Gay Hearts by
TRANSLATED BY BAYARD QUINCY MORGAN, PH.D.
Assistant Professor of German, University of Wisconsin
At Kadullen dinner was served in summer as early as four o'clock, so
as to leave the evening clear for summer amusements. Then the afternoon
light rested steadily on the extensive white garden-front and the three
ponderous gables of the manor. In the rectilinear beds the stocks
glinted like bright, wavy silk, and the scent of the box-hedges was
warm and bitter. A servant stationed himself on the steps of the garden
porch and rang a large bell as signal that it was time to dress for
The host, old Count Hamilcar of Wandl-Dux, was already completely
dressed and came out into the garden with his guest, Professor von
Pinitz. Count Hamilcar, very tall and slender in his black frock-coat,
had a slight stoop. His Panama was pulled low on his forehead. The
smooth-shaven face with the long, thin-lipped mouth had a touch of the
ascetic, like those faces in which everything that life has inscribed
upon them seems mitigated and as it were disavowed. With long strides
he began to walk down the garden path. The professor could hardly keep
step, for he was short and stout; his white vest was stretched tight
over his round paunch, and his face was red and heated under the
cinnamon-colored, stubbly whiskers. He was telling the count a
remarkable dream he had had; this was his interest at present, for he
intended to write a treatise on the theory of dreams, and the count was
giving him the material which he too had once gathered on this subject.
Count Hamilcar always had material gathered for the books which others
planned to write, but had never written one himself.
I never knew, he was wont to say, which one of my books to write,
and so I never wrote any.
Imagine, then, the professor was reporting, I was at the house of
my colleague Domnitz, in my dream, you know. Well, Domnitz laid both
hands on my shoulders, put on a very solemn face, and said in a very
deep voice, which he never has had, 'Colleague, I have found the basic,
original form of beauty, simply beauty-in-itself.' I tell you, I felt
it in all my limbs, a kind of fright or joy or emotion, I suppose, I
was so near weeping. Those are sensations which we can only have in
dreams. 'No, really,' I said, 'where is it?' 'There,' he said and
whyand showed it to me.
He showed it to you? asked the count, coming to a stop, welland
how did it look?
The professor squinted, as if to look sharply at some object. It
looked, he said, why, it really looked quite simple, you know. A
narrow white slab like the gravestones in the Jewish cemeteries, a yard
high, I guess, rounded at the top, and in the curve a face: the eyes
simply two points, the nose a vertical stroke, the mouth a horizontal
onethat was all. What do you say to that, ha?
Peculiar, said the count, looking out into the garden over the
Yes, but the most wonderful part of it was, continued the
professor, lowering his voice as if speaking of very mysterious things,
that I at once said 'Ah yes,' for it was immediately obvious to me,
and I knew that that was beauty-in-itself; yes, I felt as if I had
really known it for a long time. How do you explain that?
Why, that is not easy, replied the count a little absentmindedly,
still looking out into the garden.
[Illustration: A PORTRAIT] Adolf Münzer
Yonder between the hollyhocks and the beds of mallow there were now
signs of life. A bevy of young girls and men came down the path toward
the house, light summer dresses and flannel suits and an eager whirl of
voices. Now the professor also became silent and turned toward the
newcomers. There were his two daughters, big girls in flaming pink
batiste dresses and yellow sun-hats, both very heated. Both were
laughing at once in a high, rather shrill soprano. Beside them walked
Lieutenant von Rabitow of the Alexander Regiment, a little stiff-legged
in his white tennis suit. The count's two nephews, Egon and Moritz of
Hohenlicht, both students, both very fair, their hair parted all the
way down to their necks, had stopped midway and were sparring with
their racquets. Miss Demme, the governess, was chiding and pushing
fourteen-year-old Erika before her, and Erika opposed her by moving but
sluggishly her thin legs in their black stockings. The two old
gentlemen complacently let this wave of youthful life swirl by them.
Both smiled a little.
Do you see, Professor, yonder is instantly obvious beauty, too,
really beauty-in-itself, resumed the count, pointing to a bed full of
fat dark-red Sultan of Zanzibar roses, beside which his
seventeen-year-old daughter Billy was standing.
It was very pretty to see the girl standing there by the roses in
her light-blue summer dress, her round face pink and smiling and
hatless. In the blinding sunshine her hair had a deep, warm brown like
old port, and the whole picture was as richly colored as a flower-bed.
Beside Billy stood Marion Bonnechose, the daughter of the French
governess, who had been brought up with Billy; short and dark, with
brown eyes too large for her lean, somewhat yellowish face, which were
looking at Billy with watchful interest.
Certainly, said the professor, Countess Sibyl is indubitably very
beautiful, but the beauty-in-itself in my dream was simply a
semicircular white tablet.
The young people had disappeared in the house, and Billy and Marion
also ran toward it, their hands full of red roses. The garden grew
quiet again. The count threw his head back a little, and drew into his
long white nose the scents of the late summer flowers, of ripe plums
and early pears, with the expression of a gourmet drinking a
delicious wine. From the tennis-court a last straggler came, Boris
Dangellô. He walked slowly and thoughtfully with bowed head; only when
he passed the two gentlemen he saluted them and his fine pale face
smiled, but his eyes kept their brooding expression, as if they did not
wish to disturb their own sentimental beauty.
Also beauty, remarked the professor. Your nephew, Mr. von
Dangellô, looks unusually well.
But in this there was something that put out the count. For a young
person, he said severely, it is not advantageous to look so well:
that diverts and detracts.
You think so, murmured the professor, I don't know, I have no
experience in that line.
They had now reached the end of the garden path, stood still a
moment, and looked out over the garden gate upon the stubble-fields and
cropped meadows. Behind them the woods formed a blue-black frame about
the picture, yellow in the sunshinethat dense pine forest that
extended unbroken to the Russian border.
I do not know whether I am mistaken, the professor began again,
but it seems to me as if good looks were more general in the present
generation than in my youth. Nowadays every one looks well.
Possible, replied the count, but perhaps we are accountable for
it, too. We now have the right perspective, and you know that pictures
grow more beautiful when viewed from the right distance. But above all,
Professor, we need that. In our old age we wish to have beautiful youth
about us, we demand beauty of youth. That is very egoistic. We enjoy it
at our ease. But poor youth. Do you think 'being beautiful' is easy?
Beauty complicates destiny, imposes responsibilities, and above all it
disturbs our seclusion. Imagine, Professor, that you were very
beautiful. With every human being you encounter your face establishes
some relation, affects him, forces itself upon him, speaks to him,
whether you will or no. Beauty is a constant indiscretion. Would that
I ... I suppose I can't just imagine myself in that situation,
replied the professor.
The count smiled his restrained, somewhat crooked smile. Yes, yes,
we two have been spared these difficulties.
Then they turned and walked back toward the house.
On the porch they found Countess Betty, Count Hamilcar's sister, who
had been managing his household and bringing up his children ever since
he became a widower. She was dressed in her imposing white lace
burnous. The white face with its little pink cheeks looked very small
under the great lace cap fashionable in the sixties. Aunt Betty was
sitting as at a sick-bed beside the reclining chair on which her oldest
niece Lisa had stretched herself. Lisa, the divorced wife of Prince
Katakasianopulos, wearily leaned her head back and half closed her
eyes. Short tangled brown curls hung into the delicate pale face in a
kind of Ophelia-coiffure. She wore a black lace dress, for ever since
the annulling of her marriage she liked to dress in black. She had made
the acquaintance of her Greek at Biarritz, and had obstinately insisted
on marrying him. But when Prince Katakasianopulos proved himself an
impossible spouse, the family was happy to be rid of him again.
Lisa, however, had since then retained a tragic something which Aunt
Betty treated as sickness and invested with the most solicitous care.
The tutor, a stately Hanoverian, and Bob, the youngest of the family,
had also appeared on the scene.
How do you feel, Lady Princess? asked the professor.
Lisa smiled faintly. I thank you, a little weary.
We need rest, opined Aunt Betty.
In the background Bob's unmannerly voice echoed, Wary.
The count looked discontentedly at his daughter. For excessively
lyrical nerves, he said, perhaps a little employment would be
Why, Hamilcar, parried Aunt Betty.
Lisa raised her eyebrows resignedly and turned to the tutor to begin
an amiable conversation: Is it as hot as this in your home, too, Mr.
Upstairs Billy appeared at the door of the sun-parlor in a white
dress with red roses at her belt, and as she came down the steps to the
porch, all looked up at her and smiled involuntarily. She smiled too,
as if bringing something pleasant. Bob voiced the general feeling by
crying, Today Billy looks first-class again. Boris followed her and
at once took possession of her, to talk to her in a low voice. He
always spoke with ladies in that way, as if what he said were
All the inmates of the house were now assembled, except the
professor's wife. She always kept people waiting.
Oh yes, my wife, remarked the professor, she gives me sufficient
proof that time is something subjective. She always has her own.
At last she came, heated and with fluttering red cap-ribbons. They
could go to dinner.
Count Hamilcar loved this situation: to sit at the head of the long
table, look down the lines of young faces, and hear the buzzing of the
lowered voices. That cheered him. Then he kept up the conversation, and
tried to have it agreeable and harmonious. But today something like a
discordant note came into it.
They were talking politics. The professor was a patriot and a
National Liberal. He interrupted the consumption of his peas, seized a
crouton with thumb and forefinger, gesticulated with it, and said
Now, if you please, in science I as a scholar follow reason and
logic quite unreservedly, wherever they may lead me, but in politics it
is different, there an important factor is added, an emotion, the love
of the German fatherland. Understanding and logic must share the
supremacy with love, no, what am I sayingthey must be subordinate to
love; yes, actually subordinate. So I too am quite ready to be at times
illogical for love of the fatherland. Yes, my dear count, I am.
He looked triumphantly about him and laughed.
Surely, surely, said the count, it would be a bad thing anyway,
if we were not now and then willing to be illogical.
Here Boris bent forward and began to speak with his slightly singing
Slavic accent and his trilled r:
You are quite right, Professor, but it need not always be love, it
can also be hate. To us Poles hate is sacred too.
The count lifted his eyebrows and bent over his plate. I have
noticed, he said with an acrimony that surprised them all, that hate
as an occupation blunts the intellect.
Boris paled. He was about to flare up. I beg your pardon, uncle,
he began, but then he shrugged his shoulders and smiled ironically.
Both Billy and Marion, who sat opposite him, blushed and looked
anxiously at him. The two children farther down the table snickered.
There was an awkward pause, until the professor hastily began to speak
again. Boris was silent, looked down with an injured expression, and
refused all food. Billy and Marion had also lost all pleasure in
eating, and were glad when the meal ended.
The sun was already shining quite aslant through the fruit-trees
when coffee was served on the porch. Count Hamilcar smoked a cigarette
and looked complacently down the garden, which was again teeming with
life. At this hour his eyelids always grew a little heavy. Yonder along
the box-hedge Boris and Billy were walking up and down. Boris was
speaking eagerly, making large gestures with his slender white hand, so
that his many rings sparkled in the sun. There was in this something
that displeased the count, but he did not wish to be vexed while in
this agreeable situation. But when he rose and went to his room to rest
a little, he met his sister. He stopped, laid one finger along his
nose, and said, Betty, as I was going to say.
What then, Hamilcar, said the old lady, bending her head very far
back so as to look into her brother's eyes.
The count pointed through the window toward the box-hedge: Those
two out there, you ought to watch a little.
Oh, Hamilcar, said Betty, do let the young folks talk to each
other. We were young once ourselves.
Again the count smiled his restrained, crooked smile. Certainly,
Betty, we were young once, too, and it would surely be good if our
children had their own advantage from this experience of ours. Polish
brandy-eyes produce an unhealthy intoxication; we have had enough and
to spare of the Greek variety. You ought to watch a little.
With that he went into his room and stretched out on his sofa. He
loved this half hour of rest. He closed his eyes. The windows were wide
open. From the garden the voices came in to him, as they called,
sought, and joined each other, and with them was the unwearying
chirping of the field-crickets. How busy they are at their work,
thought the count, what a hurry they are in; it sounds as if each one
were madly reeling the thread off a spool. How those spools hum, how
feverish is the unrest in them. He felt agreeably aloof from this
unrest. As he dozed off, the voices seemed to withdraw, to become
subdued. Yes, yes, it must be so, the restless voices move away, die
away, and thenquiet. Yes, it will be soperhapswe shall see.
Below along the box-hedge, however, Boris and Billy were still
walking up and down. Boris was talking passionately at Billy. He was
quite pale with eloquence, and knew how to put a wonderfully unreserved
pathos into his words.
I know your father does not like me; he wishes to humiliate me. Of
course we are not loved here in your land. We are the irksome ones all
through history. Obstinate idealists are not loved. He who is born with
a pain, he who is brought up for a pain, is uncongenial, I know. To be
unhappy is out of date here among you, it is not comme il faut.
Oh, Boris, why do you talk so, said Billy in a voice hoarse with
emotion, we people here, all of us, like you.
Boris shrugged his shoulders. All of us, good heavens, as if I
cared about that. But you, Billy, I know you are good, you are for
me,but no, not as I understand it. Look, we Poles, all of us going
about with a wound in our hearts, understand love differently. We
demand a love which will take our side unconditionally, without a
question, without looking around, which is wholly, wholly, wholly for
us. But, and Boris made a gesture as if he were casting a world from
him, but, where do we find such a love?
The sun was now hanging above the fringe of forest, a raspberry-red
disk. Billy stood still and looked wide-eyed at the sun. The dark blue
of those eyes became bright with tears, and two tiny red suns were
reflected in them.
Oh, Boris, why must you talk so, she struggled to say, of course
you knowwhat shall I do, what can I do?
You can do everything, retorted Boris mysteriously.
Billy's heart swelled painfully with vast compassion for the
handsome pale lad before her, and it really seemed to her at this
moment as if she could do anything and everything for him.
The garden was now quite red with the light of evening. Everywhere
the young girls and men were standing together, excited by the violent,
many-colored light as by a festal illumination. Egon von Hohenlicht was
making the professor's daughters laugh, always simultaneously. Moritz
was walking about with Marion between the beds of stocks, and they were
speaking of Billy. Even little Miss Demme and the stately Hanoverian
were standing together a little to one side and whispering. Lisa had
had the reclining chair carried out to the grass-plot under the
pear-tree. There she lay motionless, as if she feared a movement might
disarrange the lovely ruddy light that floated over her. Lieutenant von
Rabitow had stretched out on the turf at her feet.
Oh, how beautiful that is, said Lisa with a softly plaintive
melody in her voice, seeing it thus, one would not believe that there
is so much pain on this earth too.
Quite right, remarked the lieutenant, but we must not think of
that. When I have taken my bath in the evening and finished my toilet,
and go down into the street,the restaurants are prettily lighted, and
when I turn a corner sharply I bump into dear little giggling girls,
and then I reflect a little and ask myself where I am goingwhy, then
I drive out of my own head the thought of being on duty tomorrow, with
recruits, et cetera.
I believe you are happy, Lieutenant von Rabitow, said Lisa softly.
On the veranda, again, Countess Betty and Madame Bonnechose were
sitting together, folding their hands in their laps and saying
reverently, Ah, la jeunesse, la chère jeunesse.
Only the two children were dissatisfied. Bob and Erika stood on the
garden-walk, grumbling because there was no prospect of some amusement:
a walk, or a general game.
If all of them never do anything but get engaged, said Bob, then
of course there's nothing doing. Boris takes possession of Billy as if
she was Poland.
That won't do him any good, remarked Erika, papa is against the
marriage, I know he is.
The sun had set. From the forest and across the meadows came a damp
breath that shook the branches of the old fruit-trees. Monotonous and
plaintive was the singing of the peasant-girls walking down the dusky
Bob had achieved his general game. One person stood by a tree and
counted, the others hid. Billy ran over to the dense barberry-bush.
There it was dark, and one smelled the boards of an old wooden box that
stood there, garden loam, and the sourish barberries. Billy was a
little breathless, her heart beat so violently, she heard it beat: it
sounded like soft steps running, hurry, hurry, toward an unknown goal.
A great agitation made Billy shrink and shudder, such an agitation as
makes the universally familiar things round about seem
strange,significant and as it were pregnant with secretly,
noiselessly advancing events. Billy was ready for any experience.
Boris' mellow voice seemed to raze all the barriers with which this
child had been solicitously hedged in. Ah yes, to be able to share
Boris' life, so full of great feelings and great wordsthis was what
Billy now must have.
Billy, she heard a low voice in the darkness.
