Eliza Orzeszko, the authoress of "The Argonauts," is the greatest female writer and thinker in the Slav world at present. There are keen and good critics, just judges of thought and style, who pronounce her the first literary artist among the women of Europe.
These critics are not Western Europeans, for Western Europe has no means yet of appreciating this gifted woman. No doubt it will have these means after a time in the form of adequate translations. Meanwhile I repeat that she is the greatest authoress among all the Slav peoples. She is a person of rare intellectual distinction, an observer of exquisite perception in studying men and women, and the difficulties with which they have to struggle.
Who are the Slavs among whom Eliza Orzeszko stands thus distinguished?
The Slavs form a very large majority of the people in Austria-Hungary, an immense majority in European Turkey, and an overwhelming majority in the Russian Empire; they are besides an unyielding, though repressed, majority in that part of Prussian territory known as Posen in German, and Poznan in Polish.
The Slav race occupies an immense region extending from Prussia, Bohemia, and the Adriatic eastward to the Pacific Ocean. Its main divisions are the Russians, Poles, Bohemians (Chehs), Serbs, Bulgarians; its smaller divisions are the Slovaks, Wends, Slovinians, Croats, Montenegrins. These all have literature in some form, literature which in respect to the world outside is famous, well known, little known, or unknown.
The Slavs have behind them a history dramatic to the utmost, varied, full of suffering, full also, of heroism in endurance or valor.
The present time is momentous for all nations, the future is a tangled riddle; for the Slavs this seems true in a double measure. To involved social problems is added race opposition in the breasts of neighbors, a deep, sullen historic hostility. Hence when a writer of power appears among the Slavs, whether he takes up the past or the present, he has that at hand through which he compels the whole world to listen. Sienkiewicz has shown this, so has Tolstoy, so have Dostoyevski and Gogol.
The present volume gives in translation a book which should be widely read with much pleasure. The winning of money on an immense scale to the neglect of all other objects, to the neglect even of the nearest duties, is the sin of one Argonaut; the utter neglect of money and the proper means of living is the ruin of the other.
Darvid by "iron toil" laid the basis of a splendid structure, but went no farther; he had not the time, he had not the power, perhaps, to build thereon himself, and his wife, to whom he left the task, had not the character to do so. By neglect of duty Darvid is brought to madness; by neglect of money Kranitski is brought to be a parasite, and when he loses even that position he is supported by a servant.
The right use of wealth, the proper direction of labor, these are supreme questions in our time, and beyond all in America.
Friends have advised Madame Orzeszko to visit this country and study it; visit Chicago, the great business centre, the most active city on earth, and New York, the great money capital. If she comes she will see much to rouse thought. What will she see? That we know how to win money and give proper use to it? Whatever she sees, it will be something of value, that is undoubted; something that may be compared with European conditions, something to be compared with the story in this book.
Eliza Orzeszko writes because she cannot help writing; her works, contained in forty-odd volumes, touch on the most vital subjects in the world about her. She tells the truth precisely as she sees it. We may hope for much yet from the pen of this lady, who is still in the best years of her intellectual activity.
Madame Orzeszko was born a little more than fifty years ago in Lithuania, that part of the Commonwealth which produced Mickiewicz, the great poet, and Kosciuszko the hero.
By Eliza Orzeszko (Orzeszkowa)
Translated by Jeremiah Curtin Bristol, Vt., U.S.A. September 12, 1901.
It was the mansion of a millionaire. On the furniture and the walls of drawing-rooms, colors and gleams played as on the surface of a pearl shell. Mirrors reflected pictures, and inlaid floors shone like mirrors. Here and there dark tapestry and massive curtains seemed to decrease the effect, but only at first sight, for, in fact, they lent the whole interior a dignity which was almost churchlike. At some points everything glistened, gleamed, changed into azure, scarlet, gold, bronze, and the various tints of white peculiar to plaster-of-Paris, marble, silk, porcelain. In that house were products of Chinese and Japanese skill; the styles of remote ages were there, and the most exquisite and elegant among modern styles, lamps, chandeliers, candlesticks, vases, ornamental art in its highest development. Withal much taste and skill was evident, a certain tact in placing things, and a keenness in disposing them, which indicated infallibly the hand and the mind of a woman who was far above mediocrity.
The furnishing of this mansion must have cost sums which to the poor would seem colossal, and very considerable even to the wealthy.
