FROM THE COUNTESS TO COUNT VON JAROMAR.
|A Fellowe and his Wife||
MY DEAR ODO:
To-day I am tired, and am going to give myself up to letter-writing (a little), reading (not too much), scheming (just enouch to delight, and not to excite me), and dreaming (and as that in my present mood is most tempting of all, it shall have my freest largesse of time).
I am first about to clear off some correspondence, "all about nothing and every-thing," as Lotta Heideloff's little girl is wont to say with an air of profound wiseacredom. What an absurd child she is! Have I told you about her before ? The other day she was present when several people were drinking coffee and talking scandal. Herwegh made some remark about a Marchese Somebody, to the effect that it would be common-place to say of such a man that he had broken all the Ten Commandments ; the number should be extended at least to thirteen. Ulrich Heicieloff laughingly responded, "I have always heard, Friedrich, that you and the Marcliese were inseparable ! " I saw little Ottilie look fixedly at her beloved friend. "Ottilie," I asked, "do you believe that Herr Herwegh has broken all the Commandments ? " She glanced at me with calm, unsuspecting eyes as she replied in all seriousness, " Some of them I think he has only cracked! " Is not that far more delightful than the most cynical sayings of a Heine or a Voltaire ? Friedrich overheard it, and with a whimsical smile re-marked, sotto voce, " I have never married, and now shall probably go to my grave without the privilege of owning such a child. Yet I don't feel as though a new terror were added to Death!" I like him when he is whimsical, not when he is cynical. I told him that Lucrezia and I were going to become great friends. He smiled, but made no reply. I was displeased, and he saw it. "Friendship," he then added, in a tone that might or might not indicate sincerity, "friendship is impossible between a prince and, say, an office clerk; it is almost as difficult between a handsome man and a beautiful woman; between two beautiful women it is but a dream, a poetic fiction."
"You have little real belief in women," I replied scornfully. "On the contrary," he re-joined, "physiologically as well as otherwise, I think women superior to men. Woman is the nervous part of humanity, as man is the muscular."
Count Kourbaline, who is on the staff of the Russian embassy here, and an intimate friend of Herwegh's, though to me an objectionable man in every way, overheard and joined in our crisscross conversation. But I won't repeat what was said, though some of it was amusing enough, and a little, a very little, even witty ; still, it was all banal --- at least to me, who know so well that Herwegh is not really the man it is his pleasure in public to pretend he is. If he were, I should hate him, for all his greatness as a sculptor. Indeed, I shall tell him this some day.
Of course the talk drifted on to marriage. "There is only one thing essential to a satisfactory union," said Kourbaline. " Friendship," I hazarded. "Separation," suggested Herwegh. "Neither," exclaimed Kourbaline, " but merely that the husband should be deaf and that the wife should be blind." Somehow I can't enjoy these things as some people do. Even Lotta, who had joined us, laughed at what she called the Count's wickedness, and yet what he said was to her obviously a natural enough saying. I sometimes think I am very stupid. She (Lotta) turned to Kourbaline and told him to beware ; that there was a certain Viking Count away up in the north, who might appear at any moment. He made a fantastic grimace, and said something in French so rapidly that I did not catch it. It was something about Orpheus. I wonder what it was. Before I could ask Herwegh, who had turned for a moment to speak to some one passing, Kourbalinie had seated himself at the piano and was singing blithely
.And now I am tired writing to you. Don't be offended, for I am going to scribble to you at intervals betwixt this and bedtime ; only, as I hinted to you at the outset, I am in a variable mood to-day. I must enjoy my holiday in my own way. I shall write those little notes I spoke of. By the by, I have received a commission for another Undine, and whom do you think from? From a Grand-Duke, though his extremely High and Remote Mightiness is as yet known to me only through his intermediary, Count Kourbaline. And then I shall dip into some French books that have come for me - Bourget's Essais de'Pvy-cholog-ic Contemporaine, and Guy de Maupassant's new novel, and my favorite Shelley, perhaps. And then I shall dream and idle till lunch, and idle and dream till Signora Lucrezia makes her promised call. I wish I had never gone to the Villa Mallerini. Indeed, indeed, it would have been better had I flown northward, if but for a glimpse of you and the others.