It was Boris. Billy was not surprised; she had felt him so
passionately all this time that his presence seemed to her a matter of
Yes, Boris, she answered as softly.
He now stood quite close to her, she detected the strong, sweet
perfume he liked to use.
Billy, he said, I come to obtain certainty from you. He was
silent, but Billy could say nothing, and waited. The event whose
noiseless advance she had felt now stood before her.
Look, Billy, continued Boris, and his voice sounded a trifle dry
and pedagogical, I must know whether you are in my life that on which
I can absolutely rely. I cannot imagine my life without you, but for
that very reason I must not delude myself, for if I should be deluded
in this, it might be my destruction.
He waited again.
But Boris, you surely know began Billy, but he interrupted her
No, I don't know, I can't know. You don't understand me, all that
is quite different.
Billy was ready to weep; the stern voice that challenged her out of
the darkness was torturing her unspeakably. I do understand, certainly
I do. Why should I not understand you? Why do you say that? Go and talk
to papa tomorrow: they are all getting engaged, why must it be so
terribly sad in our case? She was ready to weep; wearily she sat down
on the old box. Then she heard Boris laugh softly, it was the quick,
proud laugh with which he loved to conceal his agitation. Now he too
sat down on the box, took Billy's hand, this cold girlish hand, into
his own, as if it were something fragile and precious, and began to
No, no, you don't understand me. Of course I shall speak with your
father, for I want to be correct; but what good will it do?your
father hates me. I have always had to fight for my happiness, and that
is what I want and you must want the same. Everything is immaterial, do
you hear?everything: only one thing matters, that you and I may be
united. I see only you, and you must see only me, and what comes of it
must not affect us, only you and I, you and I. He was still speaking
softly, but his voice resumed its passionately singing tone. He
intoxicated himself again with his own words, his own Self. If you
cannot do that, then say so at once, for then it is better for me to go
away, no matter what becomes of me. I can die, but to be deceived, that
goes beyond my strength. Can you do it? Speak, speak! And he pressed
her hand and shook it.
Yes, I can, replied Billy obediently.
Then, continued Boris, we are going toward each other on the same
road: on both sides there are high walls and we can see nothing but
this road, and you see me and I see you and we are going toward each
other, that is all. Do you understand?
Yes, said Billy, and she actually saw this yellow road between the
gray walls under a pale-gray sky, and two solitary figures going toward
It is immaterial, said Boris, whether our love is tragic, the
only point is the love itself. We Poles cannot help it if we are born
adventurers, history is to blame for that; but adventurers need
absolutely reliable companions. Are you one? Speak.
Now he drew her firmly to him and kissed her. The great words, her
great compassion, these lips that kissed her, these hands that
feverishly caught at herall this hurt her. O dear, she thought, if
only this were over. Please, she whispered, go now.
Boris at once released her, stood up, and said politely, If you
wish it. But Billy, I am afraid you are still holding quite aloof from
But I won't be aloof, cried Billy tearfully, and now her tears did
actually come. Boris stood there a moment in silence, then he softly
said Good night, and left her. Billy remained sitting on the box,
clapped her hands to her face, and wept. The night-dew was dripping
among the barberry bushes. Somewhere out yonder a bat was whirring
through the darkness, uttering its timid and infinitely lonely cry.
Billy was cold, and she was frightened too. She felt as if something
were advancing in the gloom that would take her and carry her away. But
what could she do?and anyway everything was immaterial now. She
belonged to Boris with his beautiful, incomprehensible pain.
She heard steps; some one stood beside her.
Billy, are you here? It was Marion.
Are you crying?
Yes, I ... I am crying.
Marion sat down on the box at Billy's side, also feeling very much
like crying. Both were silent for a time, then Marion asked,
Was he here?
Yes, replied Billy.
And did he, continued Marion, did he say anything? Are you
Yes, I believe so, Billy opined, but everything is very sad just
Again the two girls sat in silence side by side. Voices were heard
out in the garden, some one called, Billy! Marion! and then it became
Come, said Billy, getting up, but we won't join the others, for I
don't want to see anybody, nor do I want any tea; we'll go up to our
rooms without letting anybody see us.
Over the roof of the house the moon had risen; the garden was
suddenly alight and the shadows of the trees lay sharp and black on the
moonlit paths. The two girls crept past the bushes along the box-hedge;
from time to time they stood still and listened toward the veranda.
There the others were sitting, and Billy heard the voice of the
professor, then the voice of her father.
Death, my dear Professor, the latter was just saying, is
incomprehensible to us for this reason, that we apply to it the
standards of life. It is the same as with dreams. Apply to a dream the
standards of waking, and you will never find your way in it.
Good heavens, whispered Billy scornfully, they are talking about
death. Briskly the two girls slipped into the house. Upstairs in the
gable were their rooms, side by side, and they had in common a large
balcony which looked out on the garden. Billy's room was bright with
moonlight, hence she did not light a light. Has it come? she asked
Yes, said Marion, today in the mail, and she fetched out a small
package. By the light of the moon the two girls opened it; it contained
a white china jar with Anadyomenite on the lid, and in it was a white
salve which had a sweet odor of roses. Here are directions, too, said
Marion: she held up a slip in the moonlight and read, Spread a thin
coat of the salve on the face and then expose it for half an hour to a
soft light, preferably the light of the full moon. The skin becomes
transparent, lily-white ...
Good, good, interrupted Billy, then let's begin.
Silently and eagerly they went to work; carefully they coated their
faces with the salve before the mirror, moved chairs out on to the
balcony, sat there motionless, and looked up at the moon, which hung
round and yellow over the tops of the old maples facing them. Only at
long intervals did one of them say something.
You know, remarked Billy once, he has very long eyelashes.
Yes, said Marion, and they turn up a little. Then they were silent
In the avenue of maples below, Boris was restlessly walking up and
down. He was smoking cigarettes and thinking. He felt himself, he saw
himself today with particular strength and clearness, he the beloved,
beautiful youth with the tragic, exceptional fate. This caused him a
solemn excitement. But he also knew that he owed himself a significant
experience. Of course Billy was a part of it, that was settled, and now
he was devising plans, busily composing the destiny of the beautiful,
beloved youth. Occasionally he would stand still at the end of the
avenue and look up at the house, up at the balcony on which the white
figures of the two girls sat motionless, their shining faces turned
toward the moon.
Yonder between the flowerbeds the Princess Katakasianopulos was
slowly walking up and down, very slender in her black dress, very pale
in the moonlight. But then, who saw it? She too felt herself to be a
precious instrument of precious experiences. But where were they, for
whom these experiences were destined? At the end of the garden-walk she
stopped and looked pensively out upon the white mists that rose from
the meadow. Once she had lived for a month in Athens with her husband.
Perhaps she was yearning for Greece. Possible. But why was Boris
walking up and down alone in the avenue of maples? and why did the
lieutenant stay there with the others? She seemed to herself like a
festival which stands in lonely splendor, and of which all those who
are to celebrate it know nothing. But from the veranda the voice of
Count Hamilcar, calmly talking on, rang out into the moonlight night.
He was still explaining death to the professor.
A very bright August morning rested upon Kadullen. In the house it
was still quiet. Only Countess Betty was going through the sunny rooms
and pulling down the shades, for the day promised to be hot. Then she
went out into the garden to cut roses. At times she paused in her work
and squinted into the sunshine, looked over at the gardener's boys, or
followed with her eyes the kitchen-maids, coming from the truck-garden
with great baskets full of vegetables. On all sides this easy-going and
well-regulated life was busily stirring. That made her feel good. When
our own life gently begins to incline toward its end, we must warm
ourselves at the strong young life of others, keep our hands full of
great cool roses, and drink in with open lips the morning scent of this
garden. Some one spoke to her from the maple-avenue yonder. Ah yes,
that was Moritz, going down to the lake to bathe. The poor lad. Ever
since he had fallen so desperately in love with Billy, he never was out
of the water, was forever on his way to the lake. The dear children,
how they loved each other and caused each other pain, and how pretty it
all was. Aye, life, this beloved life. Query? will anything come about
between the lieutenant and Elsa. Countess Betty was going to talk to
Madame Bonnechose about it; she had a very keen eye for such matters.
She gathered her roses together and went into the house.
She was astonished to find Boris in the living-room as early as
this. In his suit of cream-colored silk, with the carnation-red belt,
he sat in a chair waiting, pale, very handsome, and a trifle solemn.
What? Up already, my boy? said the old lady.
Yes, said Boris seriously, I got up on purpose, for I sent to ask
uncle whether he would see me directly after breakfast; I must speak to
Countess Betty looked at her nephew uncertainly and a little
anxiously. Oh, that's it, well, why shouldn't he see you? Butwhat is
it? Is it about ... about
Boris nodded:Yes, about Billy.
Dear Boris, said the old lady, bending her head back a little so
as to look her nephew in the eyes, must that be, just at this time? It
will excite Billy soand your uncle, and me, and us all, and we have
just been so happy and so jolly together. Can't you put it off?
But Boris grew still more solemn: I am sorry, dear aunt, that I
must disturb the contentment here. That is, I fear, the part which I am
once and for all destined to play, and he laughed bitterly; no, I am
a kill-joy, but I do what I have to.
Oh, oh yes, said Countess Betty anxiously, well in that
caseperhaps ail will be well. I will go right up to see Billy, for in
any case she must stay in bed for the present; I will take her
breakfast to her. Busily she hurried away, and Boris again seated
himself in his chair, pale and resolute, and waited.
When Boris was called to his uncle, he found the latter in his
study, sitting by the window. He was smoking his morning cigar and
looking out into the courtyard. There the agricultural work of the
forenoon was actively going on. In the pond horses were being watered,
quite shiny in the sun. Harvest wagons rolled past, bright yellow
against the blue sky. The count turned carelessly toward his nephew,
nodded to him, and then immediately looked out of the window again.
Good morning, Boris, he said; you wanted to speak to me: very
well, be seated, please.
When Boris had seated himself, it was quite still in the room. He
had prepared so many big words to say, but here in this room before
this old man, whose thoughts seemed to be so far removed from all that
concerned Boris, nothing of what he had prepared now seemed to be in
keeping. Is he really only interested in the passing harvest wagons,
thought Boris, or is he maliciously shamming!
How that lad yonder lies on top of the load of barley, the count
now began, lolling for all the world like a king. He really has the
feeling of ownership now, even though not a straw belongs to him. He
has more feeling of ownership at this moment than I have here at my
window. Remarkable, isn't it? He turned to Boris. As he noticed the
tense expression on the pale face, he raised his eyebrows a little and
remarked, Oh, I remember, you wish to speak of yourself; I am
listening. Then he again looked out of the window.
Yes, uncle, said Boris, and his voice sounded vexed and
quarrelsome, I wanted to tell you that I ... I love Billy.
The count pulled at his cigar and then said slowly and with marked
Certainly, that is comprehensible. That is natural. Perhaps many
another lad will have the same experience. Billy is an unusually pretty
young girl, and so young men fall in love with her; that has always
been the way of the world.
But Billy loves me, too, Boris resolutely jerked out.
His uncle looked at him sharply out of his gray eyes; the face kept
its calm, only the nose seemed to grow still whiter: My dear Boris, in
my youth we too used to fall in love with young girls, and at times we
doubtless said, 'I am in love with such or such a one,' but to say,
'This young girl is madly in love with me,'that was not considered
good taste in those days.
Boris reddened, but he felt himself regaining his assurance, a
certain agreeable combativeness warmed his heart. He could actually
once more curl up his lips in that sad and proud smile, of which a lady
had once said to him: That is so pretty that it must be hard not to
disappoint people later on.
Perhaps it is not good taste, he said, but there are crises in
life when taste no longer has restraining force; I only meant to say
that Billy and I have come to an agreement. I lack taste, very well,
but only because I should like to be plain.
Oh, that is it, rejoined Count Hamilcar, and the cigar trembled a
little in his hand, then I too shall have to be plain. As I have
always taken an interest in you, I have frequently been called upon to
help you out of all the difficulties in which your recklessness, or, to
express myself less plainly, your interesting disposition has involved
you. Then since you know all that I know of you, you will understand
that for the happiness of my daughter I have not counted on you in any
Now Boris found his eloquence again, found again all the big words
that he had got ready yesterday in the maple-avenue, and he had to rise
from his chair to say them.
I know all that you have done for me, uncle. I know my failings,
too. But that is not what decides in this case. Billy's love for me is
undeserved good fortune. Such happiness is always undeserved. But not
to stretch out my hands toward it would be suicide for me, yes sheer
My dear boy, interrupted the count, the use of the word suicide
as a rhetorical device should be urgently discouraged, in the interests
of good taste.
Boris grew impassioned, and his voice rose to a high key: I care
nothing for rhetorical devices or good taste. The matter at issue is my
destiny, but that would of course be immaterial, immaterial to you. But
Billy is concerned, Billy gives me my right, and even if I am reckless
and unworthy and a bad match and unattractive, Billy's love is my
He had finished and re-seated himself in his chair. That had
relieved him. The count gently stroked his white nose and retorted,
The right to fall in love with my daughter I cannot deny you, nor
the right to ask me for the hand of my daughter, but what you just said
sounded rather as if you were asking me in Billy's name for your own
I wanted to be open and loyal toward you, replied Boris.
Oh, did you? remarked the count. You call it loyal, as a guest in
my house, to 'come to an agreement,' as you call it, behind my back,
with my seventeen-year-old daughter.
It was perhaps not correct, said Boris wearily and with a superior
air, but good gracious, when anything so powerful takes possession
here in the heart and here in the head, we simply give it utterance.
Sharply and angrily the count rejoined, A decent man keeps to
himself nine-tenths of what passes through his head and heart.
You wish to insult me, uncle, and Boris smiled his handsome
melancholy smile, very well, very well. Perhaps we Poles cannot keep
our heads and hearts as well in check as you Germans; but that does not
prevent us from being decent.
It costs little, my boy, scoffed the count, to lay our faults at
our nation's door; it cannot defend itself. Moreover ... He stopped,
for his cigar had gone out; he lit it with much ceremony, and when he
began to speak again the irritation was gone from his voice, and it had
once more its contemplatively nasal tone. The discussion here is
probably fruitless, we are neither of us sufficiently objective in this
matter. I therefore regret having to decline your proposal.
Boris rose and bowed formally. Then I presume I can go, he said.
Yes, replied the count, the subject is exhausted for now. It
should be added that I must beg you to terminate your visit here
Boris bowed again.
Of course in the afternoon, added the count.
Thank you, said Boris, and then walked out very erect.
Count Hamilcar took a long pull at his cigar and again looked out of
the window. He wished to see another harvest wagon, and a lad lying
sleepily on top of it in the hot yellow straw. In the yard behind a
bush Marion had been standing the whole time, looking in through his
window. Now that Boris was gone, she too ran toward the house. Youth on
duty, reconnoitring against old age, thought the count. He leaned his
head back and closed his eyes.
He was a little weary. Of course she would come at once. As he knew
his daughter, she would not let herself miss the intoxication of
loyalty, of confessing, of having courage to stand before the cruel
father. Goodness, how life kept distributing the same old roles over
and over. Disgusting. Now the door moved. He did not open his eyes: an
unspeakable sluggishness made his eyelids heavy. He heard Billy enter
the room, step up close to him, and stand still before him. Then he
opened his eyes and smiled a little.
Well, my daughter? he asked, come, sit down beside me.
No, papa, replied Billy, I had rather stand.
Very well, stand.He too had to stand when he delivered his
speech, thought Count Hamilcar. Billy stood there in her white dress,
red carnations at her belt, her arms hanging down, and the hands
lightly clasped. Her face was pale and her eyes very bright. She looks
resolute, flitted through the count's mind, Charlotte Corday at Marat's
I simply wanted to say, papa, began Billy, that I am for
Boris, that I am on his side. Even if you insult him and send him away,
I am for him, I must be.
She spoke calmly, only drawing the red carnations out of her belt
and nervously pulling them to pieces the while.
The count nodded: Surely, child, I expected nothing else. I fear we
shall not convince each other. You will always see Boris otherwise than
I see him. Our points of vision are simply too different. We cannot
even hold the same opinion about what you are feeling. You consider it
something lasting, even something eternal, h'm? And Isomething
transitory. Now I could appeal to my experience and say that I have
seen more things pass away than you have. But you will object that what
you are living through has never been experienced before, is unique. We
cannot meet anywhere. So there is nothing left for it but the old and
tried rule, that I decide and you obey. I am trustee of your life, and
when you begin to be your own trustee, I must hand it over to you
undiminished. But to throw in this Polish cousin I should regard as an
unprofitable debiting of this capital intrusted to me.
