The only people whom they met were completely
irresponsible. They resembled wild animals in their ferocity and had to
be captured and held by force. About the middle of September train
service with Zvezdny was once more established and trains went
regularly.

At the time of writing the greater part of the town has already been
cleared. Electric light and heating are once more in working order. The
only part of the town which has not been dealt with is the American
quarter, but it is thought that there are no living beings there. About
ten thousand people have been saved, but the greater number are
apparently incurable. Those who have to any degree recovered evince a
strong disinclination to speak of the life they have gone through. What
is more, their stories are full of contradiction and often not confirmed
by documentary evidence. Various newspapers of the last days of July
have been found. The latest to date, that of the 22nd of July, gives the
news of the death of Horace Deville and the invitation of shelter in the
Town Hall. There are, indeed, some other pages marked August, but the
words printed thereon make it clear that the author (who was probably
setting in type his own delirium) was quite irresponsible. The diary of
Horace Deville was discovered, with its regular chronicle of events from
the 28th of June to the 20th of July. The frenzies of the last days in
the town are luridly witnessed by the things discovered in streets and
houses. Mutilated bodies everywhere: the bodies of the starved, of the
suffocated, of those murdered by the insane, and some even half-eaten.
Bodies were found in the most unexpected places: in the tunnels of the
Metropolitan railway, in sewers, in various sheds, in boilers. The
demented had sought refuge from the surrounding terrors in all possible
places. The interiors of most houses had been wrecked, and the booty
which robbers had found it impossible to dispose of had been hidden in
secret rooms and cellars.

It will certainly be several months before Zvezdny will become habitable
once more. Now it is almost empty. The town, which could accommodate
three million people, has but thirty thousand workmen, who are cleansing
the streets and houses. A good number of the former inhabitants who had
previously fled have returned, however, to seek the bodies of their
relatives and to glean the remains of their lost fortunes. Several
tourists, attracted by the amazing spectacle of the empty town, have
also arrived. Two business men have opened hotels and are doing pretty
well. A small café-chantant is to be opened shortly, the troupe for
which has already been engaged.

_The Northern-European Evening News_ has for its part sent out a new
correspondent, Mr. Andrew Ewald, and hopes to obtain circumstantial news
of all the fresh discoveries which may be made in the unfortunate
capital of the Republic of the Southern Cross.



THE MARBLE BUST:

A TRAMP’S STORY


He had been tried for burglary, and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment.
I was struck by the behaviour of the old man in court and by the
circumstances under which the crime had been committed. I obtained
permission to visit the prisoner. At first he would have nothing to do
with me, and would not speak; but finally he told me the story of his
life.

“You are right,” said he. “I have seen better days, and I haven’t always
been a miserable wanderer about the streets, nor always slept in
night-houses. I had a good education. I--am an engineer. In my youth I
had a little money and I lived a gay life: every evening I went to a
party or to a ball and ended up with a drinking bout. I remember that
time well, even trifling details I remember. And yet there is a gap in
my recollections that I would give all the rest of my unworthy life to
fill up--everything which has anything to do with Nina.

“She was called Nina, dear sir; yes, Nina. I’m sure of that. Her husband
was a minor official on the railway. They were poor. But how clever she
was in making of the pitiful surroundings of her life something elegant
and, as it were, specially refined. She herself did the cooking, but her
hands were, as it were, carefully wrought. Of her poor clothes she made
a marvellous dream. Yes, and the whole everyday world, on contact with
her, became fantastical. I myself, meeting her, became other than I was,
better, and shook off, as rain from my clothes, all the sordidness of
life.

“May God forgive her sin in loving me. Everything around her was so
coarse that she couldn’t help falling in love with me, young and
handsome as I was and knowing so much poetry by heart. But when I first
made her acquaintance, and how--this I cannot now call to mind. Separate
pictures draw themselves out from the darkness. See, we are at the
theatre. She, happy, gay (this was so rare with her), is drinking in
every word of the play, and she is smiling at me.... I remember her
smile. Afterwards, we were together at some place or other. She bent her
head down to me, and said: ‘I know that you will not be my happiness for
very long; never mind, I shall have lived.’ I remember these words. But
what happened directly afterwards, and whether it is really true that
all this happened when I was with Nina, I don’t know.

“Of course, it was I who first gave her up. This seems to me so natural.
All my companions acted in this way: they flirted with some married
woman, and then, after a while, cast her off. I only acted as everybody
else did, and it didn’t even enter my mind that I was behaving badly. To
steal money, not to pay one’s debts, to turn informer--this was bad, but
to cast off a woman whom one has loved was only the way of the world. A
brilliant future was before me, and I could not bind myself to a sort of
romantic love. It was painful, very painful, but I gained the victory
over myself, and I even saw a _podvig_ in my resolution to overcome this
pain.

“I heard that Nina went away afterwards with her husband to the south,
and that soon after she died. But my memories of Nina were so tormenting
that I avoided at that time all news of her. I tried to know nothing
about her and not to think of her. I had not kept her portrait, I had
returned her letters, we had no mutual acquaintances--and so, little by
little, the image of Nina was erased from my soul. Do you understand? I
gradually came to forget Nina, forget her entirely, her face, her name,
and all her love. It came to be as if she had actually never existed at
all in my life.... Ah, there’s something shameful for a man in this
ability to forget!

“The years went by. I won’t tell you now how I ‘made a career.’ Without
Nina, of course I dreamed only of external success, of money. At one
time I had nearly obtained the complete success at which I aimed. I
could spend thousands, could travel abroad. I married and had children.
Afterwards, everything turned to loss; the works which I designed were
unsuccessful; my wife died; finding myself left with children on my
hands, I sent them away to relatives, and now, God forgive me, I don’t
even know if my little boys are alive. As you may guess, I drank and
played cards.... I started an agency--it did not succeed; it swallowed
up my last money and energy. I tried to get straight by gambling, and
only just escaped being sent to prison--yes, and not entirely without
reason. My friends turned against me and my downfall began.

“Little by little I got to the point where you now see me. I, so to
speak, ‘dropped out’ of intellectual society and fell into the abyss.
What place could I presume to take, badly dressed, almost always
drunken? Of late years I have worked for months, when not drinking, as a
labourer in various factories. And when I had a drinking bout--I would
turn up in the Thieves’ market and doss-houses. I passionately detested
the people I met, and was always dreaming that suddenly my fate would
change and I should be rich once more. I expected to receive some sort
of non-existent inheritance or something of that kind. And I despised my
companions because they had no such hope.

“Well, one day, all shivering with cold and hunger, I wander into
someone’s yard without knowing why, and something happens. Suddenly the
cook calls out to me, ‘Hallo, my boy, you don’t happen to be a
locksmith, do you?’ ‘Yes, I’m a locksmith,’ says I. They wanted someone
to mend the lock of a writing-table. I found myself in a luxurious
study, gold all about, and pictures. I began to work and did what was
wanted, and the lady gave me a rouble. I took the money, and, all of a
sudden, I saw on a little white pedestal, a marble bust. At first I felt
faint. I don’t know why. I stared at it and couldn’t believe: Nina!

“I tell you, dear sir, I had quite forgotten Nina, and at this moment
specially, for the first time, I understood it, understood that I had
forgotten her. Suddenly her image swam before my eyes, and a whole
universe of feelings, dreams, thoughts, buried in my soul as in some
sort of Atlantis--woke, rose again, lived again.... I look at the marble
bust, all trembling, and I say: ‘Permit me to ask, lady, whose bust is
that?’ ‘Oh, that,’ says she, ‘is a very valuable thing; it was made five
hundred years ago, in the fifteenth century.’ She told me the name of
the sculptor, but I didn’t catch it, and she said that her husband had
brought this bust from Italy, and that because of it there had arisen a
whole diplomatic correspondence between the Italian and Russian
Cabinets. ‘But,’ says the lady to me, ‘you don’t mean to say it pleases
you? What an up-to-date taste you have! Don’t you see that the ears,’
says she, ‘are not in the right place, and the nose is irregular
...?’--and she went away; she went away.

“I rushed out as if I were suffocating. This was not a likeness, but an
actual portrait; nay more--it was a sort of re-creation of life in
marble. Tell me, by what miracle could an artist in the fifteenth
century make those same tiny ears, set on awry, which I knew so well,
those same eyes, just a tiny bit aslant, that irregular nose, and the
high sloping forehead, out of which unexpectedly you got the most
beautiful, the most captivating woman’s face? By what miracle could
there live two women so much alike--one in the fifteenth century, the
other in our own day? And that she whom the sculptor had modelled was
absolutely the same, and like to Nina not only in face but in character
and in soul, I could not doubt.

“That day changed the whole of my life. I understood all the meanness of
my behaviour in the past and all the depth of my fall. I understood Nina
as an angel, sent to me by Destiny and not recognised by me. To bring
back the past was impossible. But I began eagerly to gather together my
remembrances of Nina as one might gather up the shattered bits of a
precious vase. How few they were! Try as I would I could get nothing
whole. All were fragments, splinters. But how I rejoiced when I
succeeded in making out in my soul something new. Thinking over these
things and remembering, I would spend whole hours; people laughed at me,
but I was happy. I was old; it was late for me to begin life anew, but I
could still cleanse my soul from base thoughts, from malice towards my
fellows and from murmuring against my Creator. And in my remembrances of
Nina I found this cleansing.

“I wanted desperately to look once more at the statue. I wandered whole
evenings near the house where it was and I tried to see the marble bust,
but it stood a long way from the windows. I spent whole nights in front
of the house. I knew all the people who lived there, how the rooms were
arranged, and I made friends with a servant. In the summer the lady went
away into the country. And then I could no longer fight against my
desire. I thought that if I could see the marble Nina once again, I
should at once remember everything, to the end. And that would be for me
ultimate bliss. So I made up my mind to do that for which I’ve been
sentenced. You know that I didn’t succeed. They caught me in the hall.
And at the trial it came out that I’d been in the rooms on pretence of
being a locksmith, and that I’d often been seen near the house.... I was
a beggar, I had forced the locks.... However, the story’s ended now,
dear sir!”

“But we’ll make an appeal for you,” said I. “They will acquit you.”

“But why?” objected the old man. “No one grieves over my sentence, and
no one will go bail for me, and isn’t it just the same where I shall
think about Nina--in a doss-house or in a prison?”

I didn’t know what to answer, but the old man suddenly looked up at me
with his strange and faded eyes and went on:

“Only one thing worries me. What if Nina never existed, and it was
merely my poor mind, weakened by alcohol, which invented the whole story
of this love whilst I was looking at the little marble head?”



FOR HERSELF OR FOR ANOTHER


I

“It is she! No, it can’t be, but yet of course it is!” said Peter
Andreyevitch Basmanof to himself, as a lady who had previously attracted
his attention passed for the fifth or sixth time the little table at
which he was sitting.

He no longer doubted that it was Elizavieta. Certainly, they had not met
for nearly twelve years, and no woman’s face could remain unchanged
during such a period. The features, formerly thin and sharply defined,
had become somewhat fuller; the glance, once confiding as a child’s, was
now cold and stern, and in the whole face there was an expression of
self-confidence which used not to be there. But were they not the same
eyes which Basmanof had loved to liken to St. Elma’s fires, was it not
that same oval which by its purity of outline alone had often calmed his
passion, were they not the same tiny ears which he had found so sweet to
kiss? Yes, it must be Elizavieta: there could not be two women so much
alike--as much alike as the reflections in two adjoining mirrors!

Basmanof’s mind went quickly over the history of his love for
Elizavieta. Not for the first time did he thus survey it, for of all his
memories none was dearer or more sacred than this love. The young
advocate, just stepping forth into life, had met a woman somewhat older
than himself who had loved him with all the blindness of a fierce,
unreasoning, ecstatical passion. Elizavieta’s whole soul had been
absorbed by this love, and nothing else in the world had mattered to her
except this one thing--to possess her beloved, give herself to him,
worship him. She had been prepared to sacrifice all the conventions of
their “set,” she had begged Basmanof to allow her to leave her husband
and go to live with him; and in society not only had she not been
ashamed of her connection with him--which, of course, had been talked
about--but she had, as it were, gloried in it. Basmanof had never since
come across a love so self-forgetful, so ready to sacrifice itself, and
he could not have doubted that if at any time he had demanded of
Elizavieta that she should kill herself she would have fulfilled his
behest with a calm submissive rapture.

How had Basmanof profited by such a love, which comes to us only once in
life? He had been afraid of it, afraid of its immensity and its
strength. He had understood that where infinite sacrifices are made they
are necessarily accompanied by great demands. He had been afraid to
accept this love because it would have been necessary to give something
in exchange for it, and he felt himself spiritually lacking. And he had
been afraid that his just-blossoming career might be checked....
Basmanof, like a thief, had stolen half a year’s love, which could not
have been his had he been frank and shown his real character from the
first, and then he had taken advantage of the first trifling excuse to
“break off the connection.”

Ah, how ashamed he was now to recall their last meeting before this took
place. Elizavieta, blinded by her love for him, could not understand,
could not see, that her beloved was too low for her to abase herself
before him, and she had begged him on her knees not to forsake her. He
remembered how she, sobbing, had embraced his feet and let herself be
dragged along the floor, how in despair she had beaten her head against
the wall. He had learnt afterwards that his desertion had sent
Elizavieta nearly out of her mind, that at one time she had wished to
enter a convent, and that later when she became a widow she had gone
abroad. Since then he had lost all trace of her.

Was it possible that here at Interlaken he was meeting her now again,
twelve years after their rupture, calm, stern, beautiful as ever, with
her inexplicable fascination for him and her tormentingly-sweet
reminders of the past? Basmanof, sitting at the little café table,
watched the tall lady in the large Paris hat as she went by, and his
whole being burned feverishly with images and sensations of the past,
suffusing in a moment the memory of his mind and the memory of his body.
It was she, it was she, Elizavieta, whom he had not allowed to love him
as fully as she had wished, and whom he himself had not dared to love as
fully as he might, as much as he had wished! It was she, his better
self, restored again to him when his life had almost passed, she, alive
still, the possibility incarnate of reviving that which had been, of
completing and restoring it.

In spite of his self-possession Basmanof’s head was in a whirl. He paid
the waiter for his ice, got up from his seat, and walked out by the path
along which the tall lady had passed.


II

When Basmanof overtook the tall lady he raised his hat deferentially and
bowed to her. But the lady showed no sign of recognition.

“Is it possible you do not recognise me, Elizavieta Vasilievna?” asked
Basmanof, speaking in Russian.

After some hesitation the lady answered in Russian, though with a slight
accent.

“Pardon me, but you’ve probably made a mistake. I am not an acquaintance
of yours.”

“Elizavieta Vasilievna!” exclaimed Basmanof deeply hurt by such a reply.
“Surely you must recognise me! I am Peter Andreyevitch Basmanof.”

“It’s the first time I’ve heard that name,” said the lady, “and I don’t
know you at all.”

For several seconds Basmanof gazed at the lady who thus spoke to him,
asking himself whether he had not made a mistake. But there was such an
undoubted likeness, he so definitely recognised her as Elizavieta, that
blocking up the pathway to this lady in the large Paris hat, he repeated
insistently--

“I recognise _you_, Elizavieta Vasilievna! I understand that _you_ may
have reasons for concealing your true name. I understand that you may
not wish to meet your former acquaintances. But you must know that it’s
absolutely necessary for me to speak a few words to you. I have gone
through too much since we separated. I must put myself right with you. I
don’t want you to despise me.”

Basmanof hardly knew himself what he was saying. He wanted only one
thing--that Elizavieta would acknowledge that it was she. He was afraid
that she might go away and not come back, might vanish for evermore, and
that this meeting might prove to be a dream.

The lady moved quietly to one side, and said in French:

“_Monsieur, laissez-moi passer, s’il vous plaît! Je ne vous connais
pas._”

She showed no agitation whatever, and at Basmanof’s words the expression
of her face did not change in the least. But all the same he could not
let her go, but followed her.

“Elizavieta!” cried he. “Curse me if you will, call me the most
worthless of men, tell me that you no longer wish to know me--I will
take it all humbly, as I ought. But do not pretend that you do not
recognise me; that I cannot endure. You dare not, ought not, to insult
me so.”

“I assure you,” the lady interrupted in a more severe tone, “that you
mistake me for someone else. You call me Elizavieta Vasilievna, but that
is not my name. I am Ekaterina Vladimirovna Sadikova, and my maiden name
was Armand. Surely that is sufficient evidence for you to allow me to
continue my walk, as I wish to do?”

“But why, then,” cried Basmanof, making a last attempt, “why have you
borne with me so long? If I am an utter stranger to you why didn’t you
at once order me to be silent, or call a policeman? No one behaves as
gently as you have done towards a scoundrel of the street!”

“I see quite clearly,” answered the lady, “that you are not a street
scoundrel, and that you would not allow yourself to take any liberties.
You’ve simply made a mistake: my likeness to some lady of your
acquaintance has led you into an error. That is no crime, and I’ve no
occasion whatever to call the police. But now everything has been
explained--good-bye!”

Basmanof could insist no longer. He stood aside, and the lady walked
slowly past him. But the whole of the conversation, the tone of the
lady’s voice, her movements, everything about her--only accentuated his
belief that this was--Elizavieta.