It is only so in point of fact, for it has not yet struck two. I have lunched entirely off fruit and that delicious white curded goat's milk the Romans call riccotta, and a little of the light, delicate golden wine of Montefiascone, which to my depraved feminine palate is superior even to the best Orvieto, which you told me to thank the gods for each time I put it to my lips. It has been a pleasant day. I seem to be in a dream. One loses so much in even the best dreams, not knowing them to be dreams. Perhaps I may think differently some day. But to-day I am young, and alive, and happy ; and oh, it is so good to be so ! Christmas-day seems to me not only far away now, but almost as if it too were a dream. I wish it were, and that it would not recur. Have you ever noticed how naturally every beautiful thing either turns gold or lends itself to a golden touch? I watched a lone sunbeam steal through the curtains beside my open window and turn the olive-green shades into a richer tone; then upon a Japanese screen, which it made positively radiant ; then it lingered upon an old vellum-bound volume which I picked up at a book-stall in the Via Giulio Romano, and caused it to gleam like ivory in firelight. Ah, there! how a fugitive word will allure one. My sunbeam has wandered into a corner beyond my old tulip-wood piano, and there I leave it ; for that word "firelight" has called up Jaromar, and all the dear homely comforts and quiet beauty and---what can I call it ?--- northern delight. I have a sudden longing for the north at its bleakest, the pines heavy with snow and creaking in the rush of the wind ; the boom of the sea calling, calling, through the darkness; and above all for a corner in a certain room I know of in Schloss Jaromar, with no light save from a great pine-log fire, and no one speaking, not even you ---no sound except the wind around the Schloss gables and the crack, ---crackle---crash of the glowing logs. Oh, never believe that I am not as much a Northerner as you! I could give up just now my well-loved Rome, just as I have thrown aside that tiresome Guy de Maupassant. Fancy if the world were nothing but Boule de Sziif and Bel Ami on a large scale! And I could---
No Lucrezia yet ; but Herwegh has been here. I have had a long and earnest talk with him. He is not the man you suppose him to be. Even I have been unjust to him. You will perhaps think better of him when you learn that he spoke to me frankly about my position here, and even warned me not to see too much of the Rasellas and their English friend St. Clair, and all that set; indeed, he went as far as to put me on my guard with Count Kourbaline --- and this though Kourbaline is one of his intimate friends! I am somewhat perturbed, I confess, at his not having spoken to me about the Mallcrinis before. I told him frankly that he had no right to mislead me. But he was so contrite, and I saw too that he had erred out of loyalty to his friends, that I forgave him. It appears that Cesare has an evil reputation, and that there are even unpleasant rumors about Lucrezia. In a word, he was quite earnest about my seeing no more of her; and suggested in the most cavalier fashion that I should simply refuse to see her. This, of course, I cannot meanwhile consent to do. I have been her guest, and I have no reason for considering her a woman best left to her own devices. I cannot help regret at Herwegh's having spoken so strongly against her, though he obviously did so with reluctance and only to serve me. I did not tell him she was coming this afternoon, but neither did I let him understand that I was going to act on his advice unreservedly. This naturally led to the subject of the Christmas party and the sudden break-up. I could see that Herwegh was unwilling to say all he knew, so I did not press him. I gather that there was a duel between Cesare and one of his acquaintances whom he had wronged (or who had wronged him; I could not make out which), in which Lucrezia was also in some way involved. Friedrich, I imagine, was Cesare's second.
But I dropped the subject when I saw it was unwelcome. Herwegh surprised me by depreciating Rome as an art-centre, for a sculptor at any rate. He told me a great deal about Parisian art-life, and the great advantages of all kinds. He has made me quite in love with the idea. Imagine! he has taken a charming villa, with an immense studio, be-tween St. Cloud and Suresnes ---the loveliest part of the Seine near Paris. He declares Paris is the only place for a sculptor. I am so sorry that he thinks of leaving Rome. He is certainly the most astonishing person, to keep all this quiet till he had concluded his plans ---for he said little to the point at the Villa Mallerini.