But I prefer to have it debited and ... and ... and all you say,
but with Boris, cried Billy, angrily throwing her carnations on the
The count shrugged his shoulders slightly. Yes, my child, in this
our views differ, as I say, and for the present my view is the
Billy was silent. She now let her arms hang limply, her eyes grew
quite round and clear, and into them came the strangest expression of
helplessness, even of fear. Thenthen she struggled to say, then
I don't know.
A boundless repugnance for his paternal rôle rose in the count; was
it really his function to torture this lovely creature? But when he
began to speak, his voice sounded even somewhat more cool and ironical:
Go now, my daughter. Perhaps it will afford you some peace of mind
to, think that for the pain which you are now feeling not you are
responsible, but I. Life is rich in such little auxiliary hypotheses,
as the professor would say, and why should we not use them.
Billy no longer heard him; her clear eyes seemed to be staring out
upon something at which they wondered and which frightened them. Then
she suddenly faced about and left the room.
The count passed his hand over his face. A devilish feeling,
sympathy. It is really a powerful physical ailment. Then he bent down
and picked up the carnations which Billy had plucked to pieces. He
wished to keep them in his hand.
On this sultry day even life in Kadullen was strangely tense.
Everywhere people stood together in couples and whispered with serious
faces. The professor's daughters sat a little neglected on the
verandah, talking together in low voices. At times Egon joined them and
flirted with them in a half-hearted, absent-minded way. Billy had
withdrawn to her room, whither Countess Betty carried up quantities of
raspberry-juice, and Marion was incessantly racing back and forth
between the garden and Billy's room, carrying messages. No one was
comfortable. Lisa walked around between the flower-beds under her red
parasol. This love affair, in which she was to have no part, made her
restless. The lieutenant had gone partridge-shooting. Of course, she
had seen that in men; when there was a decision to make, or life became
difficult in other ways, they always went shooting partridges. These
poor creatures seemed to exist only for the purpose of helping mankind
over difficult situations in life. Now she was looking for Boris,
wishing to speak with him. Who could give the lovers better counsel
than she. But he was not there. They said he had gone out into the
meadow. Very well, then Lisa would have a conversation with Billy. But
when Marion took this message to Billy, the latter became quite
No, she is not to come. What will she say, and she'll talk about
her old Greek. The affair with her Katakasianopulos is altogether
different from mine. Tell her that. She can't help me; nobody can help
me. And she buried her face in the pillows and wept. Marion stood
helplessly before her. And Boris has disappeared, continued Billy's
wail; go to Moritz, tell him to find Boris and keep watch over him and
stay with him. Go quickly. Marion rushed down the stairs again.
She found Moritz in the park, stretched out lazy and woe-begone
under a tree. He blinked sleepily at Marion as she delivered her
Bah, keep watch over him, he said, what's going to happen to him?
He's all right, and for all of me he can
She wants it, said Marion.
With a sigh Moritz raised himself, took his towel, which was lying
on the ground beside him, hung it over his shoulder, and struck
reluctantly into the path toward the meadow.
All over the cropped meadow cobwebs were glittering on the short
grass. Swallows flitted quite low over the ground. The sun beat down
Incredible, murmured Moritz, to have to look for this Polish
narcissus in such a heat. Where's he likely to be? Probably lying here
He did actually find Boris lying flat on his back in the grass under
a willow. When Moritz came to a stop before him, Boris looked at him
indifferently and said, What do you want?
I, said Moritz, I don't really want anything, but Billy sent me
to keep watch over you.
Boris did not answer, but looked up at the sky again. So Moritz also
lay down in the grass. This handsome Pole in his yellow silk suit was
unspeakably distasteful to him. How he lay there, as it were heavy and
satiated with the admiration of all the beautiful women that were
devoted to him. Moritz could have hit him. Yet he felt a craving to be
near him, for there was something of Billy where Boris was: Boris knew
about her, he was the stupid, hateful, locked door, behind which stood
the only thing that Moritz now desired. To sit before that door was
painful, but for now this pain was simply the only occupation left to
Thoughtful? remarked Moritz at last.
Yes, said Boris with his lyrical inflection, he who is not yet
done with his life has much to think over.
Moritz laughed scornfully: H'mp, you've managed to crowd a good lot
into yours already.
Oh, I've hardly begun yet, said Boris sleepily.
Moritz now reflected as to what he could say, then he began, Tell
me, how was that affair in Warsaw with the dancer Zucchetti? Didn't you
have a liaison with her?
But Boris was not vexed. How was it? Why, how should I know that
now. You don't remember things like that. You might just as well ask me
about the bottle of champagne I drank on the twelfth of August three
years ago. I don't know. And comfortably, as if he were lying in bed,
he turned over on his stomach in the grass, to let the sun warm his
All right, Moritz continued obstinately. But you did enough crazy
things on her account, so you must have loved her.
If you call that love in German, responded Boris, then I am sorry
for your poor German language.
Is that so? Moritz was provoked. Then what is Polish love?
Polish love, said Boris, yawning discreetly, Polish love is
something infinitely delicate. It needs no more than a movement or a
word to change it so that there can be no talk of love any more,
butwell, heavensof anything else. Boris raised himself up a
little, closed his big eyes to tiny slits, and looked dreamily over
toward the forest, which drew a very black line through all the
brightness over yonder. There was once a very beautiful woman. She was
a neighbor of ours. I was on very good terms with her. She was
accustomed to expect me at ten o'clock at night in her park. So far
good. Once I was late, and instead of ten it had got to be a quarter of
eleven. So when I got there and saw she was standing under a tree and
had waited for me after all, I was glad, and at that moment I really
loved her very much. But when I came closer she put on a severe
expression and said, 'Well, you are punctual, I must say, and it is
very chivalrous, too, to keep a lady waiting so long.' That sounded so
pointed and tart and common, that there was no love left at all. 'A
governess talking to a belated pupil,' I thought.
What did you do? asked Moritz.
I made a bow and said, 'Madam, I only came to inform you that I
shall not come today.' Well, and then I went.
Moritz shrugged his shoulders: I don't see anything wonderful in
that. That is the sort of thing you experience in order to tell about
You experience nothing and you tell nothing, concluded Boris, and
he laid his head down on the grass again and pulled his hat over his
The two young men were silent; Boris seemed to be sleeping, Moritz
sat leaning up against the trunk of the willow and looked out upon the
plain, over which a uniform hum could be heard, the profoundly
reassured activity of a sunny work-day. This made him sad and
discouraged. He had a disagreeably distinct feeling that he himself was
uninteresting and commonplace. The girls fell in love with others,
unusual experiences existed for others; and even his sleek, pale-blond
hair, his round face, his light-blue eyes seemed to cause him woe. And
suddenly a very remote recollection came to him. He must have been a
very small child as he sat with his nurse in the sunny garden-corner,
yonder on the West Prussian estate. The old woman was asleep, her lean
face reddened by the heat, and the air was full of a uniform, sleepy
sound. The great burdock leaves, heated by the sun, discharged a strong
sourish odor, and the child felt it to be something that would never
change. But beyond the fence, from below in the village, the laughter
and cries of children reached him from time to time, the children who
Moritz started up. Nonsense, he murmured, and he leaned forward
and began to shake Boris. Here, don't sleep.
What is it, asked Boris, why this brutality?
Come and take a swim, said Moritz.
Swim? repeated Boris, opening his eyes and looking sharply and
reflectively at Moritz, as if trying to read something in him. All
right, let's go swimming, he decided.
The lake was very blue, and full of hard, gently swaying lights.
Between the horse-willows and the club-reeds wild ducks floated
motionless, like shining metal objects.
Pretty, said Boris; to climb down into this bowl of color is
rather smart, sure enough.
Oh, said Moritz ironically, so you think the lake will be
becoming to you.
Yes, it probably will, said Boris, beginning to undress. I
suppose you swim very well?
Pretty well, and you?
I enjoy it very much, Boris informed him, but it excites me; I
haven't the feeling that the water is friendly to me.
That means in German that you swim poorly, Moritz dryly remarked.
Boris laughed: Your German is particularly good.
The water was lukewarm. It's like burying yourself in warm milk,
thought Moritz, as he swam slowly into the flickering light. All
sadness, all these imbecilities were gone, only a strong, quiet
feeling of life warmed his limbs. He turned over on his back, wishing
to let himself be deliriously and lazily rocked by the water, like the
ducks. The dragon-flies lit on his breast, water-plants tickled his
flesh as with small wet fingers, over him flapped gulls with wings of
pale gray, and they looked down upon him and cried shrill notes at him,
which sounded like the laughter of the professor's two daughters.
Billy, Billy, he murmured. Now he could say it without pain, it was
only the expression of deepest contentment. Then he thought of Boris,
and raised his head a little. The devil, was the fellow crazy, to swim
out so far. Boris's head popped up over yonder between the spangles of
sunlight like a dark speck, but it was not advancing; now it had
disappeared, now it was there again. With vigorous strokes Moritz began
to swim to the spot, and got there just in time to catch Boris by the
arm; enmeshed in a net of water-lilies and water-plantains, he was just
rising again, his eyes weirdly wide and black in his bluish face.
Moritz towed him away, and when he got to standing depth he took him in
his arms to conduct him to the shore. He spoke kindly to him:
Water swallowed, my boy, yes, that's the dickens when you get into
that mess yonder. Wait, we'll be on dry land directly.
Boris spat out the water and struggled for breath. Once on shore, he
lay down in the grass; he felt a deadly exhaustion and closed his eyes.
Moritz sat beside him and looked at him. Suddenly Boris raised himself
up, threw his arms about his knees, and his strangely dark eyes, still
wide with fear, looked straight ahead of him.
Sleep, why don't you? said Moritz kindly.
I can't, replied Boris; as soon as I close my eyes, I feel as if
those cursed smooth stems were winding around my legs again and
dragging me under. The strangest feeling. I had the thought: 'Now comes
dying;' but there was no time to think it, I felt such measureless
torturing rage against those stems, against the water that was pressing
me down, all banded together against onesomething of that sort I must
have felt. He pondered awhile in silence, the handsome face quite pale
and angry, then he suddenly smiled his proud, reckless smile. So you
have saved my life, brother, he resumed.
Moritz shrugged his shoulders. Oh, stuff, he said.
Yes, you have, continued Boris. You are my deliverer, and I thank
you. But I should like to know one thing: you hate me, don't you?
Moritz flushed: A lot of hate I'm likely to have for you.
Of course you hate me, asseverated Boris. Now I should like to
know, when you found me there in the last extremity, whether you didn't
think: 'if I just look on now I'll be rid of him.' Or didn't you for a
minute feel like laying your hand on my head and pressing down just a
Moritz looked at Boris in amazement: No, nobody thinks that sort of
Boris lay back again, his hands clasped behind his neck The
excitement of what he had just gone through was still quivering in him
and impelling him to speak, dreamily, a little as if intoxicated. Oh
really, nobody thinks of that!what sort of people are you?I thought
of it the moment you suggested that we go swimming; after all, we don't
have the catechism in our bodies by way of a soul. Doing, yes, that's
another thing, lots of things you don't do, but thinking! I like to
have a deed like that come very close to me. It is just as if we were
for a moment permitted to take into our hands and hold some rare object
that doesn't belong to us. And then it's so gloriously exciting, this
suspense: shall you do it or not? We must seek such situations; but
that's all one, I am grateful to you, it was very unpleasant down
there. I never thought one would feel so alone in dying, just among
water-plantains and the divers, that don't care anything about it. No,
death must be undertaken in common. So I am very grateful to you for
saving my life.
Don't mention it, said Moritz indifferently while dressing.
Yes, very grateful, continued Boris, we really ought to be
friends from now on, close friends, you know.
Moritz was now fully dressed. He stood still before Boris, looked
down upon him with aversion, and said, Just on account of that little
bit of water you swallowed, no thanks. Then he went.
The noon meal was sufficiently uncomfortable. Count Hamilcar and the
professor did to be sure talk eagerly on remote subjects, as if nothing
had happened, but Countess Betty smiled but absent-mindedly and thought
of other matters. The only sensation was that Lisa had not appeared in
black today, but was wearing a mallow-colored muslin dress with
old-rose ribbons. Boris, very pale, conversed with her as formally as
if he had just met her.
Reception at the Queen of Poland's, Bob whispered to Erika. The
two children were unbearable today and had to be called to order again
and again. Billy's chair remained empty. She was lying half undressed
on the bed in her room upstairs, her disheveled hair falling into her
hot face, and she was very impatient with Marion. Again and again
Marion had to repeat what Boris had said. I want to know it absolutely
word for word and you don't tell me that way.
Yes, I do, asseverated Marion, it was like this: 'Tell Billy that
it is better for us not to see each other again today, and we won't
take leave of each other, either; she must wait, she will have word of
me, and then my fate and hers will rest entirely in her hands.'
He certainly didn't say 'fate,' that isn't his style at all,
complained Billy, and then decidewhat shall I decide, oh dear, it's
terrible. And you say Lisa had on her light-colored muslin today, what
for? and of course Boris is furious because papa insulted him. She
flung herself back and forth as in a fever. Do pull down the shades,
this afternoon sun is sad enough to make you die; and you have an
expression on your face as if you knew something that I don't know. Say
But I don't know anything, averred Marion whimpering.
Bah, then go, I don't want to see anybody. Bob can come, but he's
the only one; he can be as naughty as he likes herethat will cheer me
But when Bob came he was not naughty, but embarrassed. Billy in her
excitement was strange and uncanny to him. So Billy sent him away too.
Go, you're a stupid, tiresome boy.
Bob went, but in the doorway he turned around aggrieved, and
remarked, I don't understand unhappy love at all.
Now Billy lay there and listened to the sounds that went through the
rooms below her, the voices and the slamming of doors, and she waited.
That was her business now. For he had said so, poor injured, insulted
Boris. When she thought of the wrong that had been done him, her heart
swelled with impatient desire to do something for him, to show him and
the world in general that she was for him, and him alone. The summer
afternoon droned at the windows, the house grew quiet, and Billy felt
as if in this sleepy hour she were quite alone with her excitement in a
world that would not hear of excitement or of events. So she too kept
still, her eyes raised to the ceiling. It seemed as if she had lain
there an endless time before the sound came at last, the sound for
which she had waited. She sat up. The rumbling of a carriage which
stopped in the courtyard below, voices, the banging of doors, and again
the rumble of the carriage, which grew fainter and fainter, and finally
slowly died away. He is gone, she groaned, and sank back upon her
pillows. Great tears rolled down her cheeks, but an inward tension had
relaxed. Some one whom we love is riding away and we weep: that is at
least comprehensible, and so she cried herself to sleep.
When Billy awoke, the room was ruddy with the evening light, voices
came up from the garden, she heard the twins laughing, and on the porch
her father was delivering a lecture for the professor's benefit. A
fresh uneasiness about life came over Billy, and she got up to look out
of the window. Yes, there was Lisa walking along in her bright muslin
dress and eagerly haranguing the lieutenant, who walked a little
stiff-legged beside her. Poor thing, thought Billy, she wants her love
affair too. But Billy felt as if there were but one love affair in the
world and that one her own: all the rest was simply bungling.
Discontentedly she returned to her bed; she could not join the others
down there yet. Where could Marion be!
When Marion came, she had to tell her story. How did he look as he
rode away? How did he take leave of father? Of course Marion had not
seen the things that really counted, but she brought a message. But
absolutely word for word, please, Billy admonished her.
Yes, certainly, this is what he said, reported Marion: Come
tomorrow at noon to the linden that stands outside the fence at the end
of the park. There Billy shall have news. Tell Billy that she alone has
Oh, dear, wailed Billy, this horrible decision again! What does
he mean? What will be at the linden?
And the two girls sat together and whispered about this mystery;
they could not stop talking about it. In the room it grew dusky, and
the mystery became steadily more threatening. Billy could endure it no
longer and sent Marion away:
Go, you keep saying the same thing. Send old Lohmann to me. She's
the only one of you I can stand. Have her tell her old stories.
Lohmann came with her little yellow face under the black cap, and
the hands contracted with gout. She was an old nurse-maid, who was now
spending her old age in a small chamber in the basement, by sitting at
the window behind her geraniums, and eating the bread of charity. The
old woman cowered down at Billy's bed and began in a lamenting voice,
Yes, our little countess is having a hard time, everybody has a
hard time, there's nothing else for it; but Billy interrupted her
irritably: But Lohmann, is that what I sent for you for. Tell your old
stories, can't you, I can pity myself.