Aloysius Darvid, the owner of this mansion, had not inherited his millions; he had won them with his own iron labor, and he toiled continually to increase them. His industry, inventiveness, and energy were inexhaustible. To him business seemed to be what water is to a fish: the element which gives delight and freedom. What was his business? Great and complicated enterprises: the erection of public edifices, the purchase, sale, and exchange of values of various descriptions, exchanges in many markets and corporations. To finish all this business it was necessary to possess qualities of the most opposite character: the courage of the lion and the caution of the fox, the talons of the falcon and the elasticity of the cat. His life was passed at a gaming-table, composed of the whole surface of a gigantic State; that life was a species of continuous punting at a bank kept by blind chance rather frequently; for calculation and skill, which meant very much in his career, could not eliminate chance altogether, that power which appears independently. Hence, he must not let chance overthrow him; he might drop to the earth before its thrusts and contract a muscle, but only to parry, make an elastic spring, and seize new booty. His career was success rising and falling like a river, it was also a fever, ceaselessly bathed in cool calculation and reckoning.
As to the rest, post-wagons, railways, bells at railway stations, urging to haste, glittering snows of the distant North, mountains towering on the boundary between two parts of the world, rivers cutting through uninhabited regions, horizons marked with the gloomy lines of Siberian forests, solitary since the beginning of ages. Then, as a change: noise, glitter, throngs, the brilliancy of capitals, and in those capitals a multitude of doors, some of which open with freedom, while others are closed hermetically; before doors of the second sort the pliancy of the cat's paw is needed; this finds a hole where the broad way is impossible.
He was forced to be absent from his family for long months, sometimes for whole years, and even when living under the same roof with the members of it he was a rare guest, never a real confiding companion. For permanence, intimacy, tender feeling in relations, with even those who were nearest him, Darvid had not the time, just as he had not the time to concentrate his thoughts on any subject whatever unless it was connected with his lines, dates, and figures, or with the meshes of that net in which he enclosed his thoughts and his iron labor.
As to amusements and delights of life, they were at intervals love-affairs, flashing up on a sudden, transient, fleeting, vanishing with the smoke of the locomotive which rushed forward, at times luxuries of the table peculiar to various climates, or majestic scenery which forced itself on the eye by its grandeur and disappeared quickly, or some hours of animated card-playing; but, above all, relations with social magnates, who were on the one hand of use, and on the other an immensely great honor to his vanity. Money and significance, these were the two poles around which all Darvid's thoughts, desires, and feelings circled; or, at least, it might seem all, for who can be certain that nothing exists in a man save that which is manifest in his actions? Surely no one, not the man himself even.
After three years' absence, Darvid had returned only a few months before to his native city, and to his own house, where he was as ever a rare and inattentive guest. Pie was laboring again. In the first week, on the first day almost, he discovered a new field; he was very anxious to seize this field, and begin his Herculean efforts on it. But the seizure depended on a certain very highly placed personage to whom, up to that time, he had not been able to gain admittance.
The cat's paw had played about a number of times to open a crevice in the closed door, but in vain! He desired a confidential talk of two hours, but could not obtain it.
He turned then to a method which had given him real service frequently.
He found an individual who had the art of squeezing into all places, of winning everyone, of digging from under the earth circumstances, relations, influences. Individuals of this kind are generally dubious in character, but this concerned Darvid in no way. He considered that at the bottom of life dregs are found as surely as slime is in rivers which have golden sand. He thought of life's dregs and smiled contemptuously, but did not hesitate to handle those dregs, and see if there were golden grains in them. He called his dubious assistants hounds, for they tracked game in thickets inaccessible to the hunter. Small, almost invisible, they were still better able than he to contract muscles, creep up or spring over. He had let out such a hound a few days before to gain the desired audience, and had received no news from him thus far. This disturbed and annoyed Darvid greatly. He would rush into the new work like a lion into an arena, and spring at fresh prey.
The evening twilight came down into the series of great and small chambers. Darvid, in his study, furnished with such dignified wealth that it was almost severe in the rich lamp-light, received men who came on affairs of various descriptions: with reports, accounts, requests, proposals.