Disturbed and agitated, he went back to his room at the hotel. Beyond
the green meadow, like some gigantic phantom, shone the eternal snow of
the Yungfrau. It seemed near, but was immeasurably far. Was it not like
to Elizavieta, who had seemed risen from the dead, but who had again
retreated into the far unknown?

It was not difficult for Basmanof to discover the address of the lady
whom he had met. After some hesitation he wrote her a letter, in which
he said that he had no wish to argue about what was evident. He had
clearly made a mistake in taking an unknown lady for an old acquaintance
of his, but their short encounter had made a deep impression on him, and
he begged permission to bow to her when they met, in memory of an
accidental acquaintance. The letter was couched in extremely cautious
and respectful terms. When on the following day Basmanof met the lady
who called herself Mme. Sadikova she bowed to him first and herself
began to speak to him. And so their acquaintance began.


III

Mme. Sadikova gave no signs of ever having previously known Basmanof.
Quite the contrary; she treated him as someone whom she had never met
before. They talked about unimportant matters, connected chiefly with
life at the watering-place. Mme. Sadikova’s conversation was interesting
and clever, and she appeared to be very well read. But when Basmanof
tried to pass to more intimate, more painful questions his companion
lightly and deftly evaded them.

Everything convinced Basmanof that she was Elizavieta. He recognised her
voice, her favourite turns of speech; recognised that intangible
something which expresses the individuality of a person but which it is
difficult to define in words. He could have sworn that he was not
mistaken.

Certainly there were slight marks of difference, but could not these be
explained by the interval of twelve years? It was natural that from
Elizavieta’s flaming passions the experiences of life should have forged
a steely coldness. It was natural that living abroad for many years
Elizavieta should have somewhat forgotten her native tongue and speak
it with an accent. Finally it was natural that in her behaviour, in her
gestures, in her laughter, there should appear new features which had
not been there before....

All the same, Basmanof was sometimes seized by doubt, and then he began
mentally to notice hundreds of tiny peculiarities which distinguished
Ekaterina from Elizavieta. But he only needed to look once more into
Mme. Sadikova’s face, to hear her speak, and all his doubts would
disperse like a mist. He felt in himself and his soul was aware that
this was she whom he had once loved.

Of course he did all he could to unravel the mystery. He tried to
confuse her by asking unexpected questions; she was always on her guard,
and she easily escaped out of all his snares. He tried to question her
acquaintances; no one knew anything about her. He even went so far as to
intercept a letter addressed to her; it proved to be from Paris, and
consisted only of impersonal French phrases.

One evening, when the two were together in a restaurant, Basmanof could
endure the continuous strain no longer, and he suddenly exclaimed--

“Why do we keep up this tormenting game? You are Elizavieta--I am sure
of it. You can’t forget how you once loved me. And of course you can’t
forget how basely I cast you off. But now I bring you all my soul’s
repentance. I despise myself for my former conduct. This is what I
propose: take me for the whole of my life if you can forgive me. But I
say this to Elizavieta, I give myself to her, not to any other woman.”

Mme. Sadikova listened in silence to this little speech, transgressing
as it did the limits of Society small-talk, and answered calmly--

“Dear Peter Andreyevitch. If you are speaking to me I might answer you,
perhaps, but as you warn me that you are speaking to Elizavieta there’s
nothing for me to say.”

In the greatest excitement Basmanof got up from his seat and asked her:

“Do you wish to insist that you are not Elizavieta? Well, say so once
more to my face without blenching and I will go away, I will at once
hide myself from your eyes, I will vanish out of your life. Then there
will be no more reason for my living.”

Mme. Sadikova smiled sweetly.

“Do you wish so much that I were Elizavieta?” asked she. “Very well, I
will be Elizavieta.”


IV

Then the second game began, a more cruel one perhaps than the first.
Mme. Sadikova called herself Elizavieta and treated Basmanof as an old
acquaintance. When he spoke of the past she pretended to remember the
persons and events of which he spoke. When he, all trembling, reminded
her of her love for him, she, laughing, agreed that she had loved him;
but she hinted that in the course of time this love had died down, as
every flame dies down.

In order to play her part conscientiously, Mme. Sadikova herself would
sometimes speak of the happenings of the past, but she mixed up the
dates, remembered the wrong names, imagined things which had never
occurred. It was especially tormenting that when she spoke of her love
for Basmanof she referred to it as to a light flirtation, the accidental
amusement of a lady in society. This seemed to Basmanof an insult to
sacred things, and almost with a wail he besought her to be silent.

But this was little. Imperceptibly, step by step, Mme. Sadikova poisoned
all Basmanof’s most holy recollections. By her hints she discrowned all
the most beautiful facts of the past. She gave him to understand that
much of what had appeared to him as evidence of her self-forgetful love
had been only hypocrisy and make-believe.

“Elizavieta!” implored Basmanof once of her. “Is it possible for me to
believe that your passionate vows, your sobs, your despair, when you
threw yourself unconscious on the floor--that all this was feigned? The
most talented dramatic actress could not act so well. You are defaming
yourself.”

Mme. Sadikova, answering to the name of Elizavieta, as she had been
doing for some time, said with a smile--

“How can one distinguish where acting ends and sincerity begins? I
wanted at that time to feel strongly and so I allowed myself to pretend
to be despairing and out of my senses. If in your place had been not you
but some other, I should have acted just the same. And yet at that very
moment it would have cost me nothing to overcome myself and not sob at
all. Aren’t we all like that in life--actors--we don’t so much live as
act the part of living?”

“That’s not true,” exclaimed Basmanof. “You say this because you do not
know how Elizavieta loved. She would never have spoken so. You are only
playing her part. It’s evident you are not she--you are Ekaterina.”

Mme. Sadikova laughed, and then said in a different tone--

“Just as you like, Peter Andreyevitch. I only played the part to please
you. If you wish it I will become myself again, Ekaterina Vladimirovna
Sadikova.”

“How can I know where you are real?” hissed Basmanof through his teeth.

He began to feel that he was going out of his mind. Fiction and reality
for him had become confused. For some minutes he doubted who he was
himself.

In the meantime Mme. Sadikova got up and proposed a walk and she again
began to speak to him as Elizavieta.


V

The days went by. The season at Interlaken came to an end.

Basmanof, obsessed by his connection with this mysterious acquaintance
of his, began to forget everything else; forgot why he had come to
Interlaken, forget all his business, answered no letters from home,
lived a sort of senseless life. Like a maniac, he thought only of one
thing: how to guess the secret of Elizavieta-Ekaterina.

Was he in love with this woman?--he could not have said. She drew him to
herself as to an abyss, as to a horror, to a place of destruction.
Months and years might go by and he would be glad to go on with this
duel of mind and ready wit, this struggle of two minds, one of which
sought to preserve her secret and the other strove to tear it from her.

But suddenly, early in October, Mme. Sadikova left Interlaken. She went
away, neither saying good-bye to Basmanof nor warning him of her
departure. On the following day, however, he received a letter from her,
posted from Berne.

“I will not deprive you of the satisfaction of guessing who I am,” wrote
Mme. Sadikova. “I leave the solution of this problem to your sharp wit.
But if you are tired of guessing, and would like to have the simplest
solution, I will tell it you. Suppose that I was really a complete
stranger to you. Learning from your own agitated accounts, how cruelly
you had once treated a certain Elizavieta, I determined to avenge her. I
think I have attained my object; my revenge has been accomplished: you
will never forget these weeks of torture at Interlaken. And for whom I
took this vengeance, for myself or for another, is it not all the same
in the long run? Good-bye, you will never see me again.
Elizavieta-Ekaterina.”



IN THE MIRROR


I have loved mirrors from my very earliest years. As an infant I wept
and trembled as I looked into their transparently truthful depths. My
favourite game as a child was to walk up and down the room or the
garden, holding a mirror in front of me, gazing into its abyss, walking
over the edge at every step, and breathless with giddiness and terror.
Even as a girl I began to put mirrors all over my room, large and small
ones, true and slightly distorted ones, some precise and others a little
dull. I got into the habit of spending whole hours, whole days, in the
midst of inter-crossing worlds which ran one into the other, trembled,
vanished, and then reappeared again. It became a singular passion of
mine to give my body to these soundless distances, these echoless
perspectives, these separate universes cutting across our own and
existing, despite our consciousness, in the same place and at the same
time with it. This protracted actuality, separated from us by the smooth
surface of glass, drew me towards itself by a kind of intangible touch,
dragged me forward, as to an abyss, a mystery.

I was drawn towards the apparition which always rose up before me when I
came near a mirror and which strangely doubled my being. I strove to
guess how this other woman was differentiated from myself, how it was
possible that my right hand should be her left, and that all the fingers
of this hand should change places, though certainly on one of them
was--my wedding-ring. My thoughts were confused when I attempted to
probe this enigma, to solve it. In _this_ world, where everybody could
be touched, where voices were heard--I lived, actually; in _that_
reflected world, which it was only possible to contemplate, was she,
phantasmally. She was almost as myself and yet not at all myself; she
repeated all my movements, but not one of these movements exactly
coincided with those I made. She, that other, knew something I could not
divine, she held a secret eternally hidden from my understanding.

But I noticed that each mirror had its own separate and special world.
Put two mirrors in the very same place, one after the other, and there
will arise two different universes. And in different mirrors there rose
up before me different apparitions, all of them like me but never
exactly like one another. In my small hand-mirror lived a naïve little
girl with clear eyes, reminding me of my early youth. In my circular
boudoir mirror was hidden a woman who knew all the diverse sweetness of
caresses, shameless, free, beautiful, daring. In the oblong mirrors of
the wardrobe door there always appeared a stern figure, imperious, cold,
inexorable. I knew still other doubles of myself--in my dressing-glass,
in my folding gold-framed triptych, in the hanging mirror in the oaken
frame, in the little neck mirror, and in many other mirrors which I
treasured. To all the beings hiding themselves in these mirrors I gave
the possibility and pretext to develop. According to the strange
conditions of their world they must take the form of the person who
stands before the glass but under this borrowed exterior they preserve
their own personal characteristics.

There were some worlds of mirrors which I loved; others which I hated.
In some of them I loved to walk up and down for whole hours, losing
myself in their attractive expanse. Others I fled from. In my secret
heart I did not love all my doubles. I knew that they were all hostile
toward me, if only for the fact that they were forced to clothe
themselves in my hated likeness. But some of these mirror women I
pitied. I forgave their hate and felt almost friendly to them. There
were some whom I despised, and I loved to laugh at their powerless fury;
there were some whom I mocked by my own independence and tortured by my
power over them. There were others, on the other hand, of whom I was
afraid, who were too strong for me and who dared in their turn to mock
at me, to command me. I hastened to get rid of the mirrors where these
women lived, I would not look in them, I hid them, gave them away, even
broke some in pieces. But every time I destroyed a mirror I wept for
whole days after, conscious of the fact that I had broken to pieces a
distinct universe. And reproachful faces stared at me from the broken
fragments of the world I had destroyed.

The mirror with which my fate was to become linked I bought one autumn
at a sale of some sort. It was a large pier-glass, swinging on screws. I
was struck by the unusual clarity of its reflection. The phantasmal
actuality in it was changed by the slightest inclination of the glass,
but it was independent and vital to the edges. When I examined this
pier-glass at the sale the woman who reflected me in it looked me in the
eyes with a kind of haughty challenge. I did not wish to give in to her,
to show that she had frightened me, so I bought the glass and ordered it
to be placed in my boudoir. As soon as I was alone in the room, I
immediately went up to the new mirror and fixed my eyes upon my rival.
But she did the same to me, and standing opposite one another we began
to transfix each other with our glance as if we had been snakes. In the
pupils of her eyes was my reflection, in mine, hers. My heart sank and
my head swam from her intent gaze. But at length by an effort of will I
tore my eyes away from those other eyes, tipped the mirror with my foot
so that it began to swing, rocking the image of my rival pitifully to
and fro, and went out of the room.

From that hour our strife began. In the evening of the first day of our
meeting I did not dare to go near the new pier-glass; I went to the
theatre with my husband, laughed exaggeratedly, and was apparently
light-hearted. On the morrow, in the clear light of a September day I
went boldly into my boudoir alone and designedly sat down directly in
front of the mirror. At the same moment, she, the other woman, also came
in at the door to meet me, crossed the room, and then she too sat down
opposite me. Our eyes met. In hers I read hatred towards myself; in mine
she read hatred towards her. Our second duel began, a duel of eyes--two
unyielding glances, commanding, threatening, hypnotising. Each of us
strove to conquer the other’s will, to break down her resistance, to
force her to submit to another’s desire. It would have been a painful
scene for an onlooker to witness; two women sitting opposite each other
without moving, joined together by the magnetic attraction of each
other’s gaze, and almost losing consciousness under the psychical
strain.... Suddenly someone called me. The infatuation vanished. I got
up and left the room.

After this our duels were renewed every day. I realised that this
adventuress had purposely forced herself into my home to destroy me and
take my place in this world. But I had not sufficient strength to deny
myself this struggle. In this rivalry there was a kind of secret
intoxication. The very possibility of defeat had hidden in it a sort of
sweet seduction. Sometimes I forced myself for whole days to keep away
from the pier-glass; I occupied myself with business, with amusements,
but in the depths of my soul was always hidden the memory of the rival
who in patience and self-reliance awaited my return. I would go back to
her and she would step forth in front of me, more triumphantly than
ever, piercing me with her victorious gaze and fixing me in my place
before her. My heart would stop beating, and I with a powerless fury
would feel myself under the authority of this gaze.

So the days and weeks went by; our struggle continued, but the
preponderance showed itself more and more definitely to be on the side
of my rival. And suddenly one day I realised that my will was in
subjection to her will, that she was already stronger than I. I was
overcome with terror. My first impulse was to flee from my home and go
to another town, but I saw at once that this would be useless. I should,
all the same, be overcome by the attractive force of this hostile will
and be obliged to return to this room, to this mirror. Then there came a
second thought--to shatter the mirror, reduce my enemy to nothingness;
but to conquer her by brutal strength would mean that I acknowledged
her superiority over myself: this would be humiliating. I preferred to
remain and continue this struggle to the end, even though I were
threatened with defeat.

Soon there could be no doubt that my rival would triumph. At every
meeting there was concentrated in her gaze still greater and greater
power over me. Little by little I lost the possibility of letting a day
pass without once going to my mirror. _She_ ordered me to spend several
hours daily in front of her. _She_ directed my will as a hypnotist
directs the will of a sleepwalker. _She_ arranged my life, as a mistress
arranges the life of a slave. I began to fulfil her demands, I became an
automaton to her wordless orders. I knew that deliberately, cautiously,
she would lead me by an unavoidable path to destruction, and I already
made no resistance. I divined her secret plan--to cast me into the
mirror world and to come forth herself into our world--but I had no
strength to hinder her. My husband and my relatives seeing me spend
whole hours, whole days and nights in front of my mirror, thought me
demented and wanted to cure me. But I dared not reveal the truth to
them, I was forbidden to tell them all the dreadful truth, all the
horror, towards which I was moving.

One of the December days before the holidays turned out to be the day
of my destruction. I remember everything clearly, precisely,
circumstantially. Nothing in my remembrance is confused. As usual, I
went into my boudoir early, at the first beginnings of the winter dawn
twilight. I placed a comfortable armchair without a back in front of the
mirror, sat down and gave myself up to _her_. Without any delay she
appeared in answer to my summons, she too placed an armchair for
herself, she too sat down and began to gaze at me. A dark foreboding
oppressed my soul, but I was powerless to turn my face away, and I was
forced to take to myself the insolent gaze of my rival. The hours went
by, the shadows began to fall. Neither of us lighted a lamp. The glass
of the mirror glimmered faintly in the darkness. The reflections had
become scarcely visible, but the self-reliant eyes gazed with their
former strength. I felt neither terror nor ill-will, as on other days,
but simply an intolerable anguish and a bitter consciousness that I was
in the power of another. Time swam away and on its tide I also swam into
infinity, into a black expanse of powerlessness and lack of will.

Suddenly she, that other, the reflected woman, got up from her chair. I
trembled all over at this insult. But something invincible, something
forcing me from within compelled me also to stand up. The woman in the
mirror took a step forward. I did the same. The woman in the mirror
stretched forth her arms. I did so too. Looking straight at me with
hypnotising and commanding eyes, she moved forward and I advanced to
meet her. And it was strange--with all the horror of my position, with
all my hate towards my rival, there fluttered somewhere in the depths of
my soul a painful consolation, a secret joy--to enter at last into that
mysterious world into which I had gazed from my childhood and which up
till now had remained inaccessible to me. At moments I hardly knew which
of us was drawing the other towards herself, she me or I her, whether
she was eager to occupy my place or whether I had devised all this
struggle in order to displace her.

But when, moving forward, my hands touched hers on the glass I turned
quite pale with repugnance. And _she_ took my hand by force and drew me
still nearer to herself. My hands were plunged into the mirror as into
burning-icy water. The cold of the glass penetrated into my body with a
horrible pain, as if all the atoms of my being had changed their mutual
relationship. In another moment my face had touched the face of my
rival, I saw her eyes right in front of my own, I was transfused into
her with a monstrous kiss. Everything vanished from me in a torment of
suffering unlike any other--and when I came to my senses after this
swoon I still saw in front of me my own boudoir on which I gazed _from
out of_ the mirror. My rival stood before me and burst into laughter.
And I--oh the cruelty of it! I who was dying with humiliation and
torture was obliged to laugh too, to repeat all her grimaces in a
triumphant joyful laugh. I had not yet succeeded in considering my
position when my rival suddenly turned round, walked towards the door,
vanished from my sight, and I at once fell into torpor, into
non-existence.