And Lohmann recounted the stories she had told so often, how as a
tiny girl she had taken milk and cheese to town with her mother, very
early in the gray morning light. In winter it was very cold and they
would warm themselves in a little tavern; other market women would be
sitting there too, wrapped in heavy shawls like big balls of gray, and
little Lohmann was given Warmbier, that was hot beer with milk
and sugar. Billy saw all that, it was what she wanted to see, the
little tavern full of those balls of gray; it smelled of damp wool and
an overheated stove, and outside the windows was the blue cold twilight
of the winter morning. That was sad and peaceful, and far, far removed
from all puzzling decisions.
I say, Lohmann, and Billy started up, Warmbier would be
the only thing I could take now; go and make me some.
Toilsomely the evening drew to its close. Lohmann had prepared
Warmbier, but it tasted so bad that Billy could not drink it.
Countess Betty and Madame Bonnechose came and sat beside Billy's bed,
looked sympathetically at her, spoke of Billy's cough, of remedies,
spoke cautiously about indifferent affairs, anxious not to touch upon
anything dangerous; Billy was glad when they were all gone and the
night began. She wanted to try sleeping, but in the stillness and
darkness life again became very threatening, and dreary too, like
numbers that have to be added up. When she did have a little nap, this
adding and guessing continued, and in addition to it all she was
forever having something to decide, and she did not know what or how.
It was perhaps one o'clock when she awoke; no, she did not care to
sleep, there was no pleasure in that. Through the hangings at the
window a little pale light came in. She jumped out of bed to look out
of the window: the moon was shining very brightly. Quiet and wakeful
stood the fruit trees in the patches of turf, and the hollyhocks in the
flowerbeds, and the moonlight laid a festive touch on the silent
garden. Billy wanted to be out there. She dressed hurriedly and went to
Marion's room to wake her:
Marion, and you can sleep? I have not closed an eye, come, get up.
I just fell asleep a little, said Marion in excuse, what has
happened? Where must we go?
We must go to the currant-bushes down in the garden, said Billy.
Marion obediently got up and dressed. By way of the narrow back
stairs the two girls reached the garden. Billy drew a deep breath; that
was it, the damp, sweet breath of the flowers, and this improbable
light which made the sky, the garden, and the meadow with its white
mists all seem so endlessly vast,this restored to her the
intoxication without which she could not live now. Here she could once
more think Boris! Boris! and feel that queer flaming heat in her
blood which gave her courage to undertake anything. In the orchard the
strawberry-beds, the gooseberry and currant bushes, were gray and
glittering with dew, and from the kitchen garden the pot-herbs sent
over their powerful odors; on the gravel paths dreaming toads were
squatting. The girls went to a currant bush and silently began to eat
the cool, moist berries.
Yes, now it is different, remarked Billy at last.
How so? asked Marion in a business-like tone.
I feel, said Billy, as if everything were quite easy again, as if
I could decide anything. I am not a bit afraid, and it can be as tragic
as it likes.
Tragic, remarked Marion a trifle indistinctly, for her mouth was
full of currants, tragic is like at the theatre.
From the other side of the bush Billy's suppressed laughter was
heard: Why Marion! Then Billy straightened up, held a bunch high
against the moon, looked at it and said impressively, Tragic is sad,
but sad like his eyes, sad but still wonderfully beautiful, more
beautiful than anything that is jolly. Then she bent her head back and
let the bunch glide slowly into her open mouth, and in this action she
felt wholly magnificent, wholly beautiful, wholly a part of the
Gradually the moonlight lost in brightness, and a gray luminosity
mingled with it and displaced it, a light which looked as if it were
coming through dusty window-panes.
The morning is coming, said Billy seriously, come, let us go.
Where to? asked Marion.
We'll wait for the sun, decided Billy.
The two girls went to the end of the garden, where the meadow
begins, and sat down on a bench. They were a trifle pale and shivered
as they huddled together, but Billy sat quite erect none the less, her
eyes large and wakeful, her lips as if ready for an excited smile. She
still felt all the grateful solemnity of that sadness, which was after
all wonderfully beautiful. The mists on the meadow became transparent,
the sky turned almost white, a magpie began to chatter in the thicket,
and a crow flew through the glassy twilight, very black and heavy. A
dream-world, and Billy felt that surrender which we have in dreams, for
dreams give us all possible miracles even without our aid. Then came
color, a string of rose-red cloudlets laid themselves on the sky, over
the black tops of the forest trees there came a shower of red, and then
suddenly everything was full of the commotion of a purple and golden
light. Ah, there it is, said Billy, and the two girls stared
motionless and as if stupefied at the rising sun. But as the sun rose
higher, and the colors all drowned in the uniform yellow light, Billy's
face again grew serious and lined with care, for here was another day
with its responsibilities and decisions. Come, said Billy to Marion,
and they again crept into the house and up into her room.
Shall we sleep now? asked Marion.
How can you think of it? replied Billy; at twelve you must be at
the linden. Come sit down beside me. She pulled up a chair for Marion;
she herself climbed into bed, but sat up, leaning against the pillows.
So the two children sat together; their eyes closed at times and then
they slept, but as we doze in the train, constantly starting up again
in fear of missing something. In the course of the morning Countess
Betty knocked twice at the door, but she was not admitted. No, no, we
are sleeping, was the word. When Lina the chambermaid came, she was
given the order for breakfast. A whole lot, said Billy, tea and
eggs, ham, and bread, and a whole lot, do you hear? She had a
veritable traveler's appetite.
Soon Billy became very restless. She kept asking Marion over and
over if it were not time, and it was only eleven o'clock when Marion
was compelled to go down to the linden. Billy sat quietly in her bed
with burning cheeks and folded hands, intent upon the strange tension
of the spirit within her. Yes, it was all there, her powerful desire
for Boris, the painful emotion at the thought of him, the courage for
all possibilities, and the fear of what now must come. But again and
again she felt the strangest alienation from the Billy who was feeling
and experiencing all this. The familiar noises of the house reached
her; down in the garden the twins were laughing, in the corridor Madame
Bonnechose was scolding a maid, and at the open window of the lower
story Lohmann was singing a hymn. But the Billy of the unhappy love,
who was resolved not to obey her father, who had to decide, she
belonged no more to this long-familiar life. But where was Marion?
Billy raised her bare arms high above her head, wrung her hands, and
groaned, Oh dear, why doesn't she come! At last steps came softly
running down the corridor, and Marion appeared, heated and breathless.
The two girls said nothing; Marion mutely handed Billy a letter, sat
down, and stared anxiously at her. Billy had become quite calm, and now
held the letter in her hand without opening it. How was it? she
There by the linden, reported Marion in a low voice, a little
Jewish boy was standing. He had very large black eyes, two tightly
twisted black curls hung down over his ears, and he wore a long coat
like a grown man; he brought the letter. It was awfully weird.
Of course it was weird, remarked Billy, and she leaned back among
her pillows and prepared to open and read her letter.
Boris wrote. There was no heading. Tonight, the letter read, at
about midnight, I shall be down by the linden near the park, waiting.
No one must know. On one side stands everything that you have till now
regarded as your life, on the other I standdecide. If you take me,
then come. If you do not come, I shall forgive you and again walk in
loneliness my dark road. We shall never meet again. To approach so
great a happiness and then be obliged to forsake it again, is fatal.
There was also no signature. Billy dropped the letter; she did not need
to decide, she knew that she would go to him. It seemed to her as if
she scarcely had a voice in this, for the other, the alien Billy, was
acting, and it was she who must go down by night to the lime-tree.
Billy's glance fell upon Marion, whose eyes were fixed on her in
boundless expectancy. Billy smiled and shook her head a little and
said, No, I can tell you nothing. Marion did not answer, but her eyes
filled with tears. She rose and crept softly out of the room; she was
very unhappy. During the whole time she had felt as if Billy's
love-affair were hers too; she had shared her love for Boris, the
excitements and pains, she had felt herself loved in Billy's person,
and now she was suddenly thrust aside and was again simply Marion
Bonnechose, who was excluded from all the destinies awaiting
But activity and life came over Billy. She rang for Lina, asked for
her new muslin dress with the pink carnation figure, and called for her
coral necklace; and moreover she was friendly and talkative to the
chambermaid. Lina had to tell her about the forester to whom she was
The day had grown very sultry, and in the west gray-blue clouds were
piled up. We shall have a thunderstorm, said Count Hamilcar, as he
stood on the porch steps and sniffed the hot air of the garden.
Countess Betty stood beside him, bending her head to one side and
blinking up at the clouds. Over the garden walks Bob and Billy were
chasing each other. The count followed them with his eyes, then he
turned to his sister: The emotional crisis seems to be passing off
nicely, he remarked.
Countess Betty however looked frightened. Oh dear, Hamilcar, I
don't know, this merriment is not natural; I am so afraid for the
child. Madame Bonnechose thinks too ...
Do not worry, dear Betty, the count interrupted her, whatever
Madame Bonnechose may think. Young people like to regard love as a
force, which is elemental, irrational, but irresistible; very well,
then this force must simply be opposed by another force which may also
pass for elemental, for irrational and irresistible. Well, dear Betty,
to represent that force is now my role. He smiled his wry, mocking
smile, and went into the house to take his afternoon nap.
Billy was tired with running. Enough, she cried to Bob. She
brushed the hair out of her hot face and thought a moment. What should
she do now?for she must do something, something, anything but keep
still and look into the darkness that lay beyond this day. When little
Miss Demme went past her, she took her arm, saying, Come, let's eat
plums and talk about Mr. Post. But during these afternoon hours, when
the sun rested upon the garden like a heavy, golden sleepiness, it was
hard for Billy to keep alive the fever that she now required. Finally
she went to hunt up Moritz and ask him to take her rowing on the pond
in the garden.
What, you and I? asked Moritz, somewhat astonished and blushing.
You and I, of course, said Billy.
That seemed to be the right thing. Billy found it soothing to
stretch out in a half reclining position in the bow of the boat, and
have Moritz's heated, peaceful face before her, with the blue eyes that
looked at her unswervingly with satisfied devotion. The water was very
black; here and there a coating of green plants lay on top of it, which
scraped softly along the keel of the boat. How wearily the old willows
bent over the water, and a secure, contented uneventfulness dwelt here,
an uneventfulness which made Billy weak and cowardly. Why can it not go
on so, she thought. As the little crucians lie motionless on the
surface of the water in the sunshine, only stirring their fins a little
from time to time, just to feel they are alive,that must feel good.
But suddenly she had a recollection that was like a prick of
conscience. She felt as if she were neglecting or betraying something.
She started up.
Row to shore, she commanded. Moritz looked up in astonishment.
Yes, yes, to shore, repeated Billy impatiently. And once on shore,
when Moritz lifted her out of the boat, Billy felt that she must do
something which would contradict the aristocratic calm of this quiet
pond, the little crucians, and the old willows, something which would
slap it in the face, and she bent forward and kissed Moritz. But
Billy, I don't understand, stammered Moritz, turning a deep red, but
Billy had gone.
The evening came, with tea on the porch. As the moon rose late, the
garden lay there in profound darkness; the wall of clouds had risen
higher in the sky, while the western sky was still covered with stars.
At times the blue gleam of a lightning flash flicked across the garden,
and a sudden gust shook at the trees, so that one could hear the fruit
falling upon the turf in all directions. On the porch only the red tips
of the burning cigars were visible, and the voices of the speakers took
on something soft and reassured, as if they were trying to attune
themselves to the dying sounds that were straying through the night.
Lisa was sitting beside the lieutenant and speaking of Greece. You
see, Marathon, what did Marathon use to be to me? A date, 490, I
believe, but on that evening, with the evening glow falling across the
plain, it sounds improbable, but I said toto Katakasianopulos, I
said, 'Katakasianopulos, I feel Miltiades here.'
Certainly, very remarkable, said the lieutenant. He was now so
passionately fond of hunting that he went out every day to shoot
partridge; in the evenings he was very tired and could follow the
conversation but feebly.
The professor was again talking with Count Hamilcar about dreams. A
dream is for us a reality like any other, he opined.
Yes, rejoined the count somewhat indistinctly, for he did not
remove his cigar from his mouth in speaking, only a reality which we
always cross out again on awaking. Those are experiences which we
always throw into the wastebasket again.
Good, very good, the professor continued eagerly, but we do the
same thing in our so-called waking life. When I awake, I look upon the
dream with my waking eyes, and then it seems unreal to me; but these
waking eyes are simply not focused for dreams. And then it is this way
with all experiences: I firmly believe what I am experiencing at one
moment, and the next moment I look back upon it and it seems to me
unreal and false and I strike it out. So, if you please, the sky is now
for me a great, beautiful hall, in which the many tiny shining lights
are standing side by side and twinkling at each other in the pretty
summer night. That is real: what is it to me that I may perhaps look at
it tomorrow through a telescope, that is through an eye which was not
intended for me, and find that it then looks very different. Look, a
shooting-star. When the Lithuanians see a shooting-star, they say,
'Some one is going to see his girl.' Certainly, at this moment that
shooting-star is for me somebody going to see his girl. That is my
'experience.' But, if you please, tomorrow I shall assuredly strike it
out and think of asteroids or such things; but that doesn't prevent it
for today from being for me some one going to see his girl, if you
All had looked up at the sky and seen the star, which glided
hurriedly through the darkness, passing other stars in a wide curve, as
if trying to shun them, hastily and secretly.
That striking out, remarked Count Hamilcar, if we could only do
it just when we wished.
Billy was still looking up at the stars. That about the star going
to see his girl had suddenly restored to her the whole joyful
impatience of her love-affair, and she felt as if she were one of that
great secret company of those who are hastening here on earth silently
and hurriedly through the night to meet their beloved.
Upstairs in her room Billy kissed Marion and said, Tonight let us
sleep, and sleep soundly. But Marion, don't look so at me, as if I had
Marion tried to say something, but then stole anxiously and in
silence from the room.
Lina, Betty directed the chambermaid, tomorrow I wish to sleep
late, and no one, do you hear?no one must disturb me.
Left alone, she began to walk up and down quietly and busily. She
changed her clothes, putting on a brown cloth dress, put on her hat,
wrapped herself in her rain-coat, took her umbrella, wrote on a slip of
paper I am with him and laid it on her dressing-table, and then sat
there like a traveler in a station waiting for her train. Outside it
thundered at intervals. Downstairs in the sleeping house the old
familiar voices of the clocks called to each other through the silent
Billy softly descended into the garden by way of the back stairs.
Heavy clouds hung in the sky. Tonight the whole world was full of
voices and sounds; a gust struck the trees and made them murmur with
excitement. Withered leaves chased with a rustle along the path before
Billy. Somewhere a window-shutter creaked, a branch groaned. It was as
if an Event were straying through the gloom and waking the sleeping
garden. Billy went very quickly, as quickly as in her childhood, when
she had wished to pass through the dark living-room to the brightly
lighted nursery. A flash darted across the sky and snatched the
darkness, like a black coverlet, from the pond, from the willows
pensively bending over the reeds, from the water-lilies lying quietly
in all the blackness; but all this seemed as strange to Billy as if she
had never seen it. She hastened farther, thinking and feeling but one
thing: to be there by the lime-tree with himthere was security, there
the storm would have been weathered. As she issued from the park,
another flash illumined the landscape, and she saw a black figure, the
pointed hood of the rain-coat drawn over the head, leaning against the
trunk of the lime-tree.
Boris! Billy cried out.
Hush, answered Boris, come. He laid her arm in his and drew her
away with him. They walked over a damp meadow, then along a field of
barley, where a corncrake rattled excitedly as if giving a signal.
Where are we going? asked Billy in a low voice.
Boris stopped. You ask? he said; if you are afraid, I will lead
you back. I will lead you to the house, you may be sure; there is still
And you? asked Billy hesitatingly.
Ah, I! replied Boris, and that sounded so sorrowful, so infinitely
lonely, that Billy was again thrilled by that painful admiring
compassion, which made her quite defenseless against Boris.
No, no, she cried, let us go.
They now crossed a piece of swampy land which was white with
cotton-grass and softly smacked under their tread.