In that study everything was dark-colored, massive, grand in its proportions, of great price, but not flashy. Not the least object was showy or fantastic; nothing was visible save dignity and comfort. There were books behind the glass of a splendid bookcase, two great pictures on the wall, a desk with piles of papers, in the middle of the room a round table covered with maps, pamphlets, thick volumes; around the table, heavy, deep and low armchairs. The room was spacious with a lofty ceiling, from which hung over the round table a splendid lamp, burning brightly.
Darvid's remote prototype, the Argonaut Jason, must have had quite a different exterior when he sailed on toward Colchis to find the golden fleece. Time, which changes the methods of contest, changes the forms of its knights correspondingly. Jason trusted in the strength of his arm and his sword-blade. Darvid trusted in his brain and his nerves only. Hence, in him, brain and nerves were developed to the prejudice of muscles, creating a special power, which one had to know in order to recognize it in that slender and not lofty figure, in that face with shrunken cheeks, covered with skin which was dry, pale, and as mobile as if quivering from every breeze which carried his bark toward the shores which he longed for. On his cheeks shone narrow strips of whiskers, almost bronze-hued; the silky ends of these fell on his stiff, low collar; ruddy mustaches, short and firm, darkened his pale, thin lips, which had a smile in the changeableness of which was great expression; this smile encouraged, discouraged, attracted, repelled, believed, doubted, courted or jeered-jeered frequently. But the main seat of power in Darvid seemed to be his eyes, which rested long and attentively on that which he examined. These eyes had pupils of steel color, cold, very deep, and with a fullness of penetrating light which was often sharp, under brows which were prominent, whose ruddy lines were drawn under a high forehead, increased further by incipient baldness-a forehead which was smooth and had the polish of ivory; between the brows were numerous wrinkles, like a cloud of anxiety and care. His was a cold, reasoning face, energetic, with the stamp of thought fixed between the brows, and lines of irony which had made the mouth drawn.
A jurist, one of the most renowned in that great city, held in his hand an open volume of the Code, and was reading aloud a series of extracts from it. Darvid was standing and listening attentively, but irony increased in his smile, and, when the jurist stopped reading, he began in a low voice. This voice with its tones suppressed, as it were, through caution, was one of Darvid's peculiarities.
"Pardon me, but what you have read has no relation to the point which concerns us." Taking the book he turned over its pages for a while and began then to read from it. In reading he used glasses with horn-rims; from these the yellowish pallor of his lean face became deeper. The renowned jurist was confused and astonished.
"You are right," said he. "I was mistaken. You know law famously." How was he to avoid knowing it, since it was his weapon and safety-valve! The jurist sat down on one of the broad and low armchairs in silence, and now the architect unrolled on the table the plan of a public edifice to which the last finish was to be given during winter and before work began in spring.
Darvid listened again in silent thought, looking at the plan with his steel-colored eyes, in which at times there flashed sparks of ideas coming from the brain-ideas which, after a while, he presented to the trained architect. He spoke in a voice low and fluent; he spoke connectedly and very clearly. The architect answered with respect, and, like, the jurist who had preceded, not without a certain astonishment. Great God! this man knows everything; he moves as freely in the fields of architecture, mathematics, and law as in his own chamber! Darvid noticed the astonishment of those around him, and irony settled on his thin lips. Did those men imagine that he could begin such undertakings and be like a blind man among colors? Some begin thus but are ruined! He understood that in our time immense knowledge is the only foundation for pyramidal fortunes, and his memory alone knew the long series of nights which had passed above his head while it was sleepless in winning knowledge.
Next appeared before the table a young man, lean and slender; his dark eyes expressed genius, his clothing was threadbare, his gestures almost vulgar. This was a sculptor, young but already famous. The man had incipient consumption, which brought excessive ruddiness to his face, a glitter to his eyes, and a short, rasping cough from his breast.
He spoke of the sculptures which he was to finish for the edifices reared by the great contractor; he showed the drawings of them, and explained his ideas; he rose to enthusiasm; he spoke more loudly, and coughed at more frequent intervals. Darvid raised his head; the sensitive skin on his cheeks quivered with a delicate movement; he touched the shoulder of the artist with the tips of two white, slender fingers.
"Best," said he; "it hurts you to speak too long."
"My younger daughter coughs in just this way," remarked he to the other men present, "and it troubles me somewhat."
"Perhaps a visit to Italy," said the architect.