Then my life as a reflection began. It was a strange, half-conscious but
mysteriously sweet life. There were many of us in this mirror, dark in
soul, and slumbering of consciousness. We could not speak to one
another, but we felt each other’s proximity and loved one another. We
could see nothing, we heard nothing clearly, And our existence was like
the enfeeblement that comes from being unable to breathe. Only when a
being from the world of men approached the mirror, we, suddenly taking
up his form, could look forth into the world, could distinguish voices,
and breathe a full breath. I think that the life of the dead is like
that--a dim consciousness of one’s ego, a confused memory of the past
and an oppressive desire to be incarnated anew even if only for a
moment, to see, to hear, to speak.... And each of us cherished and
concealed a secret dream--to free one’s self, to find for one’s self a
new body, to go out into the world of constancy and steadfastness.

During the first days I felt myself absolutely unhappy in my new
position. I still knew nothing, understood nothing. I took the form of
my rival submissively and unthinkingly when she came near the mirror and
began to jeer at me. And she did this fairly often. It afforded her
great delight to flaunt her vitality before me, her reality. She would
sit down and force me also to sit down, stand up and exult as she saw me
stand, wave her arms about, dance, force me to repeat her movements, and
burst out laughing and continue to laugh so that I should have to laugh
too. She would shriek insulting words in my face and I could make no
answer to them. She would threaten me with her fist and mock at my
forced repetition of the gesture. She would turn her back on me and I,
losing sight, losing features, would become conscious of the shame of
the half-existence left to me.... And then suddenly, with one blow she
would whirl the mirror round on its axle and with the oscillation throw
me completely into nonentity.

Little by little, however, the insults and humiliations awoke a
consciousness in me. I realised that my rival was now living my life,
wearing my dresses, being considered as my husband’s wife, and occupying
my place in the world. Then there grew up in my soul a feeling of hate
and a thirst for vengeance, like two fiery flowers. I began bitterly to
curse myself for having, by my weakness or my criminal curiosity,
allowed her to conquer me. I arrived at the conviction that this
adventuress would never have triumphed over me if I myself had not aided
her in her wiles. And so, as I became more familiar with some of the
conditions of my new existence, I resolved to continue with her the same
fight which she had carried on with me. If she, a shadow, could occupy
the place of a real woman, was it possible that I, a human being, and
only temporarily a shadow, should not be stronger than a phantom?

I began from a very long way off. At first I pretended that the mockery
of my rival tormented me quite unbearably. I purposely afforded her all
the satisfaction of victory. I provoked in her the secret instinct of
the executioner throwing himself upon his helpless victim. She gave
herself up to this bait. She was attracted by this game with me. She put
forth the wings of her imagination and thought out new trials for me.
She invented thousands of wiles to show me over and over again that
I--was only a reflection, that I had no life of my own. Sometimes she
played on the piano in front of me, torturing me by the soundlessness of
my world. Sometimes, seated before the mirror she would drink in tiny
sips my favourite liqueurs, compelling me only to pretend that I also
was drinking them. Sometimes, at length, she would bring into my boudoir
people whom I hated, and before my face she would allow them to kiss
her body, letting them think that they were kissing me. And afterwards
when we were alone she would burst into a malicious and triumphant
laugh. But this laugh did not wound me at all; there was sweetness in
its keenness: my expectation of revenge!

Unnoticeably, in the hours of her insults to me, I would accustom my
rival to look me in the eyes and I would gradually overpower her gaze.
Soon at my will I could already force her to raise and lower her eyelids
and make this and that movement of the face. I had already begun to
triumph though I hid my feeling under a mask of suffering. Strength of
soul grew up within me and I began to dare to lay commands upon my
enemy: To-day you shall do so-and-so, to-day you shall go to
such-and-such a place, to-morrow you shall come to me at such a time.
And _she_ would fulfil them. I entangled her soul in the nets of my
desires woven together with a strong thread in which I held her soul,
and I secretly rejoiced when I noticed my success. When one day, in the
hour of her laughter, she suddenly caught on my lips a victorious smile
which I was unable to hide, it was already too late. _She_ rushed out of
the room in a fury, but as I fell into the sleep of my nonentity I knew
that she would return, knew that she would submit to me. And a rapture
of victory gushed out over my involuntary lack of strength, piercing
with a rainbow shaft of light the gloom of my seeming death.

She did return! She came up to me in anger and terror, shrieked to me,
threatened me. But I was commanding her to do it. And she was obliged to
submit. Then began the game of a cat with a mouse. At any time I could
have cast her back into the depths of the glass and come forth myself
again into sounding and hard actuality. But I delayed to do this. It was
sweet to me to indulge in non-existence sometimes. It was sweet to me to
intoxicate myself with the possibility. At last (this is strange, is it
not?) there suddenly was aroused in me a pity for my rival, for my
enemy, for my executioner. Everything in her was something of my own,
and it was dreadful for me to drag her forth from the realities of life
and turn her into a phantom. I hesitated and dare not do it, I put it
off from day to day, I did not know myself what I wanted and what I
dreaded.

And suddenly on a clear spring day men came into the boudoir with planks
and axes. There was no life in me, I lay in the voluptuousness of
torpor, but without seeing them I knew they were there. The men began to
busy themselves near the mirror which was my universe. And one after
another the souls who lived in it with me were awakened and took
transparent flesh in the form of reflections. A dreadful uneasiness
agitated my slumbering soul. With a presentiment of horror, a
presentiment even of irretrievable ruin, I gathered together all the
might of my will. What efforts it cost me to struggle against the
lassitude of half-existence! So living people sometimes struggle with a
nightmare, tearing themselves from its suffocating bands towards
actuality.

I concentrated all the force of my suggestion into a summons, directed
towards her, towards my rival--“Come hither!” I hypnotised her,
magnetised her with all the tension of my half-slumbering will. There
was little time. The mirror had already begun to swing. They were
already preparing to nail it up in a wooden coffin, to take it away:
whither I knew not. And with an almost mortal effort I called again and
again, “Come!” And I suddenly began to feel that I was coming to life.
_She_, my enemy, opened the door, and came to meet me, pale, half-dead,
in answer to my call, with faltering steps as men go to punishment. I
fastened my eyes on hers, bound up my gaze with hers, and when I had
done this I knew already that I had gained the victory.

I at once compelled her to send the men out of the room. _She_ submitted
without even making an attempt to oppose me. We were alone together once
more. To delay was no longer possible. And I could not bring myself to
forgive her craftiness. In her place, in my time, I should have acted
otherwise. Now I ordered her, without pity, to come to meet me. A moan
of torture opened her lips, her eyes widened as before a phantom, but
she came, trembling, falling--she came. I also went forward to meet her,
lips curving triumphantly, eyes wide open with joy, swaying in an
intoxicating rapture. Again our hands touched each other’s, again our
lips came near together, and we fell each into the other, burning with
the indescribable pain of bodily exchange. In another moment I was
already in front of the mirror, my breast filled itself with air, I
cried out loudly and victoriously and fell just here, in front of the
pier-glass, prone from exhaustion.

My husband and the servants ran towards me. I could only tell them to
fulfil my previous orders and take the mirror away, out of the house, at
once. That was wisely thought, wasn’t it? You see she, that other, might
have profited by my weakness in the first minutes of my return to life,
and by a desperate assault might have tried to wrest the victory from my
hands. Sending the mirror out of the house, I could ensure my own
quietude for a long time, as long as I liked, and my rival had earned
such a punishment for her cunning. I defeated her with her own tools,
with the blade which she herself had raised against me.

After having given this order I lost consciousness. They laid me on my
bed. A doctor was called in. I was treated as suffering from a nervous
fever. For a long while my relatives had thought me ill, and not normal.
In the first outburst of exultation I told them all that had happened to
me. My stories only increased their suspicions. They sent me to a home
for the mentally afflicted, and I am there now. All my being, I agree,
is profoundly shaken. But I do not want to stay here. I am eager to
return to the joys of life, to all the countless pleasures which are
accessible to a living human being. I have been deprived of them too
long.

Besides--shall I say it?--there is one thing which I am bound to do as
soon as possible. I ought to have no doubt that I am _this_ I. But all
the same, whenever I begin to think of her who is imprisoned in my
mirror I begin to be seized by a strange hesitation. What if the real
I--is there? Then I myself who think this, I who write this, I--am a
shadow, I--am a phantom, I--am a reflection. In me are only the poured
forth remembrances, thoughts and feelings of that other, the real
person. And, in reality, I am thrown into the depths of the mirror in
nonentity, I am pining, exhausted, dying. I know, I almost know that
this is not true. But in order to disperse the last clouds of doubt, I
ought again once more, for the last time, to see that mirror. I must
look into it once more to be convinced, that there--is the impostor, my
enemy, she who played my part for some months. I shall see this and all
the confusion of my soul will pass away, and I shall again be free from
care--bright, happy. Where is this mirror? Where shall I find it? I
must, I must once more look into its depths!...



PROTECTION:

A CHRISTMAS STORY


Colonel R. told me this story. We were staying together at the estate of
our mutual relatives, the M’s. It was Christmas-time, and in the
drawing-room one evening the talk turned on ghosts. The Colonel took no
part in the conversation, but when we were alone together--we slept in
the same room--he told me the following story.

       *       *       *       *       *

This happened five-and-twenty years ago, and more: it was in the middle
of the seventies. I had only just got my commission. Our regiment was
stationed at *, a small provincial town in the government of X. We spent
our time as officers usually do: we drank, played cards, and paid
attentions to women.

Among the people living in the neighbourhood, one stood out above the
rest, Mme. C---- Elena Grigorievna. Strictly speaking, she did not
belong to the society there, for until lately she had always lived at
Petersburg. But being left a widow a year previously she had settled
down to live on her country estate, about ten versts from the town. She
was somewhat over thirty years of age, but in her eyes, almost
unnaturally large, there was something childlike, which gave her an
inexplicable charm. All our officers were attracted by her; but I fell
in love with her, as only twenty can fall in love.

The commander of our company was a relative of Elena Grigorievna, and we
obtained access to her house. She had become somewhat tired of being a
recluse, and liked to have visits from young folks, though she lived
almost alone. We sometimes went to dinner, and spent whole evenings
there. But she behaved with so much tact and goodness that no one could
boast of the slightest intimacy with her. Even malicious provincial
tongues could bring no gossip against her.

I was sick of love for her. What tortured me more than all was the
impossibility of frankly confessing my love. I would have done anything
in the world just to fall on my knees before Elena Grigorievna and say
aloud to her: “I love you.” Youth is a little like intoxication. For the
sake of having half an hour alone with her whom I loved, I resolved on a
desperate measure. There was much snow that winter. In the Christmas
holidays there was not a day but the wind raised the dry snow from the
ground into the air in whirling eddies. I chose an evening when the
weather was particularly bad, ordered my horse to be saddled, and set
out over the fields.

I don’t know how it was I didn’t perish by the way. Everywhere the snow
was whirling and the air was so thick with it that at two paces from me
there stood, as it were, grey walls of snow. On the road the snow was
almost up to one’s knees. Twenty times I lost my way. Twenty times my
horse refused to go further. I had a flask of cognac with me, and but
for it I should have frozen. It took me just on three hours to travel
the ten versts.

By some sort of miracle I arrived at the house. It was already late, and
I hardly succeeded in knocking up the servants. When the watchman
recognised me he exclaimed in wonder. I was all over snow, covered with
ice, and looked like a Christmas mummer. Of course I had prepared a
story to account for my appearance. My calculations were not at fault.
Elena Grigorievna was obliged to receive me and she ordered a room to be
prepared for me to stay the night.

In half an hour’s time I was seated in the dining-room, alone with her.
She pressed me to have supper, wine, tea. The logs crackled on the open
fire, the light of a hanging-lamp enclosed us in a circle which to me
seemed magical. I felt not the slightest tiredness and was more in love
than ever.

I was young, handsome, and certainly no fool. I had every right to the
notice of a woman. But Elena Grigorievna, with unusual dexterity, evaded
all talk of love. She compelled me to talk to her exactly as if we had
been at a party in the midst of many other people. She laughed at my
witticisms, but pretended not to understand any of my hints.

In spite of this, a special kind of intimacy sprang up between us,
allowing us to speak more openly. And at length, knowing that it was
nearly time to say good-night, I made up my mind. My consciousness, as
it were, reminded me that such a suitable occasion would not repeat
itself. “If you don’t take advantage of to-day,” said I to myself, “you
have only yourself to blame.” By a great effort of will, I suddenly
broke off the conversation in the middle of a word, and in a moment,
somewhat incoherently and awkwardly, I said out all that had been hidden
in my soul.

“Why are we pretending, Elena Grigorievna? You know very well why I came
to-day. I came to tell you that I love you. And now I say it to you. I
cannot but love you and I want you to love me. Drive me away and I will
humbly depart. If you don’t tell me to go I shall take it as a sign that
you love me. I don’t want anything in between. I want either your anger
or your love.”

The childlike eyes of Elena Grigorievna became cold. They looked like
crystal. I read such a clear answer in her countenance that I got up
without another word and wanted to go off straight away. But she stopped
me.

“That’s enough! Where are you going? Don’t behave like a little boy. Sit
down.”

She made me sit down near her and began to speak to me as if she had
been an elder sister talking to a wayward child.

“You are too young yet, and love is something new to you. If another
woman were in my place you would fall in love with her. In a month’s
time you would begin to love a third. But there is another kind of love
which drains the depths of the soul. Such a love I had for Sergey, my
husband, who is dead. I have given to him all I can ever feel. However
much you may speak to me of love, I shall hear you no more than if I
were dead. You must understand that I have no longer any capacity to
attach any meaning to such words. It’s just as if you spoke to someone
who could not hear you. Reconcile yourself to this. You can no more be
offended than if you were unable to make a dead woman love you.”

Elena Grigorievna spoke with a slight smile. This appeared to me to be
almost insulting. I imagined that she was laughing at me, in thus
putting forward her own love for her dead husband. I felt myself grow
pale. I remember the tears springing to my eyes.

My agitation was not unobserved by Elena Grigorievna. I saw the
expression of her cold eyes begin to change. She understood that I was
suffering. Restraining me with her hand, as she saw I wanted to get up
without replying, she drew her chair nearer mine. I felt her breath on
my face. Then lowering her voice, although we were alone in the room,
she said to me, with a real frankness and tender intimacy:

“Forgive me, if I’ve offended you. Perhaps I am mistaken about your
feeling, and it’s more serious than I thought. So I will tell you the
whole truth. Listen. My love for Sergey is not dead, but living. I love
him, not for the past, but in the present. I am not separated from him.
I take your confession to me seriously; take mine in the same way. From
the very day of his death, Sergey began to show himself to me, invisibly
but clearly. I am conscious of his nearness, I feel his breath, I hear
his caressing whisper. I answer him and I have quiet talks with him. At
times he almost openly kisses me, on my hair, my cheeks, my lips. At
times I see his reflection dimly in the half-light, in a mirror. As soon
as I am alone, he at once shows himself to me. I am accustomed to this
life with a shadow. I go on loving Sergey in this other form of his,
just as passionately and tenderly as I loved him before. I want no other
love. And I will not break faith with the man who has not left me, even
though he has passed beyond the bounds of this life. If you tell me
that I rave, that I have an hallucination, I shall answer that it makes
no difference to me what you think. I am happy in my love, why should I
refuse my happiness? Let me be happy.”

Elena Grigorievna spoke this long speech of hers gently, without raising
her voice, and with deep conviction. I was so impressed by her
earnestness that I could find no answer. I looked at her with a certain
awe and pity, as at someone whom grief had crazed. But she had become
the hostess again and spoke now in another tone, as if all she had said
previously might have been a joke:

“Well, it’s time for us to go to bed. Matthew will show you your
bedroom.”

Matthew was an old servant of the house. I mechanically kissed the hand
she held out to me. And in another minute Matthew was asking me, in a
lugubrious voice, to follow him. He led me to the other side of the
house, showed me the bed which had been prepared for me, wished me good
night, and left me.

Only then did I recover myself a little. And, isn’t it strange, my first
feeling was that of shame? I felt ashamed at having played such an
unenviable rôle. I felt ashamed to think that though I had been alone
for two hours with a young woman, in an almost empty house, I hadn’t
even got so far as to kiss her lips. At that moment I felt more malice
than love towards Elena Grigorievna and a wish to revenge myself upon
her. I had ceased to think that her mind might be unhinged, I thought
she had been making fun of me.

Sitting down on my bed, I began to think matters over. I was familiar
with the house. I knew that I was in the dead Sergey Dmitrievitch’s
study. The room next was his bedroom, where everything was left exactly
as in his lifetime. On the wall in front of me hung his portrait in
oils. He was in a black coat and was wearing the ribbon of the French
Order of the Legion of Honour, which he had received--I don’t know how
or why--in the time of the Second Empire. And by some sort of strange
connection of ideas, it was this ribbon specially which gave me the idea
of the strangest, wildest plan.