That sounds, remarked Billy, like the kisses chambermaids talk
about, and she laughed at it. She felt strongly the need of laughing,
of saying something jolly. Beyond the swamp the woods began. Boris
stopped now and then to get his bearings in the darkness; he whistled
once softly, and a whistle answered. At last they came on the forest
road to a carriage; a man stood thereBilly saw this for an instant in
the gleam of a flash of lightning, then again profound gloom. Boris
spoke in an undertone with somebody; they were talking of the
thunder-storm and bad roads. She heard horses rattle their harness,
then Boris pushed her into the carriage, climbed in himself, slammed
the door, and the conveyance slowly got in motion on the uneven
[Illustration: THE GOSSIPS.] Friedrich Wahlte
The carriage was cramped and dark, the raised windows rattled
softly, and beyond them lay the woods and the night like curtains of
black velvet. At times lightning flashes abruptly cast a bluish light
into this darkness. It began to rain heavily; a loud, uniform rushing
sound enveloped the riding couple, and the drops drummed on the roof of
the carriage and beat against the window-panes. Boris heaved a sigh, a
deep sigh of contentment and relief. He drew Billy to him, pressed her
tightly to him so that it almost pained her, and even shook her
That's what I like, that's what I like! he whispered. His voice no
longer sounded tragic, but boyish and exuberant. And then he grew
concerned: But you are cold, of course; I have provided a cloak, I
have provided everything. He wrapped her in a great silk cloak which
smelled faintly of musk. That feels good, doesn't it?that is the
cloak of old Mrs. von Worsky. My friend Ladislas gave it to me; you
know he lives there on the border in Padony with his old mother: a good
lad! He has done much for us; he knows everybody there on the border,
he has smoothed our paths for us, and perhaps we shall see him before
the night is done. Is the cloak warm?
Yes, said Billy, but it smells of Madame Bonnechose.
Boris was vexed. Curse it! It must not smell of Madame Bonnechose;
nothing must smell of your home. That is gone, dropped out of sight.
Across the border, you say? asked Billy.
Boris's voice again took on a tortured accent as he replied, WhyI
don't know, don't ask me nowof course there's nothing else for you to
do, everything will come out all right, but now we won't think at all.
This is what I have longed for, this is what I had to haveI should
have died if I had not had itto sit here like this with you, close,
close, and about us it is all quite dark and black; everything is gone,
is blotted out, the stupid world beats on the carriage and cannot get
in, and you and I are quite alone and have nothing to do but to be
together. Do you feel that? Tell me. And again he pressed her tightly
to him and shook her slightly.
Yes, I think so, answered Billy, but talk some more, talk some
more like that.
Why, what is our whole life for, pursued Boris, but for such
moments as these, when we can forget everything. Isn't it this for
which we toil, for which we humble ourselves and borrow money, so that
for a short time all burdens drop from us and we feel one thing and
think one thing: Billy! He kissed her very firmly on the lips. You
feel, don't you, everything dropping from you and becoming quite pale
and unsubstantial, the tiresome garden at home, and Joseph with the
dinner-bell, and the tea with bread and butter, and that Billy in the
white dress, who could do nothing and have no thoughts? All that is
unreal? and there is only one reality, and that is I. Tell me, do you
Billy leaned her head against Boris's shoulder and closed her eyes.
Certainly, all that was very far away, the garden, her room with the
drawn curtains, the sleeping Marion, the old familiar voices of the
clocks in the quiet roomsall strange and unreal, as if it did not
belong to her. But the carriage here with its cramped space and its
darkness, the rushing of the rain, the rattle of the windowpanes, were
they real? were the hands real that seized, pressed, and shook her as
if she no longer belonged to herself, as if she belonged to another,
the lips which were hotly pressed to hers, and this voice which spoke
softly and passionately into the darkness? And she herself, who was
she, with a body and a blood in which a strange fever was venturing
forth. She felt the Billy that she had known and believed in melting
away within her, and it seemed as if something which had heretofore
held her were releasing her, and now she was drifting along and
everything was immaterial, for after all that did not belong to her,
that burning and fever which it was now her sole business to attend to
and obey. Now they were both silent. The rain seemed to be growing
heavier, and with ever increasing frequency the hasty light of the
lightning flashes flickered across the black forest. The carriage only
progressed with difficulty, shaking and rocking. A great weariness made
Billy's limbs heavy, as if they did not belong to her, and
imperceptibly she passed over into a dream-state, into that torturing
somnolescence of first sleep in which the dream-figures approach us so
importunately. It was the face of her father that suddenly rose before
Billy, close before her, so close that the long white nose touched
Billy's nose like something cold, and in the stern iron-gray eyes
little golden points were moving, as always when he was angry. And she
heard him speak in the calm, slightly nasal voice: Yes, if this
striking out were always possible, he was saying. A loud peal of
thunder made Billy start up; she did not know where she was, only
something heavy and sad was burdening her. She was cold. Boris too had
been startled awake beside her, and as if in fear he put out his hand
We have been sleeping, he said, no, we can't do that, for if we
do all sorts of things will come back, and above all the morning will
comethat cursed light, how that creeps up on us. They huddled
together shivering. It ought never to be day again, we ought to die
now, oughtn't we?in a lightning flash: suddenly a powerful blue
radiance and then again this lovely warm darkness.
Suddenly the carriage stopped. Boris let down the window and stuck
out his head. Through the falling streams of rain a yellow light
blinked; a dog barked furiously. What is up? cried Boris. Then he
impatiently opened the carriage door and jumped out. Billy heard him
talking excitedly; a growling male voice answered him, then another
voice interposed, high and strident, with the amused ring of social
intercourse, as if a gentleman were laughing at his own joke in the
midst of a quadrille. Billy, left alone, was frightened, afraid of the
darkness, of the voices outside, of what would happen and what she had
donethe simple, painful fear of the little girl with a bad
conscience. Boris opened the carriage door again. Come, said he, we
must get out, this fellow refuses to drive farther; they say the road
is impossible, a bridge is smashed, and I don't know what all. He
helped Billy out of the carriage and led her through the puddles of
water up some rickety steps.
Careful, everything is rotten here. Again the high, strident voice
They entered a hall which smelled of smoke and onions, and thence a
living-room in which they were met by heavy, over-heated air. It was
light here, for two candles were burning on a table with a white cloth,
and at one side over a small bar hung a smoking kerosene lamp. Billy
blinked blindly at the light; the room seemed to be full of people.
Some one took off her cloak, and the strident voice said, Your eyes
must first become accustomed to the splendor of Wolf's salon,
Sit down, sit down, cried Boris, and thrust her across to the
great black sofa which stood before the covered table.
Now Billy began to distinguish the figures in the room. There was a
tall Jew with a black beard and flaming brown eyes; he was smiling
quite sweetly. Children in their shirts crowded into the half-open
door, and very large eyes, dark as balls of onyx, looked fixedly over
at Billy from under tangled black hair. Behind the counter sat a
Jewess, the false wig of red-brown hair pulled a little too far down on
her forehead; her yellow, regular face and elongated brown eyes
expressed a rigid, proud patience. Beside Boris stood a gentleman in
riding-dress, wearing spurs on his boots; his fine, sharp-cut face was
laughing, showing very white teeth under a small moustache, which sat
on his upper lip like two inky black commas.
My friend Ladislas Worsky, said Boris introducing him, that is a
friend for you! He rode over here in all this weather only to see us
and warn us against some bridge or other.
Again Ladislas showed his white teeth. Oh, said he, that is the
merit of my old saddle-mare: she finds the way in all weathers and the
blackest darkness, perhaps because she only has one eye. But, friend
Wolf, on with the samovar and whatever else you have. Let your
'youthful blessings' withdraw, and make things a little cosy here; and
Mother Wolf, assume a more amiable expression. Boris, old fellow, no
dejection! Let us sit down to our souper.
And he seated himself at the table, bent over toward Billy, looked
at her with his shining eyes attentively and a trifle impudently, and
began to converse, cheerful and polite, as if he were sitting in a
Souper, oh well, what goes by that name; the delicacies of
our friend Wolf we have no use for. Eggs at most: they are not
penetrated by the Old Testament. And so I permitted myself to coax a
cold chicken in secret from our old housekeeper at home and bring it
He unwrapped the chicken from a paper, laid it on the plate, and
began to carve it, very neatly and correctly; a trifle too dainty and
then again too flourishing were the motions of the white hands with the
many sparkling rings. He spoke the while without ceasing of the
weather, of the road, of the Jew Wolf, and Billy answered as if he were
a young gentleman who was making his first visit and whom she had to
This piece, Countess, if you please, he said, laying a
chicken-wing on Billy's plate; this is a Spanish fowl: my mother is
interested in special breeds. But Boris, you are not saying anything,
tu n'es pas en train, mon vieux, you are wrong, brother. You have
every reason to be of good cheer, a tremendous lot of reason, and he
bowed slightly toward Billy, but we'll manage that all right. Wolf,
come here with some of your sinful champagne. You know, our friend Wolf
always has champagne on tap, and uses it to bring happiness by secret
routes to the barbarians beyond the border.
Billy could not eat; the blue-and-white plates, the knives and
forks, the tablecloth, were all repugnant to her. Yonder behind the
counter the Jewess was still sitting, her yellow, regular face unmoved;
the almond eyes looked at Billy indifferently, proudly, and patiently,
seeming to say, I endure you because I must. These eyes tortured
Billy, she felt as if she had never been so looked at. She forced
herself to look away from those eyes, and to listen to Ladislas Worsky,
who continued his conversation with ardor. Now he was speaking of
Bourget, oh yes, of course very fine, but he tries to analyze the
female heart, like sticking butterflies on pins, but that is just the
one thing in this world that cannot be analyzed. You do not know
Bourget, Countess? Ah yes, young German ladies do not read novels, they
read nothing but Schiller. Well, your Schiller ...
Billy was grateful to him for thus entertaining her, for the
hyper-elegance of his movements, for the white cuffs which he kept
incessantly pulling out of his coat-sleeves, and for the slender,
feminine, beringed hands. All this put something familiar, something
homelike into this alien, hostile environment. Billy answered, laughed
a little, endeavored to act as if she were sitting on the porch at
Kadullen, even imitated a little the lady-of-the-world manners of her
sister Lisa. The champagne was brought.
There, a different expression, if you please, brother, cried
Ladislas to Boris, pouring out the wine. But he is always that way,
turning to Billy, je connais mon Boris. If something alters his
program, his good humor is gone: he always used to spoil half of every
Sunday for us with his bad humor, only because the next day was Monday.
Well, that couldn't be helped. In our senior year we had a comrade
named Andreijsky, you remember, Boris, a mad, merry fellow. All of a
sudden he shoots himself. Why! There was talk of sickness and such
things. No, I know he shot himself because the vacation was over,
simply because the vacation was over, for he hated school like sin.
Boris is just like that too.
I beg your pardon, remarked Boris.
There, there, said Ladislas, don't be vexed, brother, you have no
cause for it. Tomorrow morning the bridge will be fixed again, and here
you are in safety, in the most charming society, the happiest of men:
so let us clink glasses, to your health, Countess! to the fulfilment of
They clinked glasses. Boris smiled faintly, and that stimulated
Ladislas. That's right, old boy. You see, Countess, I am such a
harmless fellow that when I see somebody else happy it is like an
intoxication to me. I never experience anything, but I feel as if this
were my adventure, as if you and I, well, all one He sprang up from
his chair, seized his glass, and began to sing:
Champagne, when thou dost
Set our blood whirling, etc.
He sang in a pleasant baritone and with theatrical flourishes. The
Jew cried bravo and clapped softly. The swarm of Jewish children
again appeared in the doorway, and looked into the room out of large,
piercing eyes. Boris and Billy listened smiling, and only the face of
the Jewess remained impassive, looking with weary scorn at the three
yonder by the table.
The light-hearted strains of Mozart's melody filled the room as it
were with something splendid and precious. Boris rocked lightly on his
chair, beat time on the table with his fingers, and when Ladislas had
finished he nodded and said, Yes, yes, brother, that was the right
Don't you say so? cried Ladislas. He was so overjoyed at the
effect of his song that he embraced Boris and kissed him on both
cheeks. Then he again sat down at the table and filled the glasses.
Permit me, Countess, he said, to kiss your hand: I am so happy to be
permitted to share this happiness here.
Boris laughed a little compassionately. That was always your forte,
my good Ladislas. Sharing. Do you remember how you were forbidden wine
for a time as a student, and still were always drunk on your soda-water
sooner than we on our wine, out of sheer sympathy? You were born to be
happy by proxy.
Bravo, cried Ladislas, un mot charmant. You are beginning
to be witty again, thank heaven, and you have every reason to,any one
that stands like you on the high end of the see-saw, nor stands
alonequite the contrary.
Boris grew serious again. All very well, but perhaps we must talk
business a little, after all.
But Ladislas was outraged. Mercy, brother! Why should we talk
business! Why should we bore the Countess that way? And what is to be
said?everything is arranged, and everything will go smoothly; no, I
know something better, we'll have a little game, here are some cards, I
brought them with me. You play, Countess, do you not? Any game at all.
No, Billy played no games, but she would look on; she begged the
gentlemen to play. She leaned back against the sofa, the over-heated
air and the wine making her head heavy, making her sleepy and quiet;
Ladislas' everything will go smoothly rang agreeably in her ears. Of
course, if only she could sleep now.
Then a bit of écarté, said Ladislas, shuffling the cards. You
see, Countess, I am very fond of cards. Why? Because card-games are
symbolic. Cut, Boris, please.
Billy could not help it, she put her hand to her mouth and yawned.
You are weary, child, said Boris, lie down a while.
To be sure, cried Ladislas, everything has been provided for. He
jumped up and opened the door to a side room: At your pleasure. But
first, Countess, permit me to take leave of you: I shall ride away
again at once, for I must be at home early, so that my mother shall
find no traces of my nocturnal adventure. He kissed Billy's hand: I
thank you, Countess, for the happiness of these hours. There was so
much feeling in his words that Billy was almost touched.
In the side room a candle was burning dimly on a commode. White and
gilt china vases stood there full of paper roses, and on the wall hung
a Jewish kissing-tablet. But most of the space in the room was taken up
by two enormous beds, on which mountains of feather-beds towered high
in red cotton cases.
Yes, lie down, said Boris, brushing his hand across Billy's hair,
Oh Billy, if you would feel as I do.
Why do you say that I don't, answered Billy a trifle vexed, that
No, no, I am not unkind, said Boris, sleep now, I must discuss a
number of things with Ladislas.
Billy lay down on the bed and Boris went out. She heard the two
young men talking outside; at first they seemed to be playing cards,
then they whispered eagerly in the Polish language, rapidly and with
many hissing sounds. Billy closed her eyes and lay there motionless,
wishing to sleep, but it seemed to her as if something stood beside
her, something threatening that was trying to steal up on her, and it
seemed as if she must wake, as if she must be on her guard. Again she
opened her eyes: the candle-flame was lightly stirred by a draught,
somewhere in the house a child was whimpering,a soft, unspeakably
mournful sound,and round about her lay the red feather-beds with
their disagreeable voluptuous swellings, exhaling a sweetish odor of
dust. They cast great shadows on the wall, and the round soft shapes
quivered gently. Billy shook in boundless disgust: why was she here,
what had she to do here? Ah yes, she loved Boris, that was it. Well,
how had that been?could she not feel it again, that hot sensation of
compassion and longing which changed everything in her, gave her
courage for all possibilities, and made the utterly impossible a matter
of course. Even for that she was too tired now. She wanted to sleep
nowsomewhere where it would be quiet and secure and clean. She closed
her eyes again, so as not to see this room, and tried to think of home,
but these thoughts also gave her no rest, but pained her. So she wished
to think of something quite peaceful, something that could make no
reproaches: of the furniture in the sun-parlor, standing in the
darkness under their white cotton covers, or of the great bouquets of
flowers which were withering there in the vases, and showering their
petals on the table with a very soft rustle. Yes, she would think of
those, only of those things.
Yet she must have slept a little after all, for as she now started
up it seemed to her as if she had been away somewhere where she was
quite safe and where she heard familiar voices, and now she was again
falling abruptly into this alien dream. It was still here, this room
with the stuffy air, the walls with the gently quivering shadows, and
the soft red cushions sat round about her waiting, as if they were
still present and must be continued in her dreams. And then some one
else stood there before the bed, quite motionless. It was Boris, but he
too strangely alien and uncanny. The flickering light of the candle
sent shadows driving across his face, and it seemed as if it were being
distorted and only the dark specks of eyes were unswervingly fixed on
her. Weary and discouraged Billy leaned back on the pillows and closed
What has happened, she said quite softly.
Nothing has happened, answered Boris similarly.
Is he gone? queried Billy further.
Yes, Ladislas is gone.