"Yes, I have thought of that, but the doctors note nothing dangerous so far." Then he turned to the sculptor:
"You ought to visit Italy, for its collections of art and—its climate." The artist, not pleased with this interruption, did not answer directly, but went on showing his projects and explaining them; though his short breath and the cough, which was repeated oftener, made his conversation more difficult. Thereupon Darvid straightened himself.
"I know very little of art," said he. "Not because I despise it; on the contrary, I think art a power, since the world does it homage, but because I lack time. Trouble yourself no further to exhibit plans and ideas here. I confirm them beforehand, knowing well what I do. Prince Zeno, whose good taste and intellect I admire, advised me to turn to you. At his house, moreover, I have seen works of your chisel which charmed me. Some declare that we men of finance and business represent only matter, and have no concern with Psyche (the soul). But I say that your Psyche, now in Prince Zeno's palace, produced on me the impression that I am not matter only."
Irony covered his lips, but with increased amiability he added:
"Let us fix the amount of your honorarium, permit me to take the initiative," said he, hurriedly.
In a tone of inquiry he mentioned a sum which was very considerable. The sculptor bowed, unwilling, or unable to conceal his delight and astonishment. Darvid touched him lightly on the arm, and conducted him to a great desk, one drawer of which he opened. The jurist and the architect at the round table exchanged glances.
"A protege of the prince!" whispered one.
"Cleverness! advertising!" whispered the other.
"I know from report," said Darvid, to the young artist, "that sculptors must spend considerable sums before they begin a given work. Here is an advance. Do not hesitate. Money should be at the service of talent."
The sculptor was astonished. He had imagined the millionaire as entirely different.
"Money should be at the service of talent!" repeated he.
"I hear this for the first time from a man having money! Do you really think so?" Darvid smiled, but his face clouded immediately.
"My dear sir," said he, "I would give, I think, much money if a cough like yours were not in the world."
"Because of your daughter—" began the sculptor, but Darvid had grown cold now, ceremonious, and he turned toward the round table.
At the same moment a servant announced from the door a new guest.
"Pan Arthur Kranitski."
The guest entered immediately after the servant, and passed the outgoing sculptor in the door.
This guest was a man who carried his fifth decade of years with youthful elasticity of movement, and with a pleasant, winning expression on his still handsome face. In general he seemed to be clothed with remnants of great manly beauty, from behind which, like soiled lining through rents in a once splendid robe, appeared, carefully concealed, old age, which was premature, perhaps.
A tall man with a shapely oval face, he had dark whiskers, and the black curls of his hair did not cover successfully the bald spot appearing on the back of his head; his mustache was curled upward, in the fashion of young men, above ruddy lips; he passed through the study with a youthful step, and had the express intention of greeting the master of the house in a cordial and intimate manner. But in the cold eyes of Darvid appeared flashes well-nigh threatening; he barely touched with his finger-tips the hand extended by the guest-a hand really aristocratic, white, slender, and greatly cared for.
"Pardon, pardon, dear Pan Aloysius, that I come at this hour, just the hour of thy important, immense, colossal occupations! But on receiving thy invitation I hastened."
"Yes," said Darvid, "I need to talk with you a little—will you wait a while?"
He turned toward the two men standing by the table, who when he greeted Kranitski looked at him with a curiosity impossible to conceal.
Every meeting of Darvid with that eternal guest, that offshoot of aristocratic families, roused the curiosity of people. For a good while Darvid did not know this, but at last he discovered it, and now his quick glance caught on the lips of the famous jurist a barely discernible smile, to meet which a similar smile appeared on the lips of the architect. He discoursed a few minutes more with the two men. When they turned to go he conducted them to the door; when that was closed he turned to Kranitski and said:
"Now I am at your service."
No one had ever seen service so icy cold, and having in it the shade of a restrained threat. Kranitski in view of this spent more time than was needed in placing his hat on one of the pieces of furniture, besides an expression of alarm covered his face, now bent forward, and, in the twinkle of an eye, the wrinkling of his forehead and the dropping of his cheeks, made him look ten years older. Still with grace which was unconscious, since it had passed long before into habit, he turned to Darvid.
"Thou hast written to me, dear Pan Aloysius—"
"I have called you," interrupted Darvid, "for the purpose of proposing a certain condition, and a change."
From a thick, long book he cut out a page, on which, previously, he had written a few words in haste, and giving it to Kranitski, he said:
"Here is a bank check for a considerable sum. Your affairs, as I hear, are in a very disagreeable condition."