My face was not unlike that of the dead Sergey Dmitrievitch. Of course
he was older than I. But we both wore a moustache and did our hair
alike. Only his hair was grey. I went into his bedroom. The wardrobe was
unlocked. I looked for the black coat of the portrait and put it on. I
found the ribbon of the Order. I powdered my hair and my moustache. In a
word, I dressed myself up as the dead man.

Probably if my design had been successful I should be ashamed to tell
you about it. I confess that what I planned was much worse than a simple
joke. It would have been absolutely unpardonable had I not been so
young. But I received the due reward of my action.

Having finished the change of my attire, I directed my steps towards
Elena Grigorievna’s bedroom. Have you ever chanced to creep along at
night in a sleeping house? How distinct is every rustle, how terribly
loud is the creak of every floor-board in the silence! Several times it
seemed to me that I should arouse all the servants.

At length I gained the wished-for door. My heart beat. I turned the
handle.... The door opened noiselessly. I went in. The room was lighted
by a lamp, which was burning brightly. Elena Grigorievna had not yet
gone to bed. She was seated in a large armchair in her dressing-gown, in
front of a table, deep in thought, in remembrance. She had not heard me
come in.

I stood for some minutes in the half-shadow, not daring to take a step
forward. Suddenly, Elena Grigorievna, becoming conscious of my presence,
or hearing some sort of noise, turned her head. She saw me and began to
tremble. My stratagem had succeeded better than I might have expected.
She took me for her dead husband. Getting up from the armchair with a
faint cry she stretched out her arms to me. I heard her voice of joy:

“Sergey! It is you! At last!”

And then, all trembling with agitation, she sank down again, seemingly
unconscious, into her chair.

Not fully aware of what I wanted to do, I ran towards her. But the
instant I came close to the armchair I saw before me the form of another
man. This was so unexpected that I stood still, as if the rigour of
death had overtaken me. Afterwards I reflected that a large mirror must
have stood there. This other man was a perfect replica of myself. He too
wore a black coat; on his breast he too wore the ribbon of the Legion of
Honour. And in a moment I understood that this was he whose form I had
stolen, he who had come from beyond the grave to protect his wife. A
sharp terror ran through all my limbs.

For several seconds we stood facing one another by the chair in which
lay unconscious the woman for whom we were striving. I was unable to
make the slightest movement. And he, this phantom, quietly raised his
hand and made a threatening gesture towards me.

I took part afterwards in the Turkish War. I have looked on death and
have seen all that would be counted terrible. But I have never again
experienced such horror as then overcame me. This threat from the other
world stopped the beating of my heart and the flow of blood in my veins.
For a moment I almost became a corpse myself. Then without another
glance, I rushed to the door.

Holding on by the walls, staggering along, not caring how loudly my
steps resounded, I reached my own room. I had not sufficient courage to
look at the portrait hanging on the wall. I threw myself flat on the
bed, and a sort of black stupor held me fast there.

I wakened at dawn. I was still wearing the same false attire. In an
agony of shame I took it off and hung it up in its place. Dressing
myself in my own uniform, I went to find Matthew, and told him I must
leave at once. He was evidently not in the least surprised. I asked the
housemaid Glasha if her mistress were still asleep, and got the answer
that she was sleeping peacefully. This cheered me. I begged her to say
that I apologised for leaving without saying good-bye, and galloped off.

A few days later I went with some friends to visit Elena Grigorievna.
She received me with her usual courtesy. Not by a single hint did she
remind me of that night. And to this day, it is a mystery to me; did she
or did she not understand what happened?



THE “BEMOL” SHOP OF STATIONERY

From the life of “one of the least of these.”


As soon as Anna Nikolaevna had finished school a place was found for her
as saleswoman in the stationery shop “Bemol.”[A] Why the shop was called
by this name would be difficult to say; probably music had once been
sold there. It was situated in a turning off one of the boulevards, had
few customers, and Anna Nikolaevna used to spend whole days almost
alone. Her only assistant, the boy Fedka, lay down to sleep after
morning tea, woke up when it was time to run to the cookshop for dinner,
and on his return slept again. In the evening the proprietor, an old
German woman, Carolina Gustavovna, came in for half an hour, collected
the takings, and reproached Anna Nikolaevna for her inability to attract
customers. Anna Nikolaevna was dreadfully afraid of her and listened to
her without daring to utter a word. The shop was closed at nine; Anna
Nikolaevna went home to her aunt, drank weak tea with stale biscuits,
and went at once to bed.

 [A] Russian shops are often given fantastic names which are printed
 above the windows instead of the names of the owners.

At first Anna Nikolaevna thought she could find distraction in reading.
She got as many novels and old magazines as she could, and read them
conscientiously through page by page. But she mixed up the names of the
heroes in the novels, and she could never understand why they wrote
about the various imaginary Jeans and Blanches, and why they described
beautiful mornings, all of them exactly like one another. Reading was
for her labour and not relaxation, so she gave up books. Young men did
not unduly pester her with their attentions, for they did not find her
interesting. If one of the customers stayed too long talking
amiabilities to her, she went away into the little room behind the shop
and sent Fedka out. If any one tried to speak to her on her way home,
she would say no word, but either hasten her steps or just run as fast
as she could to her own door. She had no friends, she did not keep up a
correspondence with any of her schoolfellows, she only spoke to her aunt
about two words a day. And in this way the weeks and months went by.

Then Anna Nikolaevna began to make friends with the world which lay
around her--the world of paper, envelopes, postcards, pencils, pens, the
world of pictures, pictures in sets, pictures in relief, pictures for
cutting out. This world was to her more comprehensible than that of
books and was more friendly to her than the world of people. She soon
learned to know all the kinds of paper and pens, all the series of
postcards, and she named them all instead of calling them by numbers;
she began to love some of them and to count others as her enemies. To
her favourites she allotted the best places in the shop. She kept the
very newest boxes, those with an edging of gold paper, for the
writing-paper from a certain factory in Riga having the watermark of a
fish. The sets of pictures representing types of ancient Egyptians were
arranged in a special drawer in which she kept only these and some
penholders with little doves at the end of the holder. The postcards on
which were drawn “The Way to the Stars” she wrapped up separately in
rose-coloured paper and sealed them with a wafer like a forget-me-not.
But she hated the thick bloated-looking glass inkstands, hated the lined
transparent paper which would never keep straight and seemed always to
be laughing at her, hated the rolls of crinkled paper for lampshades,
proud and sumptuous looking. These things she would hide away in the
remotest corner of the shop.

Anna Nikolaevna rejoiced when she sold any of her favourite articles. It
was only when her store of this or that kind of thing began to run short
that she would get anxious and even dare to beg Carolina Gustavovna to
obtain a new supply as soon as possible. Once she unexpectedly got sold
out of the parts of the little letter-weights which acted badly and of
which she had grown fond because of their misfortune, the proprietor
herself sold the last one evening and would not order any more. Anna
Nikolaevna wept for two whole days after. When she sold the articles she
did not care for she felt vexed. When a customer took whole dozens of
ugly exercise books with blue flowers on the covers, or highly coloured
postcards with the portraits of actors, it seemed to her that her
favourites had been insulted. On such occasions she so stubbornly
dissuaded the customers from buying that many of them went out of the
shop without purchasing anything at all.

Anna Nikolaevna was convinced that everything in the shop understood
her. When she turned over the leaves of the quires of her beloved paper
they rustled so welcomingly. When she kissed the little doves on the
ends of the penholders they fluttered their little wooden wings. In the
quiet wintry days when it was snowing outside the hoar-frosted
window-pane with its ugly circles made by the warmth of the lamps, when
for whole hours no one came into the shop, she would hold long
conversations with all the things standing on the shelves or lying in
the drawers and boxes. She would listen to their unuttered speech and
exchange smiles and glances with the things she knew. In a rapture she
would spread out on the counter her favourite pictures--of angels,
flowers, Egyptians--and tell them fairy tales and listen to their
stories. Sometimes they all sang to her in a hardly audible chorus, a
soothing lullaby. Anna Nikolaevna would listen to this until an entering
customer would smile unkindly, thinking he had awakened her from sleep.

Before Christmas Anna Nikolaevna had a bad time. Customers were
unusually frequent. The shop was filled up with a pile of gaudy
eye-offending cards, with ugly crackers and gilt Christmas-tree
decorations, exposed in flimsy boxes. On the walls hung pull-off
calendars with portraits of great men. The shop was full of people and
there was no escape from them. But all the summer Anna Nikolaevna had a
complete rest. There was hardly any trade, very often the day passed
without a copeck being taken. The proprietor went away from Moscow for
whole months. In the shop it was dusty and suffocating, but quiet. Anna
Nikolaevna distributed her favourite pictures all over the shop, placed
her favourite pencils, pens and erasers in the best positions in the
glass cases. She cut out narrow ribbons from coloured cigarette-paper
and wreathed them round the stiff columns of the cupboards. She spoke in
loud whispers to her beloved objects, telling them about her own
childhood, about her mother, and weeping as she did so. And it seemed
to her that they comforted her. And so months and years went by.

Anna Nikolaevna never dreamed that her life might change. But one autumn
day Carolina Gustavovna, having come back to Moscow in a particularly
bad and quarrelsome mood, declared that there would be a general
stock-taking. The following Sunday a notice was pasted on the door:
“This shop is closed to-day.” Anna Nikolaevna looked on mournfully while
the proprietor’s fat fingers turned over the leaves of her best
notepaper, those delicate and elegant sheets, crumpling the edges;
carelessly flinging on to the counter her cherished penholders with the
doves. In the trade-book, where Anna Nikolaevna had written in her timid
pale handwriting, the proprietor scrawled rude remarks with flourishes
and ink-blots. Carolina Gustavovna found many things missing--whole
stacks of paper, some gross of pencils, and various separate articles--a
stereoscope, magnifying glasses, frames. Anna Nikolaevna felt sure she
had never seen them in the shop. Then Carolina Gustavovna calculated
that the takings had been growing less every month. This she brought to
the notice of Anna Nikolaevna and blamed her for it, called her a thief,
said she had no further use for her services, and dismissed her from her
post.

Anna Nikolaevna burst into tears, but did not dare to utter a word of
protest. When she got home, of course, she had to listen to her aunt’s
reproaches, who at first called her a good-for-nothing, and then changed
her tone and threatened to prosecute the German woman, saying she
couldn’t allow her niece to be insulted. But Anna Nikolaevna was not so
much afraid of losing her place nor troubled by the injustice of
Carolina Gustavovna; she could not bear to be separated from the beloved
things in the shop. She thought of the pictured angels balancing on the
clouds, of the heads of Marie Stuart, of the paper bearing the watermark
of a fish, of the familiar boxes and drawers, and sobbed unceasingly.
She remembered that happy evening hour when the lamps had just been
lighted, remembered her silent conversations with her friends and the
almost inaudible chorus sounding from the shelves, and her heart was
rent with despair. At the thought that never, never should she see her
loved ones again, she threw herself down upon her little bed and prayed
that she might die.

After about six weeks her aunt was happy to find her a new situation,
once more in a stationery shop, but in a much-frequented and busy
street. Anna Nikolaevna entered upon her new duties with a pang at her
heart. There were two others beside herself in the shop, another girl
and a young man. The master also spent the greater part of the day
there. There were many customers, for the shop was near several
educational institutions. All day Anna Nikolaevna was under the eyes of
the others, and they laughed at her and despised her. She did not find
her former beloved objects in the new shop. All the things were ordered
through other agents from different firms. Paper, pencils, pens--nothing
here seemed to be alive. And if there were any things like those in
“Bemol,” they did not recognise Anna Nikolaevna and it was useless for
her when she had a moment to whisper to them their tenderest names.

The only pleasure she had now was to look in at the windows of her old
shop on her way home in the evening, as it closed later than the new
one. She gazed through the dusty windowpanes into the well-known room.
Behind the counter stood the new saleswoman, a good-looking German girl
with her hair in curling-pins. In Fedka’s place was a tall
fifteen-year-old lad. Customers came laughing out of the shop, they had
found it pleasant inside. But Anna Nikolaevna believed that her friends,
the pictures and penholders and exercise books, remembered her and liked
it better in the old days, and this belief comforted her.

For a long while Anna Nikolaevna nursed the fancy that she would one day
go inside the shop once more and look again on the old cupboards and
show-cases, to show her beloved things that she still remembered them.
Several times she said to herself that it should be that day, but
changed her mind, being specially afraid of meeting the proprietor. But
one evening she saw Carolina Gustavovna come out of the shop and drive
away in a cab. This gave her courage. She opened the shop door and
entered with a beating heart. The German girl in the curl-papers was
preparing a captivating smile, but seeing a lady customer she contented
herself with a slight inclination of the head.

“What can I do for you, miss?”

“Give me ... give me ... some note-paper ... a quire ... with the
fishes.”

The German girl smiled condescendingly, guessing what was meant, and
went to the cupboard. Anna Nikolaevna watched her with distrustful and
mournful eyes. In her time this paper had been kept in the box with a
gold border. But the box was not there now. In its place there were ugly
black drawers labelled No. 4, 20 copecks, Ministry Paper 40 copecks. The
best places in the cupboards were occupied by the glass inkstands. A
pile of crinkled paper took up the whole of the lower shelf. The
postcards with the portraits of actors were arranged fan-wise and
fastened here and there on the walls. Everything had been moved,
displaced, changed.

The German girl put the paper in front of Anna Nikolaevna, asking her
which sort she wanted. Anna Nikolaevna eagerly took into her hands the
beautiful sheets which once had responded to her caressing touch, but
now they were stiff as death, and as pale. She looked round piteously,
everything was dead, everything was deaf and dumb.

“Thirty three copecks to you, miss.”

Even the price was altered. Anna Nikolaevna paid the money and went out
of the shop into the cold, holding the roll of paper tightly in her
hand. The October wind penetrated her short, well-worn coat. The light
of the street lamps was diffused in large blobs in the mist. All was
cold and hopeless.



RHEA SILVIA

A STORY FROM THE LIFE OF THE SIXTH CENTURY


I

Maria was the daughter of Rufus the Scribe. She was not yet ten years
old when on the 17th of December, 546, Rome was taken by Totila, the
king of the Goths. The magnanimous victor ordered bugles to be blown all
night, so that the Roman people might escape from their native town as
soon as they realised the danger of remaining there. Totila knew the
violence of his soldiers and he had no wish that all the population of
the ancient capital of the world should perish by the swords of the
Goths. So Rufus and his wife Florentia fled with their little daughter
Maria. An enormous crowd of refugees from Rome left the city through the
night by the Appian Way; hundreds of them falling exhausted on the road.
The greater number, among whom were Rufus and his family, succeeded in
getting as far as Bovillæ, where, however, very many were unable to find
shelter. Many of them had to camp out in the open. Later on they were
all scattered in various directions, seeking some place of refuge. Some
went to the Campagna and were taken prisoners by the Goths, who were in
possession there; some got as far as the sea and were even able to set
out for Sicily. The rest either remained as beggars in the neighbourhood
of Bovillæ or managed to get into Samnium.

Rufus had a friend living near Corbio. To this poor man, Anthony by
name, who earned a living by rearing pigs on a small plot of land, Rufus
brought his family. Anthony took the fugitives in and shared with them
his scanty store. And while living in the swineherd’s wretched hut Rufus
heard of all the misfortunes which came upon Rome. At one time Totila
threatened to raze the Eternal City to its foundations and turn it into
a place of pasture. But the Gothic king afterwards relented and
contented himself by burning several districts of the town and pillaging
all that still remained from the cupidity and violence of Alaric,
Genseric and Ricimer. In the spring of 547 Totila left Rome, but he took
off with him all the inhabitants who had remained in the city. For forty
days the capital of the world stood empty: there was not a human being
left in it, and along its streets wandered only frightened animals and
wild beasts. Then, timidly, a few at a time, the Romans began to return
to their city. And a little later Rome was occupied by Belisarius and
was once more united to the dominions of the Eastern empire.

Then Rufus and his family returned to Rome. They sought out their little
house on the Remuria, which by reason of its insignificance had been
spared by the spoilers. Almost all the poor belongings of Rufus were
found to be intact, including the library and its rolls of parchment, so
precious to the scribe. It seemed as if it might be possible to forget
all the misfortunes they had undergone, as in some oppressive dream, and
to continue their former life. But very soon it became clear that such a
hope was deceptive. The war was far from being at an end. Rome had to
endure another siege by Totila when again the inhabitants died in
hundreds from hunger and lack of water. Then when the Goths at length
raised their unsuccessful siege, Belisarius also left Rome, and the city
acknowledged the rule of the covetous Byzantine Konon, from whom the
Romans fled as from an enemy. At a later period the Goths, taking
advantage of treacherous sentries, occupied Rome for the second time.
This time, however, Totila not only refrained from plundering the city,
but he even strove to bring into it some kind of order, and he wished to
restore the ruined buildings. At length, after the death of Totila, Rome
was taken by Narses. This was in 552.

It would be difficult to show clearly how Rufus managed to live through
these six calamitous years. In the time of war and siege no one had need
of the art of a scribe. No one any longer gave Rufus an order for a
transcription from the works of the ancient poets or the fathers of the
Church. In the city there were no authorities to whom it might be
necessary to address petitions of various kinds. There were not many
people, money was very scarce and food supplies scarcer still. He had to
make a living by any kind of accidental work, serving either Goths or
Byzantines, not disdaining to be a stone-mason when the town walls were
being repaired or to be a porter of baggage for the troops. And with all
this the entire family often went hungry, not only for days, but for
whole weeks. Wine was not to be thought of; the only drink was bad water
from the cisterns or from the Tiber, for the aqueducts had been
destroyed by the Goths. It was only possible to endure such privations
by knowing that everybody without exception was subject to them. The
descendants of senators and patricians, the children of the richest and
most illustrious families would ask on the streets for a piece of bread,
as beggars. Rusticiana, the daughter of Symmachus and widow of Boethius,
held out her hand for alms.

