A Fellowe and his Wife



Palazzo Malaspina,
                 November 21


Since writing to you yesterday I have read your letter again and again. It is in the main a noble and true letter and like yourself ---and yet!

Well, I am convinced that malignant sprites sometimes creep into one's letters, and weave such a spell about the simplest expressions that all kinds of horrid things are the result, and I am sure that an extra-large, an extra-malignant, and a horribly industrious sprite must have found its way into yours!

Something -- I can't define it --- keeps haunting, haunting me ! I wish I could shake it off. I am so touched, so deeply touched by all you say. And, Odo, I do care for you, surely you cannot really doubt this. I know how true is my affection and esteem for you ! But really, if -

Now I was going to say something that would anger you, my friend, but see --- I have not ! Instead, some foolish tears suddienly came into my eyes, and one little traitor has fallen upon my paper and made a great ugly, well-meaning "full stop" after "if."

Ah, those ifs ! There was once a beautiful princess, and she was called If ; and she lived in a lovely castle that was called If ; and it was the most delightful place in all the world. And men came from all parts to that dear land beyond the Rainbow, of which If is the capital, and every one wooed the charming princess If, and begged her to give him at least one word of comfort: and to each and all this good Genius ---for that is what she was ---gave a magic word wrapped in a little veil of golden mist; so that every one went back into his own place well content. She gave it to the poor and the rich, to the fortunate and the unfortunate, to the noble-minded and the mean-natured, to the good and the bad ; and each rejoiced in that little word, for it was the very image of the beautiful princess, and it uttered If in the most bewilderingly satisfying way. The poor man knew what he would do; the rich man went to the springs of health with it ; the fortunate and the good kissed it but flung it away, sometimes rashly and some-times only at the Gates of Heaven ; and the unfortunate and the evil held it up as a charm against the avenging Sword, and even thought to stay fate with its redeeming grace, and . . . Oh, Odo, Odo, I cannot write any more, I am so miserable! Yes, yes, I will write ; see, I have controlled my foolish self again. But, alas, how easy it would be to give another ver-sion to my If story! It is a poor wretched little elf without a soul, but with a smile on its lips and mockery in its voice.

But, Odo, you will have guessed something of what is in my mind. You cannot have forgotten how, when you said, "If my Ilse is the woman I take her for, she will come back to Jaromar," I answered, "But if your Ilse is not the woman you take her for, what then ?"

And again, Odo, you must remember how, the day before we were married, I drew you out of hearing of my father, and said to you in all seriousness, "If this thing that is to be between us, this bond of honor, prove a delusion, you must blame yourself as well as me. For I have warned you." And when you were about to interrupt eagerly, I added, "I do not know myself after all. I thought I did. I must go to this far-off Rome. But what if I "find myself"there, what if I know that Jaromar can never, never be to me" --- and then, alas, I chanced to look at my father, and in the afternoon glow I saw that the seams in his long black coat were almost as white as the hair that now falls about that dear worn face. I could not say another word; but, Odo, I must tell you now that when you clasped me in your arms and kissed me on the brow, I heard that miserable, miserable little word whirling in my ears ; and all the next morning even, when the bells were ringing so blithely, their tune was a jangled one for me, because it was all if-if - if.

Shall I whisper something into your car? Odo, dear, I have forgotten all the sadness and bitterness in your last letter ; I have kissed it away! and I have forgotten all my stupid ifs, and know only and care only to know that I am Ilse Ilsenstein, your old playmate and sweetheart; and that I love you, Odo---yes, that I love you.

But, my dear husband,--- see, I say it gladly and freely,--- if I have not drifted away from you, neither do I yet see the road that leads back to Jaromar. Surely, our love can wait. What is it in this thing "love" that is so impatient ? Why does it vex itself so ? If I were in love --- nay, forgive the phrase, dear; I was speaking, as it were, as a spectator; you understand me ? --- I should think a calm, unquestioning patience the finest attitude for either man or woman.

Oh, dear me! I had so much I wanted to say to you, but there is that tiresome bell. I know it is some one coming to see me. Who can it be? Do you ever catch yourself wondering idly thus? And do you know at what I am wondering most just now ? I will not tell you, for you would laugh at me. But I have coiled my hair in the way that old nameless sculptor did it in his Woman of Athens, and ---but no.more! I hear him, or her, coming. Addio, dear Odo.