Kranitski's face grew radiant from delight, and became ten years younger. Taking the check presented to him he began, with a certain hesitation:
"Dear Pan Aloysius, this service, really friendly, which thou art rendering me, even without request on my part, is truly magnanimous, but be assured that the moment income from my property increases—"
Darvid interrupted him a second time.
"We know each other so long that I cannot be ignorant of what your property is, and what income you receive from it. You have no property. You own a little village, the income from which has never sufficed to satisfy even one half of your needs. In that little village you would have passed your life unknown to the great world if your mother had not been a relative of Prince Zeno, and some other coronets of nine quarterings. But since you had relationship so brilliant through your mother, high society did not suffer from the loss of your presence. I know all that relates to you, you need not try to lead me into error—I know everything."
On the last words he put an emphasis which seemed to bring Kranitski into a profound confusion, which he could not master.
"Parole d'honneur," began he, "I do not understand such a real friendly service with such a tone."
"You will understand at once. This sum offered you is not a friendly service, but a simple commercial transaction. To begin with, I insist that for the future you cut short all relations with my son Maryan."
Kranitski stepped back a number of paces.
"With Maryan!" exclaimed he, as if not wishing to believe his own ears. "I break all relations with him! Is it possible? Why? How can that be? But you yourself—"
"That is true, I myself began this. I wished that my family, which, during my frequent absences, resided here permanently, should move in that social sphere which I considered most desirable, and I asked you to be the link between my family and that sphere—"
"I did what you desired," interrupted Kranitski in turn, and raising his head.
Darvid, looking firmly into his face, said in a low voice, slowly, but the ice of his tones seemed at moments to break from the boiling of passion confined beneath them.
"Yes, but you, sir, have demoralized my son. Of himself he would never have gone to such a degree of corruption and idleness. You drew him from study, you led him into all kinds of sport, you took him to all places of amusement, from the highest to the lowest. On returning, after three years' absence, I found Maryan withered morally. Luckily he is a child yet, twenty-three years of age, it is possible to save him. The process of salvation I begin by forbidding you to have any further relations whatever with my son."
Darvid grew terrible during his remaining words. His fingers were sinking into the table, on which he rested his hand. The cluster of wrinkles between his brows became deeper, his eyes had the flash of steel in them; he was all hatred, anger, contempt. But Kranitski, who at first listened to him as if unable to move from astonishment, boiled up also with anger.
"What do you say?" cried he. "Does not my hearing deceive me? You reproach me! Me, who during your ceaseless occupations and absences have been for many years, one may say, the only guardian of your family, and director of your son. Well! Then do you not remember our former intimacy, and this, that it was I who made you acquainted with the highest families of this city, and all this country? Do you not remember your confidential statements to me that you wished to give your daughters in marriage within those circles to which my connections might be a convenient bridge for you? Do you not remember your requests that I should introduce Maryan into the best society, and teach him the manners prevailing there? Very well! You were making your millions in peace, going after them to the ends of the earth, while I did everything that you wished, and now I meet with reproaches, which, at the very least, are expressed without delicacy—des reproches, des grossieretes—Mais ca n'a pas de nom! c'est inoui! This demands the satisfaction of honor."
His indignation was genuine and heartfelt; it brought out a deep flush on his still shapely face. A stony amazement fell on Darvid. True, true, that man spoke the truth.
He, Darvid, had used him for his purposes; he had liked the man, almost loved him; he had given him great confidence. He had not looked into his character; he had not tried to know him, though he had found time to analyze and know men who took no part in his business. But the fact in this case was, that whatever had happened, had happened with his own will. From the depth of his bosom, from out their mysterious den, came a coil of snakes, and a repulsive coldness and slime rose toward his throat, still he reared his head.
"There is much truth in what you say; still my decisive and repeated wish is that you cease to appear in my house."
Kranitski's forehead was flushed with blood, and the words were hissing on his lips when he cried:
"In view of such feelings of yours toward me, how am I to explain the service rendered just now?"
"As pay for service which you have rendered me, or my family. I pay, we are at quits, and part forever." "You are not the only power in this world!" cried Kranitski; "not your will alone can open or close the doors of this house to me."
Darvid, so pale that even his thin lips did not seem to possess a drop of blood, took from a letter-case and showed Kranitski, between two fingers, a letter in a small elegant envelope, bearing the address of Pani Malvina Darvid.