It was not to be wondered at that during these years the little Maria
was left very much to her own devices. In her early childhood her father
had taught her to read both Greek and Latin. But after their return to
Rome he had no time to occupy himself further with her education. For
whole days together she would do just what she thought she would. Her
mother did not require her help in housekeeping, for there was hardly
any housekeeping to be done. In order to pass the time Maria used to
read the books which were still preserved in the house as there was no
one who would buy them. But more often she would go out of the house and
wander like a little wild animal about the deserted streets, forums and
squares, much too broad for the now insignificant populace. The few
passers-by soon became accustomed to the black-eyed girl in ragged
garments, who ran about everywhere like a mouse, and they paid no
attention to her. Rome became, as it were, an immense home for Maria.
She knew it better than any writer who had described its noteworthy
treasures of old time. Day after day she would go out into the immense
area of the city, where over a million people had once dwelt, and she
would learn to love some corners of it and detest others. And it was
often not until late evening that she would return to her father’s
cheerless roof, where it often happened that she would go supperless to
bed, after a whole day spent on her feet.

In her wanderings through the town Maria would visit the most remote
districts on either side of the Tiber, where there were empty partly
burnt down houses, and there she would dream of the greatness of Rome
in the past. She would examine the few statues which still remained
whole in the squares--the immense bull on the Bull forum, the giant
elephants in bronze on the Sacred Way, the statues of Domitian, Marcus
Aurelius, and other famous men of ancient time, the columns, obelisks
and bas-reliefs, striving to remember what she had read about them all,
and if her knowledge was scanty, she would supplement it by any story
she had read. She would go into the abandoned palaces of people who had
once been rich, and admire the pitiful remains of former luxury in the
decoration of the rooms, the mosaic of the floors, the various-coloured
marble of the walls, the sumptuous tables, chairs, candlesticks, which
in some places still remained. In this way she visited the ruined baths,
which were like separate towns within the city, and were entirely
deserted because there was no water to supply their insatiable pipes; in
some of the buildings could still be seen magnificent marble reservoirs,
mosaic floors, bathing chairs, baths of precious alabaster or porphyry,
and in places some half-destroyed statues which had escaped being used
by Goths and Byzantines as material for hurling at the enemy from the
ballista. In the quietness of the enormous rooms Maria would hear echoes
of the rich and careless lives of the thousands and thousands of people
who had gathered there daily to meet friends, to discuss literature or
philosophy, and to anoint their effeminate bodies before festival
banquets. In the Grand Circus--which now looked like a wild ravine, for
it was all overgrown with weeds and tall grasses--Maria thought of the
triumphant horse-racing competitions, on which thousands of spectators
had gazed and deafened the fortunate victors with a storm of applause.
She could not but know of these festivals, for the last of them (oh!
pitiful shadow of past splendour) had been arranged once more in her own
lifetime by Totila during his second sovereignty in Rome. Sometimes
Maria would simply walk along the Tiber bank, sit down in some
comfortable spot under some half-ruined wall, and look at the yellow
waters of the river, made famous by poets and artists, and in the
quietness of the deserted place she would think and dream, and think and
dream again.

She became accustomed to live in her dreams. The half-ruined,
half-abandoned town fed her imagination generously. Everything she heard
from her elders, everything she read in her disorderly fashion from her
father’s books, mingled itself together in her brain into a strange,
chaotic, but endlessly captivating representation of the great and
ancient city. She was convinced that the former Rome had been in reality
the concentration of all beauty, a marvellous town where all was
enchantment, where all life had been one continuous festival. Centuries
and epochs were confused in her poor little head, the times of Orestes
seemed to her no further away than the rule of Trajan, and the reign of
the wise Numa Pompilius as near as that of Odoacer. For her, antiquity
comprised all that preceded the Goths; far away but still happy was the
olden time, the rule of the great Theodoric; the new time began for her
at her birth, at the time of the first siege of Rome, in the time of
Belisarius. In antiquity everything seemed to Maria to be marvellous,
beautiful, wonderful; in the olden time all was attractive and
fortunate, in modern times everything was miserable and dreadful. And
she tried not to notice the cruel reality of the present, but to live in
her dreams in the antiquity which she loved, with her favourite heroes,
among whom were the god Bacchus; Camillus, the second founder of the
city; Caesar, who had been exalted up to the stars in the heavens;
Diocletian, the wisest of all people, and Romulus Augustulus, the
unhappiest of all the great. All these and many others whose names she
had only heard by chance were the beloved of her reveries and the
ordinary apparitions of her half-childish dreams.

Little by little in her dreams Maria created her own history of Rome,
not at all like that which was told at one time by the eloquent Livy and
afterwards by other historians and annalists. As she admired the
statues which still remained whole and read their half-erased
inscriptions, Maria interpreted everything in her own way and found
everywhere corroboration of her own unrestrained imagination. She said
to herself that such and such a statue represented the young Augustus,
and nothing would then have convinced her that it was--a bad portrait of
some half-barbarian who had lived only fifty years ago, and had forced
some ignorant maker of tombs to immortalise his features in a piece of
cheap marble. Or when she looked at a bas-relief depicting some scene
from the Odyssey she would create from it a long story in which her
beloved heroes would again figure--Mars, Brutus, or the emperor
Honorius, and would soon be convinced that she had read this story in
one of her father’s books. She would create legend after legend, myth
after myth, and live in their world as one more real than the world of
books, and still more real than the pitiful world which encompassed her.

After she had dreamed for a sufficiently long time, and when she felt
tired out by walking and exhausted by hunger, Maria would return home.
There her mother, who had become bad-tempered from the misfortunes she
had endured, would meet her gloomily, roughly push towards her a piece
of bread and a morsel of cheese, or a head of garlic if there happened
to be one in the kitchen, adding occasionally some scolding words to
the meagre supper. Maria, unsociable as a captive bird, would eat what
was given her and then hasten away to her little room and its hard bed
to dream again until she slept and then dream again in her sleep about
the blessed, dazzling times of antiquity. On especially happy days, when
her father happened to be at home and in a good temper, he would
sometimes have a chat with Maria. And their talk would quickly turn to
the ancient times, so dear to them both. Maria would question her father
about bygone Rome, and then hold her breath while the old scribe, led
away by his theme, would begin to talk of the great empire in the time
of Theodosius, or recite verses from the ancient poets, Virgil, Ausonias
and Claudian. And the chaos in her poor little head would fall into
still greater confusion, and at times it would begin to seem to her that
her actual life was only a dream, and that in reality she was living in
the blessed times of Ennius Augustus or Gratian.


II

After the occupation of Rome by Narses, life in the city began to take
more or less its ordinary course. The ruler established himself on the
Palatine, some of the desolated rooms of the Imperial palace were
renovated for him, and in the evenings they were lit up with lamps. The
Byzantines had brought money with them, and trade in Rome began to
revive. The main streets became comparatively safe and the impoverished
inhabitants of the empty Campagna brought provisions into Rome to sell.
Here and there wine taverns were reopened. There was even a demand for
articles of luxury, which were purchased mainly by the frivolous women
who, like a flock of ravens, followed the mongrel armies of the great
eunuch. Monks went to and fro along all the streets, and from them also
it was possible to make some sort of profit. The thirty or forty
thousand inhabitants now gathered together in Rome, including the
troops, gave to the city, especially in the central districts, the
appearance of a populous and even of a lively place.

There was found at length some real work for Rufus. Narses, and
afterwards his successor, the Byzantine general, received various
complaints and petitions for the copying of which the art of a scribe
was in request. The edicts of Justinian, acknowledging some of the acts
of the Gothic kings and repudiating others, afforded pretext for endless
chicanery and processes of law. Rufus sometimes had to copy papers
addressed directly to His Holiness the Emperor in Byzantium, and for
these he was comparatively well paid. And more important orders came to
him. A new monastery wanted to have a written list of its service-books.
A whimsical person ordered a copy of the poems of the famous Rutilius.
In the house of Rufus there was once more a certain sufficiency. The
family could have dinner every day and need no longer feel anxious about
the morrow.

Everything might have been well in Rufus’ home if the scribe, who had
aged greatly in consequence of years of deprivation, had not taken to
drink. Oftentimes he left all his earnings in some tavern or other. This
was a heavy blow for Florentia. She struggled in every way to combat the
unhappy passion of her husband and tried to take from him all the money
he earned, but Rufus descended to every sort of artifice and always
found means of getting drunk. Maria, on the contrary, loved the days of
her father’s drunken bouts. Then he would come home in a gay mood and
pay no attention to the tears and reproaches of Florentia, but would
eagerly call Maria to him, if she were at home, talk to her again
endlessly about the old greatness of the Eternal City, and read to her
verses from the old poets and those of his own composition. The
half-witted girl and her drunken father somehow understood one another,
and they often sat together till late in the night, after the angry
Florentia had left them and gone to bed alone.

Maria herself did not change her way of life. In vain her father when
sober forced her to help him in his work. In vain her mother was angry
with her daughter for not sharing with her the cares of housekeeping.
When Maria was obliged she would against her will sullenly transcribe a
few lines or peel a few onions, but at the first opportunity she would
run out of the house to wander all day again in her favourite corners of
the city. She was scolded on her return, but she listened silently to
all reproaches and made no reply. What mattered scoldings to her when in
her vision there still glistened all the sumptuous pictures with which
her imagination had been soothed while she had been hidden near a
porphyry basin in the baths of Caracullus or had lain secreted in the
thick grass on the banks of old Tiber. For the sake of not having her
visions taken from her she would willingly have endured blows and every
kind of torture. In these visions were all her life.

In the autumn of 554 Maria saw in the streets of Rome the triumphal
procession of Narses--the last triumph celebrated in the Eternal City.
The eunuch’s troops of many different races--among whom were Greeks,
Huns, Heruli, Gepidæ, Persians--passed in an inharmonious crowd along
the Sacred Way, bearing rich booty taken from the Goths. The soldiers
sang gay songs in the most diverse languages and their voices mingled in
wild and deafening cries. The general, crowned with laurel, drove in a
chariot drawn by white horses. At the gates of Rome he was met by men
dressed in white togas making themselves out to be senators. Narses went
through half-demolished Rome, along streets in which the grass had grown
up between the mighty paving-stones, in the direction of the Capitol.
There he laid down his crown before a statue of Justinian, obtained from
somewhere or other for this occasion. Then he went on foot through the
town once more, going back to the Basilica of St. Peter, where he was
met by the Pope and clergy in festival robes. The Roman people crowded
into the streets and gazed at the spectacle without any special
enthusiasm, though the chief actors had done their utmost to make it
magnificent. The Byzantine triumph was for Romans something foreign,
almost like a triumph of the enemies of their native land.

And on Maria the triumphal procession made no impression whatever. She
looked with indifferent eyes upon the medley of colours in the soldiers’
garments, on the triumphal toga of the eunuch--a small, beardless old
man with shifty eyes--and on the festal robes of the priests. The songs
and martial cries of the soldiers only aroused her horror. It all seemed
to her so different from the triumphs she had so often imagined in her
lonely visions--the triumphs of Augustus Vespasian, Valentian! Here
everything appeared to her to be strange and ugly; there, all had been
magnificence and beauty! And without waiting to see the whole of the
procession, Maria ran away from the basilica of St. Peter on to the
Appian Way, to the ruined baths of Caracullus, which she loved, so that
in the quietness of the marble hall she might weep freely over the
irrevocable past and see it anew in her dreams, living and beautiful as
it alone could be. Maria went home late that day and did not wish to
answer any questions as to whether she had seen the procession.

At this time Maria was nearly eighteen. She was not beautiful. She was
thin, her figure was undeveloped and with her wild black eyes and the
hectic colour in her cheeks she rather affrighted than attracted
attention. She had no friend. When the young girls of the neighbourhood
spoke to her she answered abruptly and in monosyllables, and hastened to
bring the conversation to an end. How could they--these other
girls--understand her secret dreams, her sacred visions? Of what could
she speak with them? She was thought not so much to be stupid as
imbecile. And then, she never went to church. Sometimes, on the deserted
streets a drunken passer-by would come up to her and try to take her arm
or embrace her. Then Maria would turn on him like a wild cat,
scratching, biting, hitting out with her fists, and she would be left in
peace. One young man, however, the son of a neighbouring coppersmith,
had wanted to pay attentions to her. When her mother spoke to her about
him Maria heard the news with unfeigned horror. When her mother became
insistent, saying that she could not now find a better husband anywhere
Maria began to sob in such desperation that Florentia left her alone,
making up her mind that her daughter was either too young to be married
or that she was indeed not quite in her right mind. So Maria was allowed
to live in freedom and to fill up her endless leisure time as she
pleased.

So passed days and weeks and months. Rufus worked and drank. Florentia
busied herself over her housekeeping and scolded. Both thought
themselves unhappy, and cursed their wretched fate. Maria alone was
happy in the world of her fancies. She began to pay less and less
attention to the hateful actuality of her surroundings. She went deeper
and deeper into the kingdom of her visions. She already held
conversations with the forms which her imagination created as with
living people. She used to return home with the conviction that to-day
she had met the goddess Vesta or the dictator Sulla. She would remember
the things she had imagined as if they had actually taken place. When
she talked with her father at nights she would tell him all her
remembrances, and the old Rufus would not be amazed. Every story of hers
gave him a pretext for being ready with some lines of poetry--he would
complete and develop the insane fancies of his daughter, and as she
listened sleepily to their strange conversations Florentia would
sometimes spit and pronounce a curse, sometimes cross herself and
whisper a prayer to the Holy Virgin.


III

In the spring following the triumphal procession of Narses Maria was one
day wandering near the ruined walls of the baths of Trajan, when she
noticed that in one place, where evidently the Esquiline Hill took its
rise, there was a strange opening in the ground, like an entrance
somewhere. The district was a deserted one; all around there were only
deserted and uninhabited houses; the pavements were broken and the steep
slope of the hill was overgrown with tall grass. After some effort Maria
succeeded in getting to the opening. Beyond it was a dark and narrow
passage. Without hesitation she crawled into it. She had to crawl for a
long way in utter darkness and in a stifling atmosphere. At the end of
the passage there was a sudden drop. When Maria’s eyes grew accustomed
to the darkness she could distinguish by the faint light which came from
the opening by which she had entered that in front of her was a spacious
hall of some unknown palace. After a little reflection the girl
considered that she would not be able to see it without a light. She
went back cautiously, and all that day she wandered about, pondering on
the matter. Rome seemed to her to be her own property, and she could
not endure the idea that there was anything in the city about which she
knew nothing.

The next day, having secured a home-made torch, Maria returned to the
place. Not without some danger to herself she got down into the hall she
had discovered and there lighted the torch. A stately chamber presented
itself to her gaze. The lower half of the walls was of marble, and above
it were painted marvellous pictures. Bronze statues stood in niches,
amazing work, for the statues seemed to be living people. It was
possible to distinguish that the floor, now covered with earth and
rubbish, was of mosaic. After admiring this new spectacle, Maria was
emboldened to go further. Through an immense door she passed into a
whole labyrinth of passages and cross-passages leading her into a new
hall, still more magnificent than the first. Further on was a long suite
of rooms, decorated with marble and gold, with wall paintings and
statuary; in many places there still remained valuable furniture and
various domestic articles of fine workmanship. Spiders, lizards,
sow-bugs ran all around; bats fluttered here and there; but Maria,
enthralled by the unique spectacle, saw nothing of them. Before her was
the life of ancient Rome, living, in all its fulness, discovered by her
at last.

How long she enjoyed herself there on that first day of her discovery
she did not know. She was overcome, either by her strong agitation or by
the foul atmosphere. When she came to her senses again she was on the
damp stone floor, and her torch was extinguished, having burnt itself
out. In utter darkness she began gropingly to seek a way out. She
wandered for a long time, for many hours, but only became confused in
the countless passages and rooms. In the misty consciousness of the girl
there was a glimmer of a notion that she was fated to die in this
unknown palace, which was itself buried under the ground. Such an idea
did not alarm Maria; on the contrary, it seemed to her both beautiful
and desirable to end her life among the splendid remains of ancient
life, in a marble hall, at the foot of a beautiful statue somewhere or
other. She was only sorry for one thing--that darkness lay around her,
and that she was not fated to see the beauty in the midst of which she
was to die.... Suddenly a ray of light shone before her. Gathering up
her strength, Maria went towards it. It was the light of the moon
shining through an opening like that by which she had entered the
palace. But this opening was in an entirely different hall. By great
efforts, scrambling up by the projections of the walls Maria got out
into the open air in an hour when the whole city was already asleep and
the moon reigned in her full glory over the heaps of the half-ruined
buildings. Keeping close by the walls, in order to attract no attention,
Maria reached home almost dead from exhaustion. Her father was absent,
he did not come home all that night, and her mother only uttered a few
coarse outcries.