Why do you stand there so?
When Boris did not answer, Billy repeated the question in a
whimpering, wailing tone. Then she heard him sink down beside the bed.
He flung his arms about her, she felt his face lying cold and heavy on
her breast, and felt a strange quiver shake his body, as if he were
Didn't you say everything would be all right? said Billy, and
again her voice sounded tearful and vexed. Why don't you speak? I
don't know anything, I thought I must be with you, and that is why I
went with you. Didn't you say everything would be all right?
Boris clung more tightly to Billy's arm and pulled himself up; the
upper part of his body rested on her, his face quite close to hers, and
now he kissed her with dry hungry lips.
Yes, he whispered, everything will be well if you but wish it so.
But I am so terribly afraid of one thing ...
You are afraid too, replied Billy dully, well, then
No, listen, continued Boris, and his whispers became strangely hot
and passionate, if you but will. I am afraid of tomorrow, when it
grows gray and bright and we must do something and must be burdened
with care, and people will come and everything will be so ugly, the
others and we, and our love,O Billy, I have never been able to endure
the first morning after such a happiness
Why, we can't help the morning's coming, said Billy, still in her
Oh yes, we can, said Boris breathless with emotion, and his hands
closed around Billy's shoulders so tightly that it hurt her. We are
together, aren't we?and we can be so happy, so happy, that we shall
not wish to see another morning. That we can do. You will see. Come,
you and I, and then nothing but dying will be endurable. He stammered
this, bent down quite close to her, his face pale and ominous, and his
hands pulling feverishly at Billy's dress.
Why, how can we die? responded Billy wearily.
Howis all one, answered Boris impatiently, you will see, we
cannot go on living then.
Billy opened her eyes and looked at Boris keenly and anxiously.
Have you that terrible little revolver that you showed me in the
garden at home, and that you said was your friend? she asked.
Yes, yes, but why speak of it, replied Boris impatiently, we are
thinking only of ourselves now, of our happiness. Will you, tell me! We
are together, each beside the other, and there is nothing here but us,
and we had rather die than let anything else come near us.
Billy raised herself a trifle, and pushed Boris's hands, which were
ardently passing over her body, away from her like something irksome.
Her eyes grew wide and bright with fear, but her lips quivered as in a
mocking and slightly contemptuous smile: Be happyhere among these
ugly red cushions. Oh, please leave me now. Youyou are like the rest
of the things here, I am afraid of you too!
Boris released Billy and raised himself up. Now he knelt beside the
bed, dropped his arms limply, and gnawed at his under lip. His face
wore an expression of grieved disappointment. Billy again leaned back
on the pillows, turned her face to the wall, and closed her eyes.
Motionless she lay there like a frightened child and listened intently
for the slightest sound.
Boris was silent for a time, but once he said, Why Billy, and this
was once more the voice she knew; something in it breathed upon her
like the odorous exhalation of the garden at home, and the Boris she
knew and the Billy she knew, and their loveall this was present again
for a moment. She felt like turning around, but she only closed her
eyes the tighter, knowing that if she opened them everything would be
gone in spite of herself. She heard herself say, with a sullen,
superior air, Die?no, certainly not. If that is all you can think
Boris was silent again, and Billy waited in anxious suspense. Then
she heard him get up, take a few steps, murmuring to himself, Well,
that's another thing, nothing to be done, and then walked slowly and
hesitatingly from the room. She could hear that he merely pulled the
door to, and that he walked up and down in the adjoining room, stood
still, poured something into a glass, and then walked up and down
again. She listened attentively to the soft, restless creaking of those
steps, listening with that agonizing wakefulness with which we follow
something that threatens us, that is about to attack us. For this sound
grew strangely expressive. Billy thought she could hear in it quick,
angry words, a voice that discontentedly muttered abusive epithets to
itself. Then when the rhythm of this voice changed, Billy held her
breath with agitation. Now he is walking on tiptoe, she thought, now
he is approaching the door. Boris cautiously reentered the room and
stood still at the foot of the bed. She heard distinctly the faint
clink of the charm on his watch-chain, then came utter stillness. Billy
did not budge, but waited with the resignation we feel in dreams, upon
which we unconsciously base the hope that waking will come and free us
from the events of the dream.
Boris began to speak in a hollow, weary voice: Of course you are
not asleep. You are trying to deceive me. Do not let me disturb you, I
pray! I never ask a second time. Either people understand me or they do
not. You do not understand me: very well, very well, it is always the
same story. You women never do understand. He paused and it was
strange enough to see how the girlish face with the closed eyes and the
tightly clenched lips flushed and paled. All that surprises me,
continued Boris, is that you came here at all. To be proper, we do not
need to come here. Yes, but that is always the way: we think that
together we stand on a very high plane, high above everything small and
foolish; we think that the great moment is coming now, for which we
have been waiting a lifetime; and then it comes to naught again, one is
alone after all, and you, you have stayed down below there in the world
He was silent again, and Billy thought: Was he laughing then?
There had been something in his voice that sounded like that. She
pressed her eyelids more tightly together; not for the world would she
have seen that sad and proud smile of which she had always been afraid,
even at moments when she loved Boris most ardently. Boris took a few
steps, then stood still again: Only load myself with responsibility,
and have nothing for it?no thanks! Out of what could have been very
beautiful and great you make something ugly and silly. That's a game I
won't play. I don't understand being ridiculous, we Poles have no
talent for that. Again he paced awhile, again he waited; yes, he was
waiting, Billy knew he was, but not for a moment did the thought come
to her that she might open her eyes, speak to him, or call him back:
she had but one idea, to lie quite still and not move, then perhaps
this too would pass. Boris was now at the door; she heard the soft
creaking of the rusty hinges, and on the threshold he stopped to say in
a voice that sounded strangely alien and altered, the voice of a man
who is all alone somewhere or other, and who is speaking to himself
sadly and hopelessly, No, not that, I am so tired of having nothing
but misunderstandings to live for. He went out and pulled the door to
again, and Billy heard him stride to and fro in the adjoining room, and
then fling himself on the old cracking sofa.
The thunderstorm was over, and a fine rain trickled down quietly and
evenly, beating quite gently on the window-panes. Billy still lay there
very quietly. Why should she move? Why should she open her eyes? Round
about her was nothing that belonged to her, nothing that partook of
her, nothing that she felt to be Life. A feeling of aloneness, never
before experienced, took physical hold upon her, something that made
her ill, that chilled her.
Boris had spoken in his strangely altered voice of being happy and
dying. These words she had heard once before, at home among the currant
bushes, but there it had had a different sound, there it had sounded
sad and sultry and sweet; she had understood it there, and it seemed to
her to be something possible and easy, if Boris wished it. But to
diehere, that was incomprehensible and repulsive like everything else
here: for that was just the result of this terribly puzzling feeling of
loneliness which was icily creeping over her. She must lie here, and
life was infinitely far away; she saw it like a spot quite yellow with
sunshine, quite gay with autumn flowers, and familiar figures were
passing through this sunshine: before the wash-house knelt the
washwoman with her white apron, at the bed of carnations knelt the
gardener with his yellow straw hat, and under the pear-tree stood her
father, drawing the scent of the early pears and the plums into his
long white nose.
Billy saw this, felt it, smelt it, and yet all of it was living
without her: or rather, she herself was there, and she could see
herself, also her love was there, Boris, and everything, but she could
not cross over to join herself there. Billy raised herself, her eyes
wide open, her mouth very red against the white face, and about her
lips the resolute, obstinate lines which they were wont to assume when
Billy felt that she must have something for which she longed.
She climbed softly out of the bed, crept to the unclosed door and
peeped through the crack. Boris was lying asleep on the sofa. His
tangled hair hung down on his forehead, and his pale face wore the
grief-stricken and at the same time helpless expression with which
sound sleep overspreads a face. On the table stood the champagne bottle
and a half-emptied glass. The candle had burned very low, and the only
sound in the room was a faint moaning that issued from Boris's
half-open mouth, wailing and then changing to short, high-pitched, and
as it were mocking sounds. Billy cautiously pulled the door shut. Then
she bustled about, took her cloak and hat, went to the window, and
opened it. The draught put out the candle; outside it still seemed
dark, the rain was whispering in the gloom, the great pines were
rustling, a deep, loud rustle, a glorious untrammeled breath from a
breast of infinite capacity, and Billy too had to breathe, quite
deeply, before she swung herself upon the window-sill and jumped out.
The wind drove the rain into her face and took her breath. One
moment she stood there, bending forward slightly, like one who stands
in the ocean waiting for a wave to break over him. Then she ran into
the darkness with firm, obstinate steps. On the wet road lay a dull,
dead light. Billy followed it. Water leaped up against her legs with a
splash when she stepped into the puddles, and from her hat tiny cold
rivulets trickled down inside the collar of her cloak. Everything was
against her, everything that whispered, gurgled, snickered, and
murmured round about her, was hostile. It was frightful, and she was
frightened, but she had expected nothing else and she simply had to
advance. And in doing so she found in herself something that she had
never known there before, she found in herself the agitating feeling of
angry watchfulness and as it were sullen curiosity, which are of the
essence of courage. Thinking was impossible, she merely had to be on
her guard. So she rushed on. The road now grew dark. The great pines
murmured about her quite near at hand, and at times a wet branch struck
at her or tried to catch her, whereupon she would thrust it from her
fiercely and pugnaciously. A vast, dreamy resignation toward the
lurking Unknown made her almost apathetic. At the same time it was
queer enough that through all this time an image stood before her,
trying to be felt and seen. She saw herself clearly as if she were
walking by her own side: the slender figure in the brown rain-coat, the
wet hat on her head, bending forward slightly and running along the
unfamiliar black roads as resistlessly and unconsciously as a bullet
hurled by a powerful hand, forward over the roots that treacherously
placed themselves in her way, under the branches that tried to hold her
fast and drenched her with water, past great dusky birds that whirred
across the road, sending terrifying, wailing notes into the night. But
that had to be, life outside the garden-gates of Kadullen was like
that, and only thus could you fight your way back to those
garden-gates. And it seemed to Billy as if she could feel that here in
the gloomy world about her many such solitary figures were running down
black roads, quickly, quickly. She felt so strongly the presence of
these nocturnal comrades that they were uncanny and yet a trifle
consoling to her. The road grew steadily clearer and more shiny, trees
and bushes now stood out distinctly in a gray light, night-ravens
flapped their wings: day was coming. But Billy did not look up. Though
it was frightful to dream this dream, yet she was afraid to wake out of
it. She knew that if she did, this fever of courage and of thoughtless
resignation would forsake her, and that she would then have no strength
left. Her head bowed low over the road, she rushed on; now she was in
the midst of a white mist, then again she would be walking on moss like
red and green velvet. It had grown remarkably still about her; rain and
wind must have ceased. Suddenly she was walking all bathed in a ruddy
light. She felt this light like something that causes pain, and she
narrowed her eyes and bowed her head lower. Gradually the light became
golden, there was a flaming radiance and flicker everywhere, and a
humming began in the air, and a rustling in the moss. Billy felt how a
busy life had awakened about her, and she walked faster: it was like a
race with this Day, that was advancing so calmly and wakefully in all
How long Billy had walked this way she did not know, but it seemed
an interminable time. The sun was already high in a pure blue sky and
beat down pitilessly. Billy felt as if she must be carrying a very warm
burden along with her, and moreover her feet grew so heavy, moving
slowly and mechanically like things that did not belong to her; they
were indifferent to her like everything else about her, and for her own
feeling she was some strange thing that was being laboriously driven
forward through the sunshine. Then suddenly, in a small forest
clearing, she sank down on a mossy knoll in the glaring sun. It was
delicious to stretch out her legs, to lay her back against the warm
huckleberry bushes. There could be nothing nicer in life. Around the
clearing stood young firs and pines, as shiny as metal, and so
motionless that the drops which still hung here and there on their
needles seemed frozen. Everything was motionless under this yellow
light, the grass-blades, the moss-blossoms, and the little blue
butterflies, and a bumble-bee crawled into the bell of a bennet and
hung there as if enchanted. In the thicket a fox drew near, his head
lowered to sniff the ground, and suddenly he too stood still without
stirring a muscle and stared into space, his eyes transparent as green
glass, spell-bound by the overpowering silence of the hour.
Billy sat there, and on her too was the burden of this
motionlessness which was so soothing, this delicious intoxication of
light, of silence, and of all the hot odors which the leaves, the
pine-needles, and the great sun-basking mushrooms exhaled. She too
stared into space, feeling how her eyes also grew as glassy bright as
the eyes of yonder fox, and how everything in her merely existed to
drink in the sunlit stillness. Now the cry of the jay rang out
excitedly, as if he would waken some one whether or no. The fox was
gone, and Billy also started up; then she leaned back, lifted her arms,
stretched herself, and screwed up her face as if to cry. Something very
beautiful was over. Painfully she got up: what was the use, she must go
on in any case.
A wide forest road, covered with short grass, led her through a
young fir-nursery, and when the road took a turn, a bit of heath lay
before Billy, in the midst of which stood some cottages, standing there
with their golden-brown timbers and silver-gray roofs like tiny,
gleaming caskets on the red-blooming heath. Over there a cow was lowing
in long-drawn, sleepy tones; a cock crowed; smoke rose straight from
the chimney into the sky. Billy stopped short; all this moved her so
powerfully, she did not know why; her eyes grew moist, and yet she
could not but smile. She went straight toward the house; a low lattice
fence inclosed a garden which Billy entered through the half open gate.
Long beds of vegetables, gooseberry bushes. Here and there blue
flowering chicory and dark red poppies laid flaming spots of color on
the uniform brightness of the midday light. Beehives stood around
everywhere. Before one of these a man was kneeling, busied with the
bees. Billy went up to him; doubtless he heard the gravel crunch under
her feet, and he raised his head: a small old face, looking as if it
had been compressed in an upward direction, gazed at Billy calmly out
of dull, very light blue eyes.
Good morning, said Billy.
Good morning, answered the man, holding his hands out cautiously
before him, for they were thickly covered with bees as with
golden-yellow velvet gloves. As Billy said nothing, he turned to his
Am I far from Kadullen? Billy began again.
Three hours' walk, answered the man without looking up.
Again both were silent. The strong scent of the potherbs in the
garden-beds, the sourish smell of the honey, the faint buzzing of the
bees, all this enveloped Billy like boundless, delicious indolence. To
rest here, thought she.
May I sit here? she asked, pointing to a wheelbarrow which lay
upturned on the gravel path. The old man merely nodded, as he
cautiously stripped the bees from his hands, and Billy sat down,
stretched out her feet, let her arms hang heavily, and sighed deeply:
this was all she needed. Oh, it wasn't so hard to live, after all.
You're the young lady at Kadullen? the old man finally said again,
I often go there with honey. S'pose you're wet, hey?
S'pose you've been out in the rain during the night, and now I
s'pose you want to go home?
Yes, Billy wanted to go home. The old man took off his straw hat and
thoughtfully rubbed his hand over his bald, shiny pate. We could hitch
up, he said. Then he turned toward the other side and cried, Lina!
Over there before the little stable a red cow was standing, and in
front of her squatted a girl in a blue linen dress, milking her. The
girl got up slowly and a little laboriously, stood there a moment,
screwed up her face at the sunlight, looked crossly over at Billy, and
wiped her big red hands on her white apron.
Come on, said the old man.
So Lina came slowly along the vegetable beds; on the big, stout body
perched a small head, with a puffy-cheeked, very heated childish face
under a heavy mass of oily brown hair. She still kept her hands on her
apron, as if wishing to conceal the fact that she was pregnant. She
stopped short before Billy and asked ill-humoredly, What is it,
Take the young lady in with you, said the father, put some dry
clothes on her, and give her something to eat; afterward, young lady,
we'll drive on.
Lina turned and strode toward the house.
Billy got up to follow her, when the old man looked slyly at the two
with a sidelong glance, pointed at his daughter with his thumb and
said, She's lost her good name too. Lina looked back at Billy, passed
the back of her hand across her eyes, and smiled faintly.
The living room into which Billy was conducted must have been
freshly calcimined, for it seemed so surprisingly, glaringly white. The
sunshine was so strangely heavy and honey-yellow as it rested on the
red and white chintz covers of the furniture and the pine boards of the
floor. Then, too, there was an eager, loud medley of bird-voices trying
to outsing each other, for all over the ceiling and at the window hung
canaries in cages; there were perhaps ten or twelve, and the little
creatures, excited by the light, trilled as if they were intoxicated by
their own singing.