The dark flush vanished from Kranitski without a trace; he became very pale and rested his hand on the arm of the chair; his eyes opened widely. Silence lasted some seconds; between those two men with faces as pale as linen hung the terror of a discovered secret. Darvid, with a voice so stifled that it was barely audible, was the first to speak.
"How this letter came into my hands we need not explain! Simply by chance. Such chances are very common, and they have in them only this good, that at times they put an end to deceit and—villainy!"
Kranitski, still very pale except that red spots were coming out on his forehead, looked very old all at once; he advanced some steps and stood before Darvid, the round table alone was between them. With stifled voice, but fixing his black, flashing eyes boldly on Darvid's face, he said:
"Deceit! villainy! those words are said easily! Do you not know that in early youth your wife was almost my betrothed?"
Darvid's lips were covered with irony, and he said:
"You deserted her at command of your mother, when she sent you to this capital in search of the golden fleece."
"And when you went to the ends of the earth for it," answered Kranitski, "you thought proper to place me to guard the woman whom I loved formerly. You considered yourself invincible, even when separated by hundreds or thousands of miles from her—"
"Let us stop this ridiculous discussion," said Darvid.
"As for me," put in Kranitski, with animation, "I will finish it by offering you any satisfaction which you may demand. I await your seconds."
Darvid laughed loudly and sharply.
"A duel! Do you think that the world would not know the cause of it? Your former betrothed would appear in the matter. For that I should care less, though I must care, for she bears my name, but I have daughters, and I have business—"
He was silent a while, then he finished:
"A scandal might injure my business, and most assuredly would injure the future of my daughters; therefore I will neither challenge you to a duel, nor will I direct my servants to thrash you!"
A trembling shook Kranitski from head to foot, as if from the effects of a blow; he straightened himself, he became manful, and crushing in his hand the bank check which he had received, hurled that paper bullet into Darvid's face so directly that it hit him at the top of his bronze colored whiskers and fell to his feet. Then with elastic movement, and with a grace which was unconscious and uncommon, he turned toward the door and strode out. Darvid remained alone. In that spacious, lofty chamber, richly furnished, in the abundant light of a costly lamp, he remained alone. Clasping his inclined head with both hands, he squeezed it with his white, lean fingers, as with pincers. How many vexations and troubles had met him here after an absence of years! There was something greater still than even these vexations and troubles. The coil of serpents rose in his breast and crawled up to his very throat.
That was torture mixed with a feeling of unendurable disgust. But Darvid avoided high-sounding phrases, and would never think or say: torture, disgust. That was a manner of speaking for idlers and poets. He, a man of iron industry, knew only the words vexation, trouble. What is he to do now with that woman? Throw her out like a beast which, bathed in milk and honey by its owner, has bitten him to the blood? Impossible. His children, especially his daughters, his business, his position, his house—scandals are harmful in every way. So he must live on under the same roof with her; meet the sight of her face, her eyes—those eyes which on a time were for him—yes, it cannot be otherwise.
He must endure that and master himself; master himself mightily, so as not to let things reach a scene, or reproaches, or explanation. Naturally, no scenes, disputes, or explanations. For, first of all, what can they profit? Nothing save a useless expense of energy, and he needs energy so much.
Besides, the very best punishment for that woman is unbroken silence, which will raise between her and him an impenetrable wall. From words, even though they be as sharp as sword-edges, some sound may be got, some slight hope of salvation; but silence, concealing hidden knowledge of a deed, is a coffin in which, from the first hour of each day to the end of it, that woman's pride will be placed with all that in her may still be human. Contempt as silent as the grave! She will eat of his millions, seasoned with his contempt. She will array herself in his millions, interwoven with his hatred. Hatred? Oh, beyond doubt he hates her with passion, and only at times does her name move marvellously through his brain with such sounds as if they were the echo of things very dear, things lost forever and irreplaceable. Can it be? Is it possible that she did that? Malvina, once an ideal maiden, and ten years later a woman so loving that when he was going on a journey she threw herself on her knees and wept, and then besought him not to go from her! He remembers the scene perfectly.