After this Maria began daily to visit the subterranean palace she had
discovered. Little by little she learnt all its corridors and halls, so
that she could wander about them in utter darkness without fear of
losing her way again. She always carried with her, however, a little
lamp or a resin torch, so that she could adequately enjoy the sumptuous
decorations of the rooms. She learnt to know all about them. She knew
the rooms which were covered with paintings and decorations in crimson,
others where a yellow colour predominated, others which by the green of
the paintings reminded her of fresh meadows or of a garden, others which
were all white with ornamentations of black ebony: she knew all the wall
paintings, some of which depicted scenes from the lives of gods and
heroes, some showed the great battles of antiquity, some showed the
portraits of great men, others the ridiculous adventures of fauns and
cupids; she knew all the statues that were preserved in the palace, both
bronze and marble, the small busts in the niches, the glorious piece of
sculpture of entire figures of enormous size which represented three
people, a man and two youths, who were encircled in the coils of a
gigantic serpent and were vainly striving to free themselves from its
fatal embrace.

But of all the decorations in the underground palace Maria specially
loved one bas-relief. It represented a young girl, slim and graceful,
resting in a deep sleep in a kind of cave; near her stood a youth in
warlike armour, with a noble face of marvellous beauty; above them, and
as it were in the clouds, was depicted a woven basket containing two
young children, floating on a river. It seemed to Maria that the
features of the young girl in the picture were like her own. She
recognised herself in this slim sleeping princess, and for whole hours
she would untiringly admire her, imagining herself in her place. At
times Maria was ready to believe that some ancient artist had
marvellously divined that at some time a young girl Maria would appear
in the world, and that he had by anticipation, created her portrait in
the bas-relief of the mysterious enchanted palace, which must have been
preserved untouched under the earth for hundreds of years. The
significance of the other figures in the bas-relief was not realised by
her for a long while.

But one evening Maria happened once more to have a talk with her father,
who had come home drunk and in a gay mood. They were alone, for
Florentia, as usual, had left them to their foolish chattering and had
gone to bed. Maria told her father of the underground palace she had
discovered and of its treasures. The old Rufus listened to this story in
the same way as he heard all the other fancies of his daughter. When she
used to tell him that she had that day met Constantine the Great in the
street and that he had graciously conversed with her, Rufus would not be
surprised, but he would begin to talk about Constantine. And now, when
Maria spoke to him of the treasures of the underground palace the old
scribe at once talked about this palace.

“Yes, yes, little daughter,” said he. “Between the Palatine and the
Esquiline, it really is there. It is the Golden House of the emperor
Nero, the most beautiful palace ever built in Rome. Nero had not
sufficient space for it and he set fire to Rome. Rome was burnt, and the
emperor recited verses about the burning of Troy. And afterwards, on the
space that had been cleared, he built his Golden House. Yes, yes, it was
between the Palatine and the Esquiline; you’re right. There was nothing
more beautiful in the city. But after Nero’s death other emperors
destroyed the palace out of envy, and heaped earth upon it; it existed
no longer. They built houses and baths on its site. But it was the most
beautiful of all the palaces.”

Then, having become bolder, Maria told her father about her beloved
bas-relief. And again the old scribe was not surprised. He at once
explained to his daughter what the artist had wished to express--

“That, my daughter, is Rhea Silvia, the vestal virgin, daughter of King
Numitor. But a youth--this god Mars, fell in love with the maiden and
sought her out in the sacred cave. Twin sons were born to them, Romulus
and Remus. Rhea Silvia was drowned in the Tiber, the infants were
suckled by a wolf and they became the founders of the City. Yes, that is
how it all was, my daughter.”

Rufus told Maria in detail the touching story of the guilty vestal Ilia,
or Rhea Silvia, and he at once began to recite some lines from the
“Metamorphoses” of the ancient Naso:

    _Proximus Ausonias iniusti miles Amuli_
    _Rexit opes ..._

But Maria was not listening to her father, she was repeating quietly to
herself:

“It is--Rhea Silvia! Rhea Silvia!”


IV

After that day Maria spent still more of her time looking at the
wonderful bas-relief. She would take a scanty luncheon with her, as well
as a torch, so that she might stay some hours longer in the underground
palace, which she considered to be more her own home than her father’s
house. She would lie on the cold and slippery floor in front of the
sculptured daughter of Numitor, and by the faint light of her resinous
torch she would gaze for long hours at the features of the slender
maiden sleeping in the sacred cave. With every day it became more
apparent to Maria that she was strangely like this ancient vestal, and
little by little in her dreams, she became less able to distinguish
which was poor Maria, the daughter of Rufus the Scribe, and which the
unhappy Ilia, daughter of the King of Alba Longa. She always called
herself Rhea Silvia. Lying in front of the picture she would dream that
to her, in this new sacred cave, the god Mars would appear, and that
from their divine embraces there would be born of her the twins Romulus
and Remus, who would become the founders of the Eternal City. True, she
would have to pay for this by her death--and be drowned in the muddy
waters of the Tiber--but could death terrify Maria? She often fell
asleep while musing thus before the bas-relief, and dreamed of this same
god Mars with his noble face of marvellous beauty and his divine,
consuming embrace. And when she awoke she would not know whether it had
been dream or reality.

It was already scorching July, when the streets of Rome at midday were
as empty as after the terrible command of King Totila. But in the
underground palace it was damp and cool. Maria, as before, went there
every day to muse, in her habitual sweet reveries, before the pictured
Ilia, who lay dreaming of the god destined for her. And one day, when
in a slight doze, she was once again giving herself up to the ardent
caresses of the god Mars, suddenly a noise of some kind forced her to
awake. She opened her eyes, not understanding anything as yet, and
glanced around. By the light of the little torch which she had placed in
a cranny between the stones, she saw before her a young man. He was not
in warlike armour, but wore the dress usually worn at that time by poor
Romans; his face, however, was full of nobility, and to Maria it
appeared radiant with a marvellous beauty. For some moments she looked
with amazement on the unexpected apparition, on the man who had found
his way into this enchanted palace which she had thought unknown to
anyone save herself. Then, sitting upright on the floor, the girl asked
simply:

“You have come to me?”

The young man smiled a quiet and attractive smile, and answered by
another question.

“But who are you, maiden? The genius of this place?”

Maria answered:

“I--am Rhea Silvia, a vestal virgin, daughter of King Numitor. And are
you not the god Mars, come in search of me?”

“No, I am no god,” objected the young man. “I am a mortal, my name is
Agapit, and I was not searching here for you. But all the same, I am
glad to find you. Greeting to you, daughter of King Numitor!”

Maria invited the young man to sit down beside her, and he at once
consented. So they sat together, youth and maiden, on the damp floor, in
the magnificent hall of Nero’s Golden House, buried under ground, and
they looked into each other’s eyes and knew not at first what to talk
about. Then Maria pointed out the bas-relief to the young man and began
to tell him all the legend of the unhappy vestal. But the youth
interrupted her story.

“I know this, Rhea,” said he, “but how strange! The face of the girl in
the bas-relief is actually like yours.”

“It is I,” answered Maria.

So much conviction was in her words that the youth was perplexed and
knew not what to think. But Maria gently placed her hand on his shoulder
and began to speak ingratiatingly, almost timidly.

“Do not deny it:--you are the god Mars in the form of a mortal. But I
recognise you. I have expected you for a long while. I knew that you
would come. I am not afraid of death. Let them drown me in the Tiber.”

For a long while the young man listened to Maria’s incoherent speech.
All around was strange. This underground palace, known to no one, with
its magnificent apartments where only lizards and bats were living. And
the obscurity of this immense hall, barely lighted by the faint light of
the two torches. And this obscure maiden, like the Rhea Silvia of the
ancient bas-relief, with her unintelligible speeches, who in some
marvellous fashion had lighted upon the buried Golden House of Nero. The
young man felt that the rude actuality of the life he had lived just
before his entrance into the underground dwelling had vanished into thin
air as a dream disappears in the morning. In another moment he might
have believed that he himself was the god Mars, and that he had met here
his beloved, Ilia the vestal, the daughter of Numitor. Putting the
greatest restraint upon himself, he broke in upon Maria’s speech.

“Dear maiden,” said he, “listen to me. You are mistaken about me. I am
not he for whom you take me. I will tell you the whole truth. Agapit is
not my real name. I am a Goth, and my name is really Theodat. But I am
obliged to conceal my origin, for I should be put to death if it were
known. Haven’t you heard, by my pronunciation, that I am not a Roman.
When my fellow-countrymen left your city, I did not follow them. I love
Rome, I love its history and its tradition. I want to live and die in
the Eternal City, which once belonged to us. So now, under the name of
Agapit, I am in the service of an armourer; I work by day, and in the
evenings I wander about the city and admire its memorials which have
escaped destruction. As I knew that Nero’s Golden House had been built
on this spot, I got in to this underground palace so that I could admire
the remains of its former beauty. That is all. I have told you the whole
truth, and I do not think you will betray me, for one word from you
would be enough to have me put to death.”

Maria listened to the words of Theodat with incredulity and
dissatisfaction. After a little thought she said: “Why are you deceiving
me? Why do you wish to take the form of a Goth? Can I not see the nimbus
round your head? Mars Gradivus, for others thou art a god, for me thou
art my beloved. Do not mock thy poor bride, Rhea Silvia!”

Theodat looked again for a long while at the young girl who spoke such
foolish words, and he began to guess that Maria was not in her right
mind. And when this thought came into his head he said to himself, “Poor
girl! I will never take advantage of your unprotected state! This would
be unworthy of a Goth.” Then he gently put his arms around Maria and
began to talk to her as to a little child, not contradicting her strange
fancies but acknowledging himself to be the god Mars. And for a long
while they sat side by side in the semi-darkness, not exchanging one
kiss, talking and dreaming together of the future Rome which would be
founded by their twin sons Romulus and Remus. At last the torches began
to burn low, and Theodat said to Maria:

“Dear Rhea Silvia, it is already late. We must go away from here.”

“But you will come again to-morrow?” asked Maria.

Theodat looked at the young girl. She seemed to him strangely
attractive, with her thin, half-childish figure, the hectic flush on her
cheeks and her deep black eyes. There was an incomprehensible attraction
in this meeting of theirs in the dim hall of the buried palace, before
the marvellous bas-relief of an unknown artist. Theodat desired to
repeat these minutes of strange intercourse with the poor crazy girl,
and he answered:

“Yes, maiden, to-morrow at this hour, after my day’s work, I will come
again to you here.”

Hand in hand they went in the direction of the way out. Theodat had a
rope ladder with him. He helped Maria to climb up to the hole which
served as an entrance to the palace. Evening had already fallen when
they reached the streets.

Before they separated Theodat said once more, looking into Maria’s eyes:

“Remember, maiden, you must not tell anyone that you have met me. It
might cost me my life. Good-bye until to-morrow.”

He got out first into the open-air and was soon out of sight round a
bend of the road. Maria went slowly home. If it happened that evening
that she had a talk with her father, she would not tell him that at last
Mars Gradivus had come to her.


V

Theodat did not deceive Maria. Next day, towards evening he really came
again to the Golden House and to the bas-relief representing Mars and
Rhea Silvia, where Maria was already awaiting him. The young man had
brought with him some bread and cheese and some wine, and they had their
supper together in the magnificent hall of Nero’s palace. Maria mused
aloud again about the beauty of life in the past, about gods, heroes,
and emperors, mixing up stories of her own experiences with the
wanderings of her fancy; but Theodat, with his arm around the girl,
gently stroked her hand or her shoulder, and admired the black depth of
her eyes. Then they walked together through the empty underground rooms,
shedding the light of their torches on the great creations of Greek and
Roman genius. When they parted they again exchanged a promise to meet on
the following day.

From that time, every day, when Theodat had finished his dull labour at
the armourer’s workshop, where they made and repaired helmets, pikes,
and armour for the company of Byzantines who were garrisoning Rome, he
went to meet the strange young girl who thought herself to be the vestal
virgin Ilia, alive once more. There was an unconquerable attraction for
the young man in the lissom body of the girl and in her half-foolish
words, to which he was ready to listen for whole hours together. They
explored together all the halls, corridors, and rooms of the palace, as
far as they could get; they rejoiced together over each newly-found
statue, each newly-noticed bas-relief, and there was never a day but
some unexpected discovery filled their souls with a new rapture. Day
after day they lived in an unchanging happiness--enjoying the creations
of Art, and in moments of emotion before a new-found marble sculpture,
the work perhaps of Praxiteles, young man and maiden would lean towards
one another and embrace in a pure and blessed kiss.

Imperceptibly Theodat began to consider the Golden House of Nero as his
own home, and Maria became to him the nearest and dearest being in the
world. How this happened Theodat himself did not know. But all the rest
of the time which he spent on the earth seemed to him a burdensome and
distasteful obligation, and only the time that he spent with Rhea
Silvia underground, in the palace of the ancient emperor, seemed to him
to be real life. The whole day the young man awaited in a torture of
impatience the moment when he could at last leave the brass helmets and
hammers and pincers, and with the rope ladder hidden under his garments
run off to the slope of the Esquiline for his secret meeting. Only by
these meetings did Theodat reckon his days. If he had been asked what
attracted him in Maria he would have found it difficult to answer. But
without her, without her simple talk, without her strange eyes--all his
life would have seemed empty and void.

On the earth, in the armourer’s workshop, or in his own pitiful little
room which he rented from a priest, Theodat could reason sanely. He
would say to himself that this Rhea Silvia was a poor crazy girl, and
that he himself perhaps was doing wrong in corroborating her pernicious
fancies. But when he went down into the cool damp obscurity of the
Golden House, Theodat, as it were, changed everything--his thoughts and
his soul. He became something different, not what he was in the sultry
heat of the Roman day or in the stifling atmosphere of the forge. He
felt himself in another world there, where in reality could be met both
the vestal virgin Ilia, daughter of King Numitor, and the god Mars, who
had taken upon himself the form of a young Goth. In this world
everything was possible and all miracles were natural. In this world
the past was still living, and the fables of the poets were clearly
realised at every step.

Not that Theodat fully believed in Maria’s delusions. But when, before
some statue of an ancient emperor she would begin to speak of meeting
him on the Forum and talking with him, it seemed to Theodat that
something of the sort had actually taken place. When Maria told him
about the riches of her father, King Numitor, Theodat was ready to think
that she was speaking the truth. And when she had visions of the glories
of the future Rome, which would be founded by the new Romulus and Remus,
Theodat himself was led to develop these visions, and to speak about the
new victories of the Eternal City, its new conquests of territory, its
new world-wide fame.... And together they would imagine the names of the
coming emperors who would rule in their children’s city.... Maria always
spoke of herself as Rhea Silvia and of Theodat as Mars, and he became so
accustomed to these names that there were times when he deliberately
called himself by the name of the ancient Roman god of war. And when
both of them, young man and maiden, were intoxicated by the darkness and
by the marvellous creations of Art, by their nearness to one another and
by their strange half-crazy dreams, Theodat almost began to feel in his
veins the divine ichor of an Olympian god.

And again the days went by. At the very beginning of his acquaintance
with Maria, Theodat had promised himself to spare the crazy girl and not
to take advantage of her weak intellect and her unprotected state. But
with each new meeting it became in every way more and more difficult for
him to keep his word. Meeting every day the girl he already loved with
all the passion of youthful love, spending long hours with her alone in
this isolated place, in the half-darkness, touching her hands and
shoulders, feeling her breathing close beside him, and exchanging kisses
with her;--Theodat was obliged to use greater and greater effort not to
press the girl to himself in a strong embrace, not to draw her to him
with those caresses with which the god Mars had once drawn to himself
the first vestal. And Maria not only did not avoid such caresses, but
she even, as it were, sought them, leaning towards him, attracting him
to her with all her being. She lingered in Theodat’s arms when he kissed
her, she herself pressed him to her bosom when they were admiring the
statues and pictures, she seemed every moment to be questioning the
youth with her large black eyes, as if she were asking him, “When?”
“Will it be soon?” “I am tired of waiting.” Theodat would ask himself
“---- And can it be true that she is crazy? Then I must be crazy too!
And is not our craziness better than the reasonable life of other
people. Why should we deny ourselves the full joy of love?”

And so that which was inevitable came to its fulfilment. The marriage
chamber of Maria and Theodat was one of the magnificent halls of the
Golden House of Nero. The resin twists, lighted and placed in ancient
bronze candlesticks in the form of Cupids, were their bridal torches.
The union of the young couple was blessed by the marble gods, sculptured
by Praxiteles, who looked down with unearthly smiles from their niches
of porphyry. The great silence of the buried palace hid in itself the
first passionate sighs of the newly-wedded pair and their pale faces
were overshadowed by the mysterious obscurity of the underground palace.
There was no solemn banquet, no marriage songs, but long ages of glory
and power overshadowed the bridal couch, and its earth and ashes seemed
to the lovers softer and more desirable than the down of Pontine swans
in the sleeping apartments of Byzantium.

From that evening Maria and Theodat began to meet as lovers. Their long
talks were mingled with long caresses. They exchanged passionate
confessions and passionate vows--in almost senseless speeches. They
wandered again through the empty rooms of the Golden House, not so much
attracted now by the pictures and statues, the marble walls and the
mosaics, as by the possibility in the new room to fall again and again
into each other’s embraces. They still dreamed of the future Rome which
would be founded by their children, but this happy vision was already
eclipsed by the happiness of their unrestrained kisses in whose burning
atmosphere vanished not only actuality but also dreams. They still
called themselves Rhea Silvia and the god Mars, but they had already
become poor earthly lovers, a happy couple, like thousands and thousands
of others living on the earth after thousands and thousands of
centuries.