Oh, the birds, said Billy surprised.
Them! said Lina peevishly, they yelp all daylong.
Billy had to sit down on the sofa, and Lina began to undress her.
She drew off her shoes, then her stockings. The little feet, she
murmured, I can hold one of 'em in my hand like a little bird. She
was quite absorbed in her task, and talked to herself like a child
playing quietly in a corner with its doll. The lovely underwear, and
wet through and through, and we have a skin like silk, there, there,
and now comes the shirt, brand new it is, I made it for my wedding.
For your wedding! asked Billy, who obeyed mechanically the big,
The wedding, well, that's all up now anyhow, said Lina, bustling
back and forth between her chests and Billy. There, this dress here,
it's a bit tight for me, for the young lady it'll be all right. Nope,
it's too big after all, we'll have to pin it together, and the two
girls began to laugh at the loose dress, quite loudly, quite
helplessly. Lina sat down, slapped her knees, and held her sides. The
canaries tried to outsing the laughter of the girls. Now Billy was
ready. She asked for a mirror, surveyed herself attentively, then put
away the mirror satisfied and said, Very good, your clothes are as
soothing as smelling-salts.
Lina went out to prepare something to eat, and Billy leaned back on
the sofa and closed her eyes. Yes, she really felt as if she had put
away with her clothes the cares and unrest of the former Billy. With
the dotted blue and white linen dress, with the big collar and the
coarse shirt that scratched her skin, it seemed as if she had imbibed
something of the carefree, almost shameless peacefulness with which
Lina had lazily and indolently moved her body, distorted by motherhood,
along the vegetable beds of the garden.
Now Lina brought milk, a shiny, brown loaf, and a great deal of
honey. Billy began to eat; at first with ravenous hunger, then slowly
with enjoyment, almost with devotion: she could not remember ever
having had anything taste so good to her.
When she was satisfied, she rested her arms heavily on the table. In
these unwonted clothes she had an impulse to go through motions which
were otherwise never characteristic of her, which perhaps were Lina's.
Her cheeks were flushed again, her eyes shining, and impatience for
life warmed her blood. Lina sat facing her, her hands laid flat on her
knees, and looked at her steadily and patiently out of her small blue
I think, remarked Billy, we will go and see the cow, the
chickens, and the bees now.
That was it: in this comical blue dress she felt like going about
the farm outside; yes, she was convinced that she would be able to walk
along between the vegetable beds quite as lazily and cheerfully as
Lina. But when she stood up she felt that her legs were stiff and
Oh, no, let us stay here, she said, and let us talk instead.
But the calm of the big, heated girl facing her made her impatient.
Could one not poke up this calm, as the child Billy had poked up the
small, quiet ant-hills, so that they immediately teemed with excited
life. Are you not afraid? asked Billy suddenly.
Afraid? answered Lina, why? Oh, I see, you mean about that; naw,
what is there to be afraid of?
But some die of it, Billy went on probing.
Lina drew the back of her hand across her eyes and smiled faintly.
Yes, some die. The two girls were silent for a time, listening to the
clamor of the canaries. Then Lina began to ask in her deep, somewhat
singing voice, And yours is gone too?
Billy blushed. Yes, gone, she murmured uncertainly.
Lina sighed. Yes, she said, men are a cross, they always go away.
That's what happens to all of us.
Billy was silent, but it was like security and peace to her, this
us which placed her in the ranks of the girls who with calmness and
strength take the burden of life upon them.
The rumble of a wagon was heard outside. Immediately thereafter the
old man appeared in the door with a whip in his hand, saying, We can
start now, young lady. Billy had to put on a very large yellow straw
hat, and then they drove away.
The little wagon rattled violently, the heavy white horse trotted
along imperturbably, patiently shaking off the gadflies that circled
about him. The little bells fastened to his harness tinkled a sleepily
monotonous tune. For a time the wagon continued to roll through the fir
nursery as between quiet blue walls, then the forest came to an end,
and the high road was before them and broad fields. Over all of it lay
a hot, pale yellow dust-film. The countryside seemed to Billy so
awesomely bare. We see no people, she said.
The old man began to laugh softly and long. 'Cause it's Sunday. Ah
yes, when we go walking by night we don't know what day it is any more,
but that's the way with girls; Lina's got that far too.
Can't he marry her? asked Billy timidly.
The old man struck angrily at his white horse. Marry? Marry who?
Where is the man to marry? Where is our handsome machinist at the
saw-mill? 'Cause he's got yellow cat's-eyes, they all run after him.
Anna at the watermill has come to it too now. Ye-ep, you can't stop it;
soon as spring comes, the young hussies are out o' nights, as restless
as the bees before a thunderstorm, and you can beat 'em, you can tie
'em, but in a jiffyoff they put. Now at this time o' year it don't
happen so often, added the old man with a sidelong glance at Billy.
She smiled. Yes, she thought, in a spring night, when we grow as
restless as the bees before a thunderstorm, then maybe there is this
Being-happy and this Dying, that Boris was talking about, but
thereshe shrank and shuddered: she did not even wish to think of it,
she still had a long ride before her, and later she would think it all
over. Good, good, but no thinking now, just listen to the sleepy tinkle
of the little bells.
Gradually however the region became more familiar, here and there
stood a farmer in Sunday coat among his fields, whose face Billy
recalled, and finally Kadullen rose in the distance between the great
trees of the park; a cool green spot in the sun-yellow land.
Billy drew herself up; she suddenly became quite wakeful; it was
almost torturing, how abruptly all her dream world fell away from her
and the former Billy was present once more with the responsibility for
what she had done, with the fear and shame before all those people
yonder. She saw distinctly Marion's eyes, Aunt Betty's helpless little
face, and her father's severe white nose. They had probably found the
slip of paper she had left behind. She tried to think what was on it.
I am with him. Lord, how stupid that sounded! And now they were
coming closer and closer to the house. If only she could get to her
room unnoticed by way of the little staircase: no one would recognize
her in Lina's clothes, and once upstairs in her room she would lock the
door and let nobody in and sleepsleep. Perhaps that would take some
burden from her; perhaps when she then awoke everything would be
different, everything better.
Oh please, she said, we'll stop at the little gate in the park
wall over there.
The old man nodded indifferently, turned into the side road, and
stopped before the small gate in the park wall. When Billy had got out,
she stood still a moment and said hesitantly: I suppose I must pay.
's all right, answered the old man with a bad grace, I'm going to
deliver some honey in the courtyard anyway.
But not right away, pleaded Billy.
I know, I know the game, murmured the old man, needn't tell me.
Billy disappeared behind the gate. Cautiously she hurried up the
little paths: everything was silent and unpeopled, and the house stood
there as if asleep, with lowered blinds. Cautiously Billy approached
the back stairs. From the windows of the servants' quarters resounded
the long-drawn notes of a hymn: the servants were having their Sunday
worship. Before the washhouse stood the washwoman, putting her hand to
her eyes and looking out into the sunshine. Where had Billy just seen
that? Oh yes, over yonder in her dream. Now she softly ran up the
stairs, now she was in her room. Here too everything had waited for her
unchanged, and the familiar scent of the room, the familiar light, all
moved her so deeply that tears streamed down her face without effort or
pain. She locked the door, hastily pulled off her clothes, and crept
into her bed. Tears and sleep she craved, nothing else. Then when she
awoke, simply to belong again to all this that had waited here for her
so unchanged, so quietly and proudly.
Strange enough was the Sunday that had broken upon Kadullen. The
news of Billy's return home spread quickly. The washwoman had told the
butler, the butler reported it to Countess Betty, and then the old
beekeeper came into the servants' room and told his story. He was taken
to the Count and there cross-examined; but to no avail, for the affair
remained as incompréhensible as before. Why had she gone away? What had
happened? Marion was sent up to Billy's room, but reported that Billy
would admit no one and wished to sleep. Full of trouble Countess Betty
and Madame Bonnechose sat on the garden-steps beside Lisa, who had
stretched herself out on a reclining chair, for she felt very weak from
all these excitements. The two old ladies were silent: what should they
say?they no longer understood la chère jeunesse. Only Madame
Bonnechose murmured from time to time, C'est incomprehensible.
Countess Betty nodded, but Lisa would smile dreamily and say,
Understand?Oh, I can understand it all.
Mais chère little Lisa, dites-nous donc, ce que vous
savez, urged Madame Bonnechose.
Lisa shook her head. There are things which we understand and yet
for which there are no words. When I stood on the plain of Marathon
with Katakasianopulos that time, it seemed to me as if I distinctly
understood all the pain that was to come upon us, but express itthat
I could not have done.
Ah, dear child, said Countess Betty dejectedly, that will not
help us now.
Marion came and reported once more that in Billy's room everything
was quite still.
Oh dear, oh dear, sighed Countess Betty; she could not calmly sit
still, so she rose and went over to see her brother.
Count Hamilcar lay in his room on the sofa; he was keeping his eyes
shut, his face was strangely sallow, and the features seemed sharper
and more pointed than usual. When his sister came to a stop before him,
he opened his eyes and looked at her with a glance which had the
indifference of a man who to be sure surveys us, but whose thoughts and
dreams are very far from us.
Still no certainty, said Countess Betty whimperingly. She admits
nobody, saying she wants to sleep.
Let her sleep, answered the count.
Yes, but she might let us in, wailed the old lady further, what
is all this? all these affairs? the whole house is whispering. The
Professor's family will leave today and carry the story all over the
country, and you, Hamilcar, you don't say anything either.
The count raised himself slightly. No, Betty, he said, I say
nothing, because I know nothing. We cannot prevent others from talking,
but we ought not to speak until there is need for it. Let the child
sleep, then she shall tell you everything, and then, Betty, I shall say
my say too. Will it soon be time for breakfast?
Oh, Hamilcar, replied Countess Betty intimidated, you surely
won't come to breakfast, you are so unstrung.
The count laid his finger along his nose and said sharply, I shall
come, and I hope it will be on time as usual. Also I did not hear you
sing a hymn: did you not have the accustomed worship?
No, we were so excited, you see, the old lady excused herself, but
the count was dissatisfied.
You are wrong, Betty, have your worship as you do every Sunday; but
if I may request it, no reference to these happenings in the Bible
reading or in the prayer, just ordinary devotions. It is not our fault
that something has come in here which does not belong to us, but there
is no reason why we should surrender to it: we insist on our way, and
that ends it.
Wearily the count leaned back and shut his eyes; his sister looked
at him with alarm. What ails you, Hamilcar? she asked, you are so
The count motioned impatiently with his hand. I shall manage, he
said, circulation and heart-beat simply won't listen to us, and the
only trouble is that they are forever meddling with our affairs. There
is an error here in the contract that we call our life. But for the
rest, it is old age, Betty, just that, and that is after all
Countess Betty softly left the room, and outside she said to Madame
Bonnechose, much troubled, Chère amie, my brother requires of
us that we have devotions; there is nothing to be done, so please call
the chamber-maids and the butler, ô ma chère, il est terriblement
Life at Kadullen did not surrender; there were devotions, Count
Hamilcar appeared at breakfast, pale and weary, but his conversation
with the Professor did not falter. They spoke of the yellow race, and,
as if even that were not sufficiently remote, of the Bismarck
Archipelago. Embarrassed silence burdened the remaining company. Egon's
and Moritz's places were vacant, for at the news of Billy's
disappearance they had ridden away and were not back yet. Lisa rejected
all food, and looked out and away over the heads of the breakfasters
with her beautiful eyes. Today Lisa is altogether in 'Marathon,' Bob
whispered to Erika. Even Mr. Post and Miss Demme wore a serious, even
somewhat proudly repellent mien. Mr. Post had said to Miss Demme before
breakfast, It is plain to see that this so-called aristocratic culture
cannot hold its ground: there is much that is rotten at the core after
all. Whereupon Miss Demme, shaking her short curls, had answered,
There is simply a lack of inward freedom.
After breakfast the professorial family drove away, taking a hasty
and over-affectionate farewell. Countess Betty had tears in her eyes.
I felt, she said later, as if Billy had died and they had just
paid a visit of condolence.
Then came the afternoon hours with the steady brightness of the
mid-summer day, with the quiet flaming of the bright colors in the
garden-beds, the Sunday lack of happenings, the troubled
Oh dear, if you only know what you were waiting for, sighed
But upstairs behind the locked door lay the poor puzzle, and before
the door stood Marion, her head leaning against it, her eyes too large
for the small yellow face.
Once the quiet was disturbed by the hurrying hoof-beats of a horse;
a rider galloped into the courtyard, dismounted and carried a letter in
to Count Hamilcar, then rode away again, and once more Sunday stillness
rested on the house.
Now what is this new thing, wailed Countess Betty, Hamilcar
doesn't say anything either; every one sits like a sphinx, guarding his
And Lisa in her reclining chair said, lost in thought, Even when
they go and leave us they have something that pleads for help, as if
they were trying to tell us: help me against myself.
Qui? monsieur Boris? asked Madame Bonnechose.
No, replied Lisa, Katakasianopulos.
Ah, ma chère, maintenant il ne s'agit pas de monsieur de
Katakasianopulos, said Madame Bonnechose with vexation.
At last after dinner, when the sun was already shining red above the
rim of the forest, the news spread, Marion is in Billy's room.
Billy had slept very soundly. Now she was lying on her bed, her
hands clasped behind her neck, her cheeks reddened, her eyes
wonderfully bright. She looked searchingly up at Marion, who stood
before her and gazed anxiously at her.
First of all, said Billy, don't look at me as if I had died. You
have eyes that can look at a person as if he were a spider.
Oh Billy, that is only because you are so wonderfully beautiful
Billy smiled a little: Oh well, that may be so; sit down and tell
your story.So you found the slip?
Of course you took it to Auntie and your mother?
What did they say?
Mama said, 'la pauvre petite, elle est perdue.'
Ah, she said perdue. Do go on. Marion was ready to cry.
Why, I don't know; Auntie went in to see your father. Your cousins
rode away to look for you, and Moritz said, 'If I only had that Pole in
reach of my pistol.' I made camomile tea for Auntie and Mama.
Marion, Marion, Billy interrupted, you're not much on
No, said Marion, you know you are to do the telling.
Billy grew serious: Oh, I see, that is what they sent you here for;
very well. Pull down the shades and sit down by the window and don't
look at me. She shut her eyes and her face took on a tortured
expression. I went away in the night, you know; I had to. And it was
quite easy. I could not let him go away alone and insulted, I should
have died for pity. And then we rode, and it rained and lightened, and
finally we couldn't go any farther. We went into a little inn: one of
Boris's friends was there, and an old Jew, and a Jewess sat there
without moving and looked at me as people sometimes look at us in
frightful dreams. Then we ate something and drank champagne, Boris's
friend sang and the two men played cards; but that was when it began,
everything grew different then, and quite sad, and I didn't understand
any more why I was there. I went into the adjoining room and lay down
on the bed. Everything smelled of dust and very bad perfume; there were
terrible red cushions, a child cried somewhere, and everything was
horribly ugly and sad. I never thought anything could be so ugly. Boris
came in. He was quite strange too. Here among the barberries he had
talked before about being happy and dying, but there, there it sounded
awful. And he was angry and went out and I pretended to sleep. Tell me,
Marion, could you love and be tragic, or be happy and die, when one of
the fat green caterpillars that we are so afraid of falls on top of you
and crawls over you and you can't pull it off you and it keeps on
crawling over you? See, that is the way everything was there,
everything. When all was still and Boris was sleeping, I jumped out of
the window and ran and ran.
Don't you love him any more? asked a timid voice from the
Billy was silent a moment, then she cried passionately, Marion,
don't ask such questions. Yes, probablyof course I shall love him
again, here. But I will not talk about it any more, and they are not to
torment me. Go, tell them what you like, but for today I wish to be
left in peace. Auntie can come and sit beside my bed, but she mustn't
ask me anything, or mustn't talk about disagreeable things; she can
tell about her youth if she likes.
Billy turned her face to the wall, and Marion stole softly out of
Twilight was already falling when Countess Betty timidly entered her
brother's room. Count Hamilcar was sitting on his sofa, somewhat
shrunken, and was looking out of the window. Well, Betty, he said
without looking up.
[Illustration: LITTLE CURIOSITY] Jules Exter
The old lady stood still before him, supporting herself by her hands
on the back of a chair; the pale face of her brother alarmed her, it
looked so unapproachably angry, as if he were looking down at something
he despised there outside the window.
Well? he said again.