Her hair of pale gold, dropping then in disorder to her shoulders and bosom—her magnificent hair, surrounded by which the tears flowing down her face glistened like diamonds! He raised his head, straightened himself. What stupidity! On what sentiment and exaltation is he losing time and energy! He needs them for something else. He needs to concentrate all his forces to bring his new designs to the desired culmination. Why does "that hound" not show himself and bring the answer needed? Ah, if he could only get one hour of that conversation, he would convince; he would capture; he would overcome rivals, and seize into his own sole possession new fields of industry and speculation! There are hindrances, intrigues, dangerous rivalries, he knows of them, and these oppositions it is precisely which attract him most of all. Now especially, with those vexations and troubles, victory and the new work would be as a spoonful of hashish to him, or a glass of strong, invigorating wine. He must go to the club. A game of cards, to which he devotes some night hours frequently, is not specially pleasant, but he plays with persons of high position in society, or with those who are needed in his business. He will find perhaps, also, that man for whom he has been waiting, vainly, some days.
He was extending his hand to the button of the electric bell when from behind the portieres which half hid the door opening to the interior of the mansion a thin and timid voice came; one could hardly tell whether it was the voice of a child or a young lady:
"Is it permitted to enter?"
Darvid went to the door hurriedly, saying, also hurriedly:
"It is! It is!"
At that moment, from the darkness which filled the adjoining room, into the abundant light of the study, came a maiden of fifteen years, in a bright dress; she was tall and very slender, with a small waist and narrow breast. An immense wealth of pale, golden hair seemed to bend back with its weight her small, shapely head somewhat; her oval face, with its delicate features, had the blush of spring on it; her lips were like cherries, and under the arches of her dark brows were large dark eyes. Right behind the bright dress of the girl came a small shaggy creature, a ball of ash colored silk, a little dog.
"Cara!" cried Darvid, "well, you are here, little one! How often have I asked you to come always boldly. How do you feel to-day? You have not coughed much, I think? Have you taken your daily walk? With whom did you go? With Miss Mary, or Irene? Come, come, sit here in this armchair."
He held her small hand in his and led her toward the table, which was surrounded with armchairs. In his movements there was something polished and exquisite, as it were delicacy toward a person who was very dear and not much known, pushed to the degree where it might be called gallantry. Joined with this was a feeling of delight. She was pleased and smiling, but she was blushing and embarrassed. Advancing with short steps at his side, she bent to his hand every moment and kissed it. Her act was full of a timid charm, half capricious. They both looked like persons who were greatly pleased at meeting, but who remained on a footing of ceremony with each other. He received her in his study as a queen; he seated her in an armchair, then, sitting very near, he held her hands in his. Between them, on the edge of his mistress's skirt, sat the dog with the ash-colored coat, in a posture of disquiet and uncertainty; it was evident that he was not accustomed to visit that room. Cara also, with an expression of timid happiness on her lips which were open, cast her glance with a smile on the vases and the walls, uncertain whether she was to speak, not knowing if she might say something; she bore herself very simply; her small hands rested without motion between her father's palms. At last she said, in a very low voice:
"I was so anxious to see you, father, dear; I wished so much to speak with you that I have come."
"You have done excellently, my little one. Why not come oftener? Your coming gives me great pleasure."
While speaking he looked all the time into her face, which was almost that of a little child. She was so like her mother, that Malvina's youth was simply renewed in Cara.
But Malvina, when he made her acquaintance, was considerably older; the hair was just the same, very bright, and the eyes with dark brows and pupils, the same shape of forehead. With a deepening of the wrinkles between his brows he repeated:
"Why not come offener?"
"You are always so occupied, father," whispered she.
"What of that?" answered he hurriedly and abruptly.
"There is reproach in your voice. Are my occupations a crime? But labor is service, it is the value of a man. My children should esteem my labor more than others, since I toil for them as much, or even more, than for myself."
He did not even think of speaking to that child with a voice so abrupt, and with such a cloud on his forehead; but that cloud came to him from some place within, from a distant feeling of something which he had never looked at directly before. But he hardly knew the girl! When he went away the last time she was a child; now she was almost full grown. But she, in the twinkle of an eye, slipped from the low armchair to the carpet, and kneeling with clasped hands began to speak passionately and quickly:
"Your child is on her knees before you, father. When you were far away she revered you, did you homage, longed for you; when you are here she loves you greatly, above everything—"
Here she turned and removed from her dress the ball of ash-colored silk, which was climbing to her shoulder.
"Go away, Puffie, go away! I have no time for thee now."