VI

Never, outside the hall of the subterranean palace, did Theodat try to
meet Maria nor she him. They only existed for one another in the Golden
House of Nero. Perhaps they might even not have recognised one another
on the earth. Theodat might have ceased to be for Maria the god Mars,
and Maria would not have seemed to Theodat beautiful and wonderful.
Truly, after their union, the honourable young Goth had said to himself
that he ought to find out the real relatives of the young girl, to marry
her and openly acknowledge her as his wife before all people. But day
after day he put off the fulfilment of this resolve; it would have been
terrible for him to destroy the fairy-like enchantment in which he was
living, terrible to exchange the unheard of ways of the underground hall
for the ordinary realities. Perhaps Theodat did not thus explain his
delay to himself, but, all the same, he did not hasten to bring to an
end the burning happiness of these secret meetings, and every time he
parted with Maria he renewed his vow to her that on the morrow he would
come again. And she expected him and asked for nothing more; for her
this visionary blessedness was sufficient--to be the beloved of a god.

“Thou wilt always love me?” Theodat would ask, pressing the lissom body
of Maria in his strong arms.

But she would shake her head and say:

“I will love thee until death. But thou art an immortal, and soon I must
die. They will drown me in the waters of the Tiber.”

“No, no,” Theodat would say, “that will not happen. We shall live
together and die together. Without thee I do not wish to be immortal.
And after death we shall love each other just the same there in our
Olympus.”

But Maria would look at him distrustfully. She expected death and was
prepared for it. She only wished one thing--to prolong her happiness as
long as it was possible.

The young man told himself that he ought secretly to follow Maria and
find out where she lived--go to her real home and to her true father
and tell him that he, Agapit, loved this young girl and wanted to make
her his wife. But when the hour of parting drew near, when Maria having
heard Theodat vow that he would come again to-morrow to the Golden
House, glided away like a thin shadow into the evening distance--the
youth would once more postpone his action. “Let this be put off another
day! Let us meet once more as Rhea Silvia and the god Mars! Let this
fairy tale still continue.” And he would go home, to the little room he
rented from the priest, to dream all night of his beloved and solace
himself with the new happiness of remembrance. And Theodat never asked
anyone about the strange black-eyed girl, though almost everyone in Rome
knew Maria. But in reality he did not wish to know anything about her
except this--that she was the vestal Ilia, and that every evening she
lovingly awaited him in the subterranean hall of Nero’s underground
palace.

But one day Maria having waited till the evening, awaited Theodat in
vain; the youth did not come. Grieved and disturbed, Maria went home
again. Her mind had in a way become somewhat clearer since she had given
herself to Theodat and she was able to console herself with the thought
that something must have prevented him from coming. But the youth did
not come the next day, nor the next. He suddenly disappeared completely
and it was in vain that Maria waited for him at the appointed place hour
after hour, day after day--waited in anguish, in despair, sobbing,
praying to the ancient gods, and using the words which her mother had
once taught her: there came no answer to her tears and prayers. As
before, an unearthly smile played over the faces of the gods in their
niches in the walls; as before, the superb rooms of the ancient palace
gleamed with paintings and mosaics, but the Golden House suddenly became
empty and terrible for Maria. From a blessed paradise, from the land of
the Elysian fields, it had suddenly been changed into a hall of cruel
torture, into a black Tartarus where was only horror and solitude,
unendurable grief and unbearable pain. With an insane hope Maria went
every day as before to the underground dwelling, but now she went there
as to a place of torture. There awaited her the hours of disappointed
expectation, the terrible reminders of her late happiness and her
long-renewed inconsolable tears.

It was most terrible of all, most distressing of all, near the
bas-relief which represented Rhea Silvia sleeping in the sacred cave
with the god Mars coming towards her. All her remembrances drew Maria to
this bas-relief, yet near it the most unconquerable grief would
overwhelm her soul. She would fall on the floor and beat her head
against the stone mosaic pavement, closing her eyes that she might not
behold the radiant face of the god. “Come back, come back!” she would
repeat in her frenzy. “Come just once again! Divine, immortal; have pity
on my sufferings. Let me see thee once again. I have not yet told thee
all, have not given thee all my kisses; I must, I must see thee once
again in life. And after that let me die, let them cast me into the
waters of the Tiber, and I will not resist. Have pity on me, Divine
One!” And Maria would open her eyes again, and by the faint light of the
torch she would see the unmoved face of the sculptured god and then once
more the remembrance of the blessedness which had suddenly been taken
away from her would overwhelm her and she would burst into new tears and
sobs and wails. And she herself would hardly know if the god Mars had
come to her, if in her life there had been those days of perfect
happiness or if she had dreamed them amongst thousands of other dreams.

With every day her expectations grew more hopeless. Every day she would
return to her home more anguished and more shaken. In those hours when
there were glimmerings of consciousness in her soul she remembered dimly
all that Theodat had once told her about himself. Then she would wander
through the streets of Rome, and under various pretexts she would look
into all the armourer’s workshops, but nowhere did she meet with him she
sought. To speak to anyone of her grief and of her vanished happiness
was impossible for her and no one would have believed the stories of the
poor crazy girl--everyone would have considered them to be new
wanderings of her disordered imagination. So Maria lived alone with her
grief and her despair, and her mother only shook her head dejectedly as
she saw her becoming thinner and more wasted, her cheeks more sunken and
her eyes burning more feverishly and with more strange and fiery
reflections.

But the days passed by inconsolably--for the poor crazy girl, for the
despoiled Eternal City, and for the whole world in which a new life was
slowly coming to birth. The days went by; Justinian celebrated his final
victories over the remaining Goths, the Lombards thought out their
Italian campaign, the popes secretly forged the links of that chain
which in the future would connect Rome with all the world, the Romans
continued to live their poor and oppressed lives, and one day Maria
understood at last that she would become a mother. The vestal Rhea
Silvia to whom the god Mars had condescended from his Olympus, began to
feel within herself the pulsations of a new life--were they not the
twins, the new Romulus and Remus who must found the new Rome?

To no one, neither to father nor to mother, did Maria speak of what she
felt. It was her secret. But she was strangely quieted by her discovery.
Her dreams were being completely fulfilled. She must give birth to the
founders of Rome and afterwards await death in the muddy waters of the
Tiber.


VII

Sometimes guests would gather together in the house of old Rufus, a
neighbouring merchant who sold cheap women’s finery on the Forum, the
coppersmith’s son who at one time had wished to court Maria, an infirm
orator who could no longer find a use for his learning, and a few other
poverty stricken people who were dejectedly living out their days, only
meeting one another to complain of their unhappy lot. They would drink
poor wine and eat a little garlic, and among their customary complaints
they would cautiously interpolate bitter words about the Byzantine rule
and the inhuman demands of the new general who lived on the Palatine in
place of the departed eunuch Narses. Florentia would serve the guests,
and pour out wine for them, and at the speeches of the old orator she
would quietly cross herself at the mention of the accursed gods.

At one of these gatherings Maria was sitting in a corner of the room,
having come home that day earlier than usual from her wanderings. Nobody
paid any attention to her. They were all accustomed to see among them
the silent girl whom they had long ago considered to be insane. She
never joined in the conversation and no one ever addressed a remark to
her. She sat with her head bent in a melancholy fashion and never moved,
apparently hearing nothing of the speeches made by the drinking party.

On this day they were talking especially about the severity of the new
general. But the coppersmith’s son took upon himself to defend him.

“We must take into account,” said he, “that at the present time it is
necessary to act rigorously. There are many spies going about the city.
The barbarians may fall on us again. Then we should have to endure
another siege. These accursed Goths, when they took themselves out of
the town for good, had hidden their treasures in various places. And now
first one and then another of them comes back to Rome secretly and in
disguise, digs up the hidden treasure and carries it away. Such people
must be caught, and it would never do to be easy with them; the Romans
will have all their riches stolen.”

The words of the coppersmith’s son aroused curiosity. They began to ask
him questions. He readily told all that he knew about the treasures
hidden by the Goths in various parts of Rome, and how those of them who
had escaped destruction strove to seek out these stores and carry them
off. Then he added:

“And it’s only lately they caught one of them. He was clambering up the
Esquiline, where there is an opening in the ground. He had a
rope-ladder. They caught him and took him to the general. The general
promised to spare him if the accursed one would show exactly where the
treasure was hidden. But he was obstinate and would say nothing. They
tortured him and tortured him, but got nothing out of him. So they
tortured him to death.”

“And is he dead?” asked someone.

“Of course he’s dead,” said the coppersmith’s son.

Suddenly an unexpected illumination lit up the confused mind of Maria.
She stood up to her full height. Her large eyes grew still larger.
Pressing both hands to her bosom, she asked in a breaking voice:

“And what was his name, what was the name ... of this Goth?”

The coppersmith’s son knew all about it. So he answered at once:

“He called himself Agapit; he was working quite near here, in an
armourer’s workshop.”

And with a shriek, Maria fell face downwards on the floor.

       *       *       *       *       *

Maria was ill for a long while, for many weeks. On the first day of her
illness a child was born prematurely, a pitiful lump of flesh which it
was impossible to call either a boy or a girl. Florentia, with all her
harshness, loved her daughter. While Maria lay unconscious for many days
her mother tended her and never left her side. She called in a midwife
and a priest. When at length Maria came to her senses Florentia had no
reproachful tears for her, she only wept inconsolably and pressed her
daughter to her bosom. Her mother-soul had divined everything. Later on,
when Maria was a little better her mother told her all that had happened
and did not reproach her.

But Maria listened to her mother with a strange distrust. How could Rhea
Silvia believe it, when she was destined, by the will of the gods, to
bring forth the twins Romulus and Remus? Either the girl’s mind was
entirely overclouded or she believed her former dreams more than
actuality--at the words of her mother she merely shook her head in
weakness. She thought her mother was deceiving her, that during her
illness she had borne twins which had been taken from her, put into a
wicker-basket and thrown into the Tiber. But Maria knew that a wolf
would find and nourish them, for they must be the founders of the new
Rome.

As long as Maria was so weak that she could not raise her head no one
wondered that she would answer no questions and would be silent whole
days, neither asking for food nor drink nor wishing to pronounce a
monosyllable. But when she recovered a little and found strength to go
about the house Maria continued to be silent, hiding in her soul some
treasured thought. She did not even want to talk to her father any more
and she was not pleased when he began to declaim verses from the ancient
poets.

At length, one morning when her father had gone out on business and her
mother was at market Maria unexpectedly disappeared from home. No one
noticed her departure. And no one saw her again alive. But after some
days the muddy waters of the Tiber cast her lifeless body on the shore.

Poor girl! Poor vestal of the broken vows! One would like to believe
that throwing thy body into the cold embraces of the water thou wert
convinced that thy children, the twins Romulus and Remus, were at that
moment drinking the warm milk of the she-wolf, and that in time to come
they would raise up the first rampart of the future Eternal City. If in
the moment of thy death thou hadst no doubt of this, thou wert perhaps
the happiest of all the people in that pitiful half-destroyed Rome
towards which were already moving from the Alps the hordes of the wild
Lombards.



ELULI, SON OF ELULI

A STORY OF THE ANCIENT PHŒNICIANS


I

The young scholar Dutrail, whose works on the head ornaments of the
Carthaginians had already attracted attention, and Bouverie, his former
tutor, now his friend, a corresponding-member of the Academy of
Inscriptions, were working at some excavations on the western coast of
Africa, in the French Congo, south of Myamba. It was a small expedition,
fitted out by private means, and originally consisting of eight members.
Most of them, however, had been unable to endure the deadly climate, and
on one pretext or another had gone away. There remained only Dutrail,
whose youthful enthusiasm conquered all difficulties, and the old
Bouverie, who having all his life dreamed of taking part in important
excavations where his special knowledge was concerned, had in his old
age--thanks to the patronage of his young friend--obtained his desire.
The excavations were extremely interesting; no one had supposed the
Phœnician colony to have spread itself so far south on the West Coast
of Africa, extending even beyond the Equator. Every day’s work enriched
science and opened up new perspectives as to the position of Phœnicia
and her commercial relations in the ninth century B.C.

The work was, however, extremely arduous. No European had remained with
Dutrail and Bouverie except their servant Victor; all the workmen were
negroes of the place. True, it had been decided that in place of those
who had left other archæologists should come and bring with them not
only some French workmen and a new store of necessary instruments, guns,
and food supplies, but also the letters, books, and newspapers of which
Dutrail and Bouverie had long been deprived. But day followed day, and
the wished-for steamer did not appear. Their stores were decreasing,
they were obliged to hunt for their food, and Dutrail was especially
anxious about the exhaustion of their supply of cartridges; the natives
were already sullen and insubordinate, and in the event of a riot among
them their lack of arms might be dangerous. Besides this, the Frenchmen
suffered greatly from the climate and from the intolerable heat, which
was so great that in the daytime it was impossible to touch a stone
without burning the hand. And now at last the bold archæologists seemed
likely to be overcome by the malevolent local fever which had attacked
several of the company before their departure.

Dutrail triumphed over everything. Day after day he subsisted on the
flesh of seabirds tasting strongly of fish, and drank the warmish water
from a neighbouring spring; he kept the mutinous crowd of negro-workmen
in check and himself worked with them, and yet still found time at night
to write his diary and to keep a detailed account of all the
archæological treasures they had obtained. In the tiny hut which they
had built under the shelter of a cliff he had already put in order a
whole museum of wonderful things which had lain almost three centuries
in the earth and now being restored to the world would soon bring about
a revolution in Phœnician lore. Bouverie, on the contrary, though
desiring with all his soul to remain with his young friend, was
manifestly becoming weaker. It was more difficult for an old man to
struggle against misfortunes and deprivation. Often, as he worked, his
spade or his gun would simply drop from his hands and he himself would
fall unconscious to the ground. Added to this he had begun to have
attacks of the local fever. Dutrail tried to cure him with quinine and
the other medicines which were in their travelling medicine-chest, but
the old man’s strength was utterly giving way; his cheeks had fallen in,
his eyes burned with an unhealthy glitter, and at night-time he was
tortured by paroxysms of dry coughing, shivering fits, fever and
delirium.

Dutrail had long ago made up his mind to compel his friend to return to
Europe as soon as the steamer should come, but for a long while he had
been afraid to speak about the matter. He felt that the old man would
certainly refuse--would prefer, as a scholar, to die at his post, the
more so as lately he had often spoken of death. To Dutrail’s
astonishment, however, Bouverie himself began to speak of leaving,
saying it was evident that they must part, and although it was bitter
for him to abandon the work he had begun, his illness compelled him to
go, so that he might die in his native land. In the depths of his soul
Dutrail was almost offended by these last remarks of the old man, who
could prefer his superstitious desire--to be in his native land at the
moment of his death--before the high interest of scientific research,
but explaining this by Bouverie’s illness he at length applauded his
friend’s resolution, and said all that might be expected from him under
the circumstances--that the fever was not so dangerous, that it would
pass with the change of climate, that they would still do much work
together, and so forth.

Two days later Bouverie astonished his friend still further. On that day
the excavators had come upon a new and rich tomb. Dutrail was in ecstasy
over such a discovery and he could neither speak nor think of anything
else. But in the evening Bouverie called his former pupil to his side in
his half of the little hut and begged him to witness his will.

“I’m much to blame,” said Bouverie, “not to have made my will before,
but I’ve never had the time. All my life I’ve been entirely taken up
with science, and I have never had time to think about my own affairs.
But my health is getting so much worse that perhaps I shall never get
away from here, so I must formulate my last desires. We are only three
Europeans here, but you and Victor are enough to witness my will.”

So as not to agitate the old man, Dutrail agreed. The will was quite an
ordinary one. Bouverie left the little money he had to dispose of to a
niece, for he was unmarried and had no other relatives. He left small
sums to his old servant, to the owner of the house in which he had lived
for forty years, and to various other people. His collection of
Phœnician and Carthaginian antiquities, gathered together during his
long lifetime, the old man bequeathed to the Louvre, and some separate
small things--to his friends, Dutrail among the number.

Coming at length to the last clause, Bouverie said, in an agitated
manner:

“This, strictly speaking, ought not to be included in the will. It is
simply--my request to you personally, Dutrail. But listen to it all the
same.”

The request was that after his death Bouverie wanted his body to be sent
to France and buried in his native town by the side of his mother. As he
read this last clause of the will the old man could not restrain his
tears. In a breaking voice he began to implore that whatever might
happen his request should be fulfilled.

By a great effort Dutrail controlled his anger and answered as gently
and tenderly as he could.

“Devil take it, dear friend! You see, I’m quite sure you’re not so ill
as you think. If I agreed to witness your will, I did so for one reason,
to please you, and for another, because it is never superfluous to put
one’s affairs in order. But as I am strongly convinced that you will get
better and will laugh at your present anxiety about yourself, I will
permit myself to make some objections.”

With the greatest caution Dutrail pointed out to Bouverie that his
request could hardly be fulfilled; there were no means at hand for
embalming the body and no coffin which could be hermetically sealed. And
he asked whether it were worse to be after death under African palms
side by side with the dead of the great past than in some small
provincial French cemetery. The only thing it was possible to promise in
any case, under such circumstances, was that his body should be buried
here in Africa at first and afterwards taken to France, though this
would be difficult, troublesome, and, above all, useless.