She has told Marion about it, began Countess Betty, and she
narrated in a low, faltering voice, with something queerly helpless in
it. The poor child, she finished, all alone in the night, what she
suffered, the wicked fellow! What do you say, Hamilcar?
I? he said, turning toward his sister. His words issued now with
extreme clearness, sharp and nasal. I say, Betty: What sort of beings
are we rearing here?why, they cannot live. Why, we simply cannot
intrust to them the thing that we call life. A housemaid who steals out
to the stable-boy and lets him seduce her knows what she is after; but
what we are bringing up is little intoxicated ghosts that tremble with
longing to haunt the outside world and cannot breathe when they get out
there. That is what we are rearing, Betty.
I do not understand you, Hamilcar, said the old lady, who had
grown quite pale, she is a child, she does not know, she will forget,
the others will forget, everything will come out all right. God has
A faint flush rose into the count's pale face, and a powerful
agitation made him a trifle breathless: Our interesting gentleman has
seen to it that she will not forget it, he has seen to it that this
ridiculous tragedy will cling to the girl like an ugly sickness. He has
deemed it proper to shoot himself yonder in the Jew's tavernhere.
He held out to his sister a piece of paper which he had been holding
in his fist all the time, and which he had crumpled into a little round
ball. Countess Betty took this little ball; mechanically she unfolded
the paper with trembling fingers, smoothed it out, and tried to read.
There were a few lines from Ladislas Worsky announcing Boris's death.
Inclosed was a little slip on which Boris had written, To Billy. Then
I shall go alone. Boris.
Countess Betty let the paper drop on her knee and looked into space
vacantly, almost blankly, and only when the count now burst into an
angry laugh did she start up in terrible affright.
That is a departure for you, eh? he said, and now he spoke quickly
and pantingly: These are the people that spend their lives in standing
like actors before the mirror and practising gestures for their
audience. I lovehow does that become me? I am unhappy, I diehow
does that look, what will the others say to that? Death and lifea
question of attire, and a pretty girl that loves us is also simply a
part of our toilet, like a gardenia that we put into our button-hole:
and we are bringing up our girls to be gardenias for such worthless
fops. And then they call it Love; with that word they are fed and made
drunk. A pretty estate this love and life and dying have reached, if
they have come to be affairs for the nursery and for fops. He broke
off, for his agitation took his breath. He leaned back wearily and shut
his eyes. Countess Betty wept quietly into her handkerchief. After a
pause the count began again in his quiet, slow way, Do not cry, Betty,
I lost my temper, excuse me.
Countess Betty lifted her tear-wet face to him and said
beseechingly, But she must not find it out today.
Count Hamilcar shrugged his shouldersToday or tomorrow, that
belongs to her and to us once and for all.
Countess Betty rose, dried her eyes, and said, How pale you are,
Hamilcar, you ought to go to bed.
Again the count smiled his restrained, kind smile: Yes, Betty, I
shall go to bed. In all our distress this expedient is always left to
Again Billy had slept deeply and soundly. It must have been about
midnight when she awoke; she felt rested and wakeful, and was hungry.
Throughout the day she had crossly refused all food, now she reflected
that she must eat. She resolved to go down to the housekeeper, Miss
Runtze, and get something from her. Softly, so as not to waken Marion,
she dressed and went down to the lower floor to knock at the
housekeeper's door. It took Miss Runtze a long time to understand who
was knocking, and when she did she was greatly alarmed. Oh dear,
Countess Billy! what is it? another misfortune? you want something to
eat? Yes, yes, that's what comes when you won't eat anything all day.
Scolding softly to herself she preceded Billy into the pantry. There
some cold chicken and a little Madeira were found. Billy began to eat
ravenously. As she took the glass and sipped the Madeira with puckered
lips, she blinked over the brim of the glass at the housekeeper, who
stood before her, the large face, heated from sleeping, closely framed
by the white night-cap, the corners of the mouth drawn down severely
Well, Runtze, what do you say to all this? asked Billy.
I was very sorry for it, answered the housekeeper coldly and
Runtze turned to the wooden frame on which the sausages hung, and
began to stroke one of them gently with her hand. Why, it's this way,
she said, a countess must be like an almond that I have soaked well in
hot water and slip out of its skin, beautiful and white.
Billy had once more bent over her chicken-wing. Oh, that is it,
she said as she ate, but Bonnechose says, cette pauvre Runtze
has had her own romance and her own unhappy love-affair.
The corners of the housekeeper's mouth were drawn down still lower
and more tartly. In our station all sorts of things can happen: we
love for a while and then again we don't and are at peace. But with our
mistresses it is different. If there is a hole in the cover of the old
sofa down in my room, I don't care, and some time when I have time I
mend it; but the company rooms upstairs must be spick and span, and
that's what I look out for every morning.
I believe he was a miller? asked Billy in a businesslike tone.
Yes, a miller.
Billy, her hunger now appeased, leaned back in her chair. Oh,
red-haired, that's very pretty sometimes, and his face powdered with
flour and the red hair with it. But I am done now. She stood up. I
thank you, Runtze, your meal was very good.
That is the main thing, said the woman, you are in love, and then
again you are not, but you always have to eat.
Billy went out, but she did not feel like going back up to her room,
which was so full of terrifying dreams. She walked down the corridor to
the outside door which led into the garden. It was the hour at which
she had been accustomed to go about of late anyway. Even to herself she
seemed ghostly and uncanny. But the garden was delicious, homelike. A
bit of a moon and very bright stars were in the sky. The mist had
advanced from the meadow into the garden. It was creeping over the
patches of turf and the beds. The flowers looked black, standing in the
white mists. A very intense joy warmed Billy's heart as she found that
this familiar reality had waited here for her and that she once more
belonged to all this. She walked along the gravel paths, she passed her
hand over the dew-laden tops of the roses and dahlias, she ate some of
the currants, she stood under the barberry bushes and breathed in the
moist, earthy smell that rose out of the old box there. But as she
walked thus, a more powerful agitation came over her. All these spots
spoke of Boris; she saw him and felt him again, and longing for him
again made her wretched and sick. Slowly she had returned to the house,
now she stood before the quietly sleepy garden-facade, saw Boris
standing on the porch again, or coming down the garden-paths and
looking into the evening sun with his dreamy eyes, and she again heard
him speaking in his solemn, singing voice of the pain suffered for the
mother-country. How could she go on living without all that? Suddenly
it struck her that a kind of noiseless unrest was going through the
sleeping house. There was light at Lisa's window, and behind the shades
Lisa's shadow moved back and forth. Billy recognized distinctly the
figure in the long nightdress, her loose hair hanging down her back.
Why doesn't she sleep, she thought, why is she walking
around?after all it's my love-affair, not hers. But Aunt Betty's
window next door was also lit up. And there was the shadow of Aunt
Betty's big nightcap, too, and beside it another big nightcap. How the
two nightcaps gently moved toward each other, swaying and quivering.
Why weren't they sleeping, all of them? Was it on her account? And
there on the other side, light there too, and behind the shades another
shadow walking restlessly to and fro. Now the shadow approached the
window, the shade was raised, the window opened, and Billy saw her
father lean out: his hands tore open the shirt at his breast, and in
the scanty moonlight his face seemed quite white, only the open mouth
and eyes laying black shadows on it. So he stood there, drinking in the
night air greedily and anxiously. Billy retreated behind the box-hedge.
She was shivering with fear. Good heavens, what ailed them all! Was it
not as if she had died and were now stealing about the house as a
spirit, to see how all of them were mourning for her in there.
Cautiously keeping to the shadows, she walked over to the avenue of
maples. She felt impelled to look up from there at her balcony and the
window of her room. On the bench facing her window some one was sitting
asleep, his head drooping on his breast. It was Moritz. Billy stood
still before him. The good lad, he had sat here and looked up at her
window; the thought gave her the feeling of a delicious, warm shelter.
Moritz grew restless, opened his eyes, and looked at her.
Ah, you, Billy, he said, as if he had expected her.
Billy smiled at him. Have you been sitting here, Moritz, to look up
at my window?
Yes, answered Moritz crossly.
That is nice, said Billy. She sat down on the bench beside him and
leaned slightly against his arm. Do you still love me?
Yes, said Moritz in the same cross tone, but why should that
matter to you?
Oh, said Billy plaintively, it is very important, for I feel as
if I had died, and when a person is very much loved, then ... then I
think he comes to life again.
Moritz was silent a moment, and when he began to speak a great
agitation made his voice hesitant and awkward. Oh Billy, if I could
How can you, Moritz? answered Billy, and he could hear from her
voice that she was weeping. IIam longing so terribly for Boris.
The arm against which Billy was leaning trembled slightly; it was as if
its muscles tightened.
That hissed Moritz between clenched teeth, you must not think
of him ... how could he do that to you ... he had no right to die ...
and not die that way, even if life had been twice as loathsome to him
... a man who loves doesn't do such a thing; that was base.
For a moment it grew quite still. Moritz merely felt the girlish
body lean a little more heavily on him. At last Billy began, and it
sounded like the faint wail of a child: Is he dead?
What, Billy, you didn't know
Yes I did, I knew it, I feel now that I knew it all the timeand
even over there when I came away from him. She was silent a while, and
it grew so still that they heard the night-dew trickling through the
leaves. Suddenly Billy raised herself, stood before Moritz white and
erect, brushed the hair from her forehead, while the moonlight rested
on her face, which seemed queerly pale and calm, and said in almost a
matter-of-fact tone, Will you come along, Moritz?
Where to, Billy!
I must go to him, you can see that; I left him once before.
He can't stay there alone in that terrible room. The Jewess is looking
at him and the children are standing in the door. No, I will not
forsake him again; but alone through the forest againplease, Moritz,
come along. She swayed slightly, propped herself on Moritz's shoulder,
and then sank down quietly and heavily before him.
Billy had been sick for a long time. Now it was a sunny September
afternoon, and she was for the first time permitted to go out into the
garden. On the patch of turf under the pear-tree Billy sat wrapped in
shawls, her face haggard and transparently pale, and in her eyes the
lazily relishing glance of the convalescent, who likes to let his eyes
rest a long time upon objects. On the other grass-plot Lisa was lying
in her reclining chair, and Madame Bonnechose sat beside her, knitting
a red child's stocking. Countess Betty and Marion never stopped running
along between the rows of dahlias to and from the house and the
grass-plots. Count Hamilcar was taking his afternoon stroll. He walked
slowly down the garden-path, leaning heavily on his cane; from time to
time he stopped, sniffed the scent of the ripe fruit, the flowers, and
the fading leaves, and put on a stern, angry face, for he was indeed
vexed. Here lay these two beautiful creatures now, blighted by life,
crumpled up, attacked from ambush. Why? Why this barbarity? Why this
waste? He drew up his gray eyebrows discontentedly and blinked out at
the fringe of forest which lay far away in a violet haze. Was it not
perhaps a misunderstanding, his misunderstanding, this charming culture
that he had carefully erected like a fence about himself and his dear
ones? Could one learn how to live here? As he passed Lisa, he heard her
say in her elegiac fashion,
I do not believe that Billy can understand a great pain, or that
she can enjoy it, for we must be able to enjoy even our pain.
Enjoy, ma chère, quelle idée, said Madame Bonnechose,
without looking up from her knitting.
The count passed on and came to a stop before Billy. Well, how are
you? he asked a little sternly.
Billy flushed. Thank you, papa, well. I wanted to tell you
Oh, you did. The count sat down on a garden-chair facing his
daughter and looked attentively at her.
I wanted to ask you, began Billy, looking up into the pear-tree,
I wanted to ask you if you have forgiven me.
Yes, certainly, the count slowly replied, as if he had been given
a problem to solve. When we pardon some one, we wish by doing so to
help him get over something he has experienced or done. In this case,
of course, that is my liveliest wish.
Billy leaned her head back satisfied, and gently moved it to and fro
on her pillow as fever-patients are wont to do. When we are sick, she
said, time goes faster, I think; what went before the sickness lies so
far away. It seems to me as if I had done so much during this time of
sickness, and especially I have walked a great deal, always walking,
always on the way, and always such wonderfully strange roads. I don't
remember much of it all, I only know one thing: I was walking along a
yellow country road and ahead of me some one was walking, and somebody
ahead of her, and so on; there were many figures, and they were all
wearing my brown rain-coat and my muslin dress with the pink carnation
figure, in fact they were all Billys, and I knew the point was for me
to catch up with the Billy that was ahead of me. That seemed very
important to me.
H'm, remarked the count, an interesting dream. Those are our
mirrored images that become emancipated in our dreams. And now, he
smiled at his daughter, now you think you have caught that other
Billy still kept looking up at the pear-tree, and gently rocked her
head. Now I am quite happy, she said meditatively, but perhaps I
ought not to be. Lisa says that any one who has a great grief should
stand before it like a soldier on guard.
Count Hamilcar angrily thrust out his underlip and said sharply, To
stand before one's follies like a soldier on guard is certainly not
Billy did not seem to hear him. She still kept on dreamily talking
to the little golden-yellow pears that hung over her: And to be
faithless, to be faithless is so terribly villainous.
The count bent forward, lifted his extended index finger in the
sunshine, and said slowly and impressively, My daughter, provision is
made that we shall not be faithless, but remain true, to our sad or
foolish experiences. They run after us in any case. Perhaps we are
continually changing, and that is well. But the score always remains
the same. To come back to your remarkable dream, when the one Billy has
successfully caught the other Billy, you can be sure that the old Billy
gives all the burdens she has had to carry to the new one to take with
her. That is and must be so.
Allfor ever, said Billy under her breath, and she looked at her
father with a glance of such helpless fear that he dropped his eyes,
for a keen compassion caused him almost physical pain.
Well, well, he rejoined, when there are as many Billys as you
have before you, there cannot fail to be many pleasant things to take
Yes, don't you think lots of good things must still come? cried
Billy. The count looked up in surprise. He saw that Billy had raised
her arms and clasped her hands over her head, and she was smiling a
wonderfully expectant smile.
Oh, that's it, he murmured, why, then, in that case He rose,
brushed Billy's cheeks hastily with two fingers, and slowly walked back
up the garden-path. Not much need for consolation in that quarter. This
child was far ahead of him in her faith in life; there was nothing
further for him to say. He sat down on the bench at the edge of the
meadow, wishing to sun himself. How they loved life, these poor
children, and how they trusted it! Yes, and life wants that: to be
loved, so as to be cruel. Perhaps a good method, always supposing there
is a purpose in it. He gently passed his hand over brow and eyes: if
only sympathy were not so exhausting, always to share the lives of
others, althoughto be sure, three-fourths of our life lies somewhere
in the lives of others. If we cannot share that, only one-fourth is
left to us, and that is too little for intoxication, that is almost
abstemiousness. Oh, very well, abstemiousness generally results in
comprehension, only in this case comprehension is not so simple. He
squeezed his eyelids together as if wishing to gather into his eyes and
crush to powder the flaming gold of the afternoon light. How was
that?he was trying to recall a verse in Homer. His memory left him in
the lurch, too: how does it go where Hector's soul is wailing aloud
because it must give up its beloved life? He could not recall it. Poor
devil, by the way, right out of the midst of his intoxication. One of
the great flies now came flying past Count Hamilcar with softly buzzing
wings. He went brrr with his lips and smiled a really cheerful smile
as he watched how this queer bundle of gauzy wings and golden gossamer
floated deliriously through the sunshine. Mad with life, he thought,
if all this only has some object. At any rate there is more chance for
meaning than for the lack of it, althoughif I am a digit in the great
calculation, then to be sure I have a meaning, but that is no reason at
all why the result under the black line must have a significance for
me. The point was to be a digit in the result under that line.
However, thinking exhausted him. Why must we always think?another
prejudice. Let us not think, but breathe. He leaned back and opened his
mouth a little. Breathing too might have been made an easier and
simpler affair. He was cold, doubtless he would have to walk a little
further; he tried to rise, but his legs would not carry him. He
stretched out his long arms as if wishing to get an armful of sunshine,
and his face assumed a vexed, anxious expression; then he fell back,
became quite still, and collapsed, leaning a trifle crookedly over the
arm of the bench in that weary movement which the first moment of death
brings to man, before its chill severity comes. The sun was already
low, bathing the mute figure in ruddy light, a gentle zephyr stirred a
gray tuft of hair on the pale temple, and the big fly flew back again
with a buzz past the white nose, motionless now. Round about, the ripe
fruit fell heavily upon the turf, making the whir of the field-crickets
cease for a moment. But yonder under the pear-tree sat Billy, looking
into the evening sun with feverishly shining eyes, and still smiling
her expectant, longing smile.