I asked him what Count Kourbaline said before he turned away to sing. He laughed maliciously and replied that the Count was of the same mind as somebody else who wrote, or said, that for one Orpheus who went to hell to seek his wife, how many husbands would not even go to Paradise to find theirs. I said what I thought, and think, that Count Kourbaline is an essentially vulgar man, however high his social position may be; and that I was well content to drop the acquaintanceship. I think Herwegh was somewhat surprised that I showed so much resentment. But, to tell the truth, I am tired of these endless gibes at married people, and at women as women. I am glad to say that Herwegh absolutely agreed with me, and even admitted that his own habitual cynicism was only skin-deep. He has asked me to do something that makes me very proud and happy. He has been commissioned to draw a series of outline-illustrations to accompany the text of the Austrian poet Hammerling's fine poem Ahasuer in Rom; and he has begged me to collaborate with him. He has not time to do the whole series, nor, he affirms, the ability (or, as I should say for him, the mood); and he wants me to undertake ten or twelve. As, naturally, outline drawing has been my strong point with the pencil, I have agreed to try. It will take much time and thought to decide which lines or passages contain the happiest inspirations. Herwegh tells me that even financially it may be well worth my while, both immediately and prospectively.
Altogether I am in a very elated state of mind. Delightful possibilities are opening before me. It has all excited me so much that I am half inclined to forfeit my day's idleness, after all. Ten minutes after he had left, I saw that my room was just flooded with sunshine, and if it were not for Lucrezia's promised call, I should have gone out into the beautiful world, to rejoice in the sunlight and the gladness everywhere. How lovely winter is in the South.
But no, I must wait for Lucrezia. I am now lazily going to lie down and dream over Ahasuer in Rom and Shelley's Prometheus Unbound. One will help the other, I am sure.
I'll keep this open to add the account of the Mallerini's visit, and to tell you how the evening is to be passed. I wonder what she wants to confide or discover. Her sister-in-law sighed for France in the most ridiculous way; did I tell you? The woman had not been in Italy ten days !
Life certainly must be very pleasant in Paris. It is the centre of the Art-world. Fancy how charming in the spring months to live in a shady place on the Seine and yet quite close to Paris. And the freedom, and joyous company, and the --- oh, but I must not think of it! And yet, why not? This was to be my day of dreams.
Addio, sposo mio ; I go to my sofa to dream.
How horrible people can be! I feel very wretched to-night, and wish I were---well, anywhere save in Rome.
I have not much to tell you, after all. Lucrezia Mallerini came at five o'clock, and as she is not long gone, and it is about to strike six, her visit has been for less than an hour. It seems three times as long.
She told me a very wild and improbable and improbable story about herself and a lover, and Cesare's cruelty, and, in a word, more than confirmed Herwegh's hints about her having been implicated in the duel on Christmas night. I was very much distressed; her manner, too, was so extraordinary., Once I thought she was going to spring at me. At last I became wearied, and let her know that she had told me at once too much and too little, and that I could not see, either way, how I could interfere in the affair, directly or indirectly. Upon this she suddenly forgot herself completely. It is quite needless for me to repeat what she said, but I rose, and quietly begged her to withdraw, as the interview could now be productive of no good, and was most painful to me.
I do not know what the upshot would have been, but as I opened the door, there, to my astonishment and Lucrezia's consternation, stood her brother-in-law, Egidio Mallerini. " Your husband is seriously ill," he said, but in a harsh and almost insulting tone, while he not only did not lift his hat to me, but gave me a look which made me almost cry out.
"Your husband is seriously ill; so be so good as to recover from your hysterics and accompany me without delay."
I cannot repeat what she said. She is a slanderer as well as a traitorous and evil woman.
It all makes me so unhappy. Oh, how I wish I had never met this woman ---that I had never gone to their wretched villa!
P. S. I have just time to scribble these closing lines. Lilien Röhrich has sent for me to join them at dinner and go on afterwards to the opera to hear Mascagni's new piece. I am so glad merely to get out of my rooms and be amused. But don't worry about the Lucrezia episode. I shall soon forget the pain she has caused me. And, indeed, withal, I am sorry for her. But ---