“That’s what I was afraid of!” cried the old man despairingly. “I was
afraid that you would say just that. But I beg of you, I conjure you, to
fulfil my request, whatever it may cost you, even though ... even though
you may have to give up the excavations for a time.”

Bouverie entreated, begged, wept. And at last, in order to pacify the
old man, Dutrail was obliged to consent, to give his word of honour and
even his oath. The will was signed.


II

Next day, even before the sun had risen, their labours were resumed.
They began to excavate the magnificent tomb which they had come across
the evening before. It was evident that the Phœnician settlement
would show itself much more significant than they had at first supposed.
At least, the tomb they had discovered had clearly belonged to a rich
and powerful family, several generations of which had not only spent
their whole lives under the inhospitable skies of equatorial Africa, but
had also prepared here for themselves an eternal resting-place. The
sepulchre was built of massive blocks of stone and ornamented with
bas-reliefs. Dutrail untiringly directed the workmen and often took a
pick or a spade himself.

After great difficulty they succeeded in discovering the entrance to the
tomb--an enormous iron door that in spite of the twenty-eight centuries
which had elapsed since it was closed had to be carefully broken to
pieces. Having succeeded at last in forcing an entrance and letting
fresh air flow into the recesses of the tomb Dutrail and Bouverie went
in themselves, carrying torches in their hands. The picture which
presented itself to their gaze was enough to send an archæologist out of
his mind with delight. The tomb was apparently absolutely untouched. In
the midst of it a stone coffin was raised upon a stone platform in the
shape of a fantastic monster, and around this were many articles for
household use, some fine specimens of crescent-shaped lamps, implements
of war, images of gods, and other articles whose significance it would
have been difficult to define at once.

But the most striking fact was that the inner walls of the tomb were
almost entirely covered with paintings and inscriptions. With the inrush
of the fresh air, the colours of the paintings, as is always the case,
swiftly began to fade, but the inscriptions, which were written in some
sort of black composition and even cut out to some depth in the stone,
seemed as if wrought but yesterday. This especially enraptured Dutrail,
for until then he had come across very few Phœnician inscriptions. He
already had visions of unearthing here entirely new historical data,
information, for example, about the connection of the Phœnicians with
Atlantis, of which Shleeman’s nephew had read in a Phœnician
inscription on a vase found in Syria.

In spite of the scorching heat, Dutrail busied himself in transferring
all the things they had found to the museum, and he did not stop until
the last crescent-shaped lamp had been placed in the wished-for spot.
Then, carefully closing up the entrance to the tomb, the young scholar
lay down to rest; but no sooner had the heat abated a little than he was
again at work. He occupied himself in copying and deciphering the
inscriptions, a work which with all his splendid knowledge of the
language was extremely complicated. When evening came he had succeeded
in copying only an insignificant number of the inscriptions and in
approximately deciphering still fewer.

That night, sitting in their little hut, by the dim light of a lamp,
Dutrail shared his discoveries with Bouverie and begged his help in the
interpretation of various difficult expressions. One series of
inscriptions was clearly a simple genealogy leading up through ten or
twelve generations. But one contained an adjuration against violators of
the peace of the tomb. Dutrail interpreted it approximately thus:

“In the name of Astarte who has been down into hell may there be peace
for me, Eluli, son of Eluli, buried here. May I lie here for a thousand
years and for eternity. Nearest and dearest, fellow-countrymen and
strangers, friends and foes, I adjure: ‘Touch not my ashes, nor my gold,
nor the things belonging to me. If people persuade thee, give no ear to
them. And thou, bold man, reading these words which no human eye should
ever see, cursed be thou upon the earth and under the earth where is
neither eating nor drinking. Mayest thou never receive a place of rest
with Rephaim, never be buried in a tomb, never have a son nor any issue.
May the sun not warm thee, may wood never bear thee up upon water, may
there not depart from thee for one hour the demon of torture, formless,
pitiless, whose strength never becomes less.’”

The inscription was continued further, but the end was unintelligible.
Bouverie listened to the translation in profound silence and did not
wish to take any share in deciphering the rest. Pleading illness, he
went off to his own half of the hut behind a wooden partition. But
Dutrail sat on for a long while over his notes, consulting books they
had brought with them, thinking over every expression and striving to
understand every shade of meaning in the inscription.


III

Late that night, when Dutrail was already sleeping the sound sleep of a
wearied man, he was suddenly awakened by Bouverie. The old man had
lighted a candle, and by its light he seemed still paler than usual. His
hair was in disorder, his whole appearance indicated an extreme degree
of terror.

“What is the matter, Bouverie?” asked Dutrail. “You’re ill?”

Though it was difficult to struggle against his desire to sleep, Dutrail
made an effort to awake, remembering the serious illness of his old
friend. But Bouverie did not answer the question; he asked, in a broken
voice:

“Did you see him too?”

“Whom could I see?” objected Dutrail. “I’m so tired at the end of the
day that I sleep without dreaming.”

“This was not a dream,” said Bouverie sadly, “and I saw him go from me
towards you.”

“Whom?”

“The Phœnician whose tomb we dug out.”

“Your mind’s wandering, dear Bouverie,” said Dutrail. “You have fever:
I’ll prepare a dose of quinine for you.”

“I’m not wandering,” objected the old man obstinately. “I saw this man
quite clearly. He was shaven and beardless, with a wrinkled face, and he
was dressed as a soldier. He stood by my bed and looked threateningly at
me, and said....”

“Wait a moment,” interrupted Dutrail, trying to bring the old man to
reason--“in what language did he speak to you?”

“In Phœnician. I don’t know if perhaps at another time I should have
understood the Phœnician language, but at that moment I understood
every word.”

“What did the apparition say to you?”

“He said to me: ‘I--am Eluli, son of Eluli, he whose peaceful repose
you, strangers, have disturbed, not dreading my curse. Therefore I will
have vengeance on thee, and what has befallen me shall come upon thee.
Thy ashes shall not rest in thy native land, but shall be the prey of
the hyena and jackal. I will torment thee both sleeping and waking, all
thy life and after thy life, and until the end of time.’ When he had
said this he went towards you, and I thought you would see him too.”

Dutrail felt convinced that his friend’s state was the result of
illness, easily explained by the heat, by his continuous thinking about
death, and by the agitation consequent on their remarkable discovery.
Wishing to bring the old man into a reasonable frame of mind, Dutrail
did not remind him that apparitions were a delusion of sight, but he
tried to make clear all the implausibility of the vision.

“We did not excavate the tomb,” said he, “to insult the ashes lying
there, or to profit by the things collected there; we had a
disinterested scientific object. Eluli, son of Eluli, has no reason for
being angered with us. Science resurrects the past, and we, in raising
up Phœnician antiquities, have also raised up this Eluli. The old
Phœnician ought rather to be grateful to us for calling him from
oblivion. If it hadn’t been for us, who in our day would have known that
a thousand years before Christ there once lived in Africa a certain
Eluli, son of Eluli?”

Dutrail talked to the old man as to a sick child. At first Bouverie
would not listen to any arguments and he demanded what was clearly
impossible--that all the things should be taken back to the tomb at
once, and the tomb itself buried anew. Little by little, however, he
began to give way, and agreed to postpone the decision of the matter
until the morning. Then Dutrail lifted the old man in his arms and laid
him on his bed, covering him with quilts as he began to shiver, and sat
down by his bedside until the sick man fell into a restless and
disturbed sleep. “What havoc illness plays with even the clearest mind!”
he thought sadly.


IV

On the morrow, logic and the obviousness of Dutrail’s arguments gained
the day. Bouverie agreed that his vision had been the result of a
feverish delirium. He also agreed that it would be a crime against
science and against humanity to fill up the excavations of the tomb. The
work went on with the former enthusiasm. And in the tomb of Eluli and in
others near it they found even more precious historical things. The
friends only awaited the arrival of the steamer with the necessary tools
and some European workmen to begin excavating the town.

But Bouverie’s health did not improve. The fever did not leave him; he
often cried aloud at night and leapt from his bed in unreasoning terror.
Once the old man confessed that he had seen the Phœnician Eluli once
again. Dutrail thought it good to laugh at him, and after this the old
man spoke no more of his visions. But, all the same, he seemed to fade
daily, and he even began to manifest signs of mental disturbance: he was
afraid of the darkness and of the night, he did not wish to go into the
museum, and presently he absolutely abandoned the excavations. Dutrail
shook his head and waited impatiently for the steamer, hoping that a
sea-voyage and his return to France might do the old man good.

But in vain did the two friends await the steamer. When at length it
arrived, in the place where the members of the expedition had
established their little settlement nothing was found but a heap of
ashes and charred wood. It was evident that the negro-workmen had
mutinied, killed the Europeans and stolen their property and carried off
all the things which had been arranged in the museum. The great
discovery of Dutrail and Bouverie, which they had dreamed would enrich
Phœnician lore, was lost to mankind.



IN THE TOWER

A RECORDED DREAM


There is no doubt that I dreamed all this, dreamed it last night. True,
I never thought that a dream could be so circumstantial and so
consecutive. But none of the events of this dream have any connection
with what I am experiencing now or with anything that I can remember.
Yet how otherwise can a dream be differentiated from reality except in
this way--that it is divorced from the continuous chain of events which
occur in our waking hours?

I dreamed of a knight’s castle, somewhere on the shore of the sea.
Beyond it there was a field and a stunted yet ancient forest of pines.
In front of it there stretched an expanse of grey northern billows. The
castle had been roughly built with stone of a terrible thickness, and
from the side it looked like a wild and fantastic cliff. Its deep,
irregularly placed windows were like the nests of monstrous birds.
Within the castle were high gloomy chambers with sounding passages
between them.

As I now call to mind the furniture of the rooms, the dress of the
people about me, and other trifling details, I clearly understand to
what period my dream had taken me back. It was the life of the Middle
Ages, dreadful, austere, still half-savage, still full of impulses not
yet under control. But in the dream I had not at first this
understanding of the time but only a dull feeling that I myself was
foreign to that life into which I was plunged. I felt confusedly that I
was some kind of new-comer into that world.

At times this feeling was more intense. Something would suddenly begin
to torture my memory, like a name which one wants to remember and
cannot. When I was shooting birds with a cross-bow I would long for
another and more effective weapon. The knights, encased in their armour
of iron, accustomed to murder, seeking only for plunder, appeared to me
to be degenerates, and I foresaw the possibility of a different and more
refined existence. As I argued with the monks on scholastic questions, I
had a foretaste of some other kind of learning, deeper, fuller, freer.
But when I made an effort to bring something into my memory, my
consciousness was bedimmed anew.

I lived in the castle as a prisoner, or, more truly, as an hostage. A
special tower was allotted to me. I was treated with respect, but was
kept under guard. I had no definite occupation of any kind, and the lack
of employment was burdensome to me. But there was one thing which
brought happiness and ecstasy into my life: I was in love.

The governor of the castle was named Hugo von Rizen. He was a giant with
a voice of thunder and the strength of a bear. He was a widower. But he
had one daughter, Matilda, tall, graceful, bright-eyed. She was like St.
Catherine as the Italians paint her, and I loved her passionately and
tenderly. As Matilda took charge of all the housekeeping in the castle,
we used to meet several times a day, and every meeting would fill my
soul with blessing.

For a long while I could not make up my mind to tell Matilda of my love,
though of course my eyes betrayed my secret. I uttered the fateful words
quite unexpectedly, as it were, one morning at the close of winter. We
met on the narrow staircase leading to the watch-tower. And though it
had often happened that we had been alone together--in the snow-covered
garden, and in the dim hall, under the marvellous light of the moon, for
some reason or other it was specially at this moment that I felt I could
not be silent. I pressed myself close up against the wall, stretched out
my hands and said, “Matilda, I love you.” Matilda did not blench, she
simply bent her head and answered softly, “I love you too, you are my
chosen one.” Then she ran quickly up the stairs and I stood there,
against the wall, still holding out my hands.

In the most consecutive of dreams there is always some break in the
action. I can remember nothing of what happened in the days immediately
following my confession of love. I remember only that I was walking with
Matilda on the shore, though everything showed that some weeks must have
elapsed. The air was already filled with the odours of spring, but the
snow still lay on the ground. The waves, with thunderous noise, were
rolling in with white crests on to the stony beach.

It was evening, and the sun was sinking into the sea, like a magic bird
of fire, setting the edges of the clouds aflame. We walked along side by
side.

Matilda was wearing a coat lined with ermine, and the ends of her white
scarf floated in the wind. We dreamed of the future, the happy future,
forgetting that we were children of different races, and that between us
lay an abyss of national enmity.

It was difficult for us to talk, because I did not know Matilda’s
language very well, and she was quite ignorant of mine, but we
understood much, even without words. And even now my heart trembles as I
remember this walk along the shore within sight of the gloomy castle, in
the rays of the setting sun. I was experiencing and living through true
happiness, whether awake or in a dream--what difference does it make?

It must have been on the following morning that I was told Hugo wished
to speak to me. I was taken into his presence. He was seated on a high
bench covered with elk-furs. A monk was reading a letter to him. Hugo
was glowering and angry. When he saw me, he said sternly:

“Aha! Do you know what your countrymen are doing? Was it such a little
thing for us to defeat you at Isborsk. We set fire to Pskov, and you
besought us to have mercy. Now you’re asking help from Alexander, who
glories in the appellation of Nevsky. But we are not like the Swedes!
Sit down and write to your people of our might, so that they may be
brought to reason. And if you refuse, then you and all the other
hostages will pay cruelly for your refusal.”

It is difficult to explain fully what feelings took possession of me
then. Love for my native land was the first which spoke powerfully in my
soul--an elemental, inexplicable love, like one’s love towards one’s
mother. I felt that I was a Russian, that in front of me were enemies,
that here I stood for all Russia. At the same moment, I perceived and
acknowledged with bitterness that the happiness of which Matilda and I
had dreamed had for ever departed from me, that my love for a woman must
be sacrificed to my love for my native land....

But scarcely had these feelings filled my soul, when in the very depths
of my consciousness there suddenly flamed an unexpected light. I
understood that I was sleeping, that everything--the castle, Hugo,
Matilda, and my love for her, everything was but a dream. And I suddenly
wanted to laugh in the faces of this stern knight and his
monk-assistant, for I knew already that I should wake and there would be
nothing--no danger, no grief. I felt an inconquerable courage in my
soul, because I could go away from my enemies into that world whither
they were unable to follow me.

Holding my head high, I replied to Hugo:

“You know yourself that this is not true. Who called you to these lands?
This sea is Russian from time immemorial, it belonged to the Varyagi.
You came here to convert the people, and instead of that you have built
castles on the hills, you oppress the people and you threaten our towns
even as far as to Ladoga itself. Alexander Nevsky undertook a holy work.
I rejoice that the people of Pskov had no pity on their hostages. I will
not write what you wish, but I will encourage them to fight against you.
God will defend the right!”

I said this as if I were declaiming upon a stage, and I purposely chose
ancient expressions so that my language might fit the period, but my
words threw Hugo into a frenzy.

“Dog!” cried he to me. “Tartar slave! I will order you to be broken on
the wheel!”

Then there came swiftly to my remembrance, as if it had been a
revelation, given to a seer from on high, the whole course of Russian
history, and I spoke to the German triumphantly and sternly, as a
prophet:

“Know this, that Alexander will overcome you on the ice of the Chudsky
Lake. Knights without number will there be hewn down. And our
descendants will take all this land under their domination and have your
descendants in subjection to them.”

“Take him away!” cried Hugo, the veins of his neck swelling and purpling
with anger.

The servants led me away, not to my tower, but to a noisome underground
place, a dungeon.

The days dragged away in the damp and darkness. I lay on rotting straw,
mouldy bread was thrown into me for food, for whole days I heard no
sound of a human voice. My garments were soon in rags, my hair was
matted, my body was covered with sores. Only in unattainable dreams did
I picture to myself the sea and the sunlight, the spring, the fresh air,
and Matilda. And in the near future the wheel and whipping-post awaited
me.

As the joy of my meetings with Matilda had been real to me, so were my
sufferings in her father’s dungeon. But the consciousness in myself that
I was sleeping and having a bad dream did not become dim. Knowing that
the moment of awakening was at hand and that the walls of my prison
would disperse as a mist, I found in myself the strength to bear all my
tortures unrepiningly. When the Germans proposed that I should buy my
freedom with the price of treachery to my native land, I answered with a
defiant refusal. And my enemies themselves esteemed my firmness, which
cost me less than they thought.

Here my dream breaks off.... I may have perished by the hand of the
executioner, or have been delivered from bondage by the victory of the
Battle of Ice on April 5th, 1241, as were other hostages from Pskov. But
I simply awakened. And here I am, sitting at my writing-table,
surrounded by familiar and beloved books, and I am recording this long
dream, intending to begin the ordinary life of this day. Here, in this
world, among these people who are in the next room I am at home, I am
actually....

But a strange and dreadful thought quietly arises from the dark depths
of my consciousness. What if now I am sleeping and dreaming--and I shall
suddenly awake on the straw, in the underground dungeon of the castle of
Hugo von Rizen?

                       PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN
                    BY WILLIAM BRENDON AND SON, LTD
                               PLYMOUTH

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

with its magnicent=> with its magnificent {pg 120}





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