She pushed away the little dog, which sat on the carpet some steps distant. Darvid felt a stream of pleasant warmth flooding into his breast from the words of his daughter; but on principle he did not like enthusiasm. In feelings and the expression of them he esteemed moderation beyond everything. He raised with both hands the girl's head, which was bending toward his knees.
"Be not excited, be not carried away. Repose is beautiful, it is indispensable; without repose no calculation can be accurate, no work complete. Your attachment makes me happy; but compose yourself, rise from your knees, sit comfortably."
She put her hands together as in prayer.
"Let me stay as I am, father, at your knee. I imagined that on your return I should be able to talk often and long with you; to ask about everything, learn everything from you."
She coughed. Darvid took her in his arms, and, without raising her from her knees, he drew her to his breast.
"See! your cough lasts! Do you cough much? Well, do not speak, do not speak! let it pass. Does this cough pass quickly?"
It had passed. She stopped coughing, laughed. Her teeth glittered like pearls between her red lips. A gleam of delight shot through Darvid's eyes.
"It has gone already! I do not cough often, only rarely. I am perfectly well. I was very sick when I got chilled at an open window while you were away, father."
"I know, I know. Your enthusiastic little head thought of opening the window on a winter night, so as to peep out and see how the garden looked covered with snow in the moonlight."
"The trees, father, the trees!" began she, smiling and with vivacity; "not the whole garden, just the trees, which, covered with snow and frost in the moonlight, were like pillars of marble, alabaster, crystal, set with diamonds, hung with laces; and whenever the slightest breeze moved, a rain of pearls was scattered on the ground." "Great God!" exclaimed Darvid, "marbles, alabasters, laces, diamonds, pearls! But there was nothing of all this in fact! There was nothing but dry trunks, branches, snow, and hoar-frost. That is exaltation! And you see how destructive it may be! It brought you acute inflammation of the lungs, the traces of which are not gone yet."
"They are!" answered she, in passing, and then she spoke seriously. "My father, is it exaltation to worship something which is very beautiful, or to love some one greatly with all our strength? If it is—then I am given to exaltation, but without exaltation what could we live for?"
An expression of wonder, meditation, thoughtfulness filled her eyes and covered her finely cut face with a freshness like that of a wild rose. With a movement of wonder she opened her arms, and repeated:
"What do we live for?"
"I see that your head is turned a little, but you are a child yet, and your trouble will pass."
Stroking her pale, golden hair, he continued:
"Homage, love, and like things of the sensational sort, are very nice, very beautiful, but should not occupy the first place."
Cara listened so eagerly that her mouth was open somewhat, and she became motionless as a statue.
"But what should stand in the first place, father?"
Darvid did not answer at once. What? What should stand in the first place?
"Duty," said he.
"What duty, father?"
Again he was silent a while. What duty? Yes, what kind of duty?
"Naturally the duty of labor, hard labor."
The flush on Cara's face increased; she was all curiosity, all eagerness to hear her father's words.
"Labor, for what, father, dear?"
"How? for what?"
"For what purpose? For what purpose? because no one labors for the labor itself. For what purpose?"
For what purpose? How that child pushed him to the wall with her questions! With hesitation in his voice, he answered:
"There are various purposes—"
"But you, father, for what are you working?" continued she, with eager curiosity.
He knew very well for what purpose he wished now to undertake the gigantic labor of erecting a multitude of buildings for the residence of an army, but could he explain that to this child? Meanwhile the dark eyes of the child were fastened on his face, urging him to an answer.
"What is it?" said he. "I—labor gives me considerable, sometimes immense profits."
"In money?" asked she.
She made a motion with her head, signifying that she knew that this long time.
"But I," began she, "if I wanted to work, should not know what to work for, I should not know for what object I could work."
"You will not need to work; I will work for you, and instead of you." "Well, father!" exclaimed she, with a resonant laugh, "what can I do? To worship, to love, is exaltation—duty is labor, but if I may not labor, what am I to do?"
Again she opened her small hands with astonishment and inquiry; her eyes were flashing, her lips trembling.
Darvid, with marks of disagreeable feeling on his face, reached for his watch.
"I have no time," said he; "I must go to the club."
At that moment the servant announced from the antechamber, through the open door:
"Prince Zeno Skirgello."
Delight burst forth on Darvid's face. Cara sprang up from her knees, and looking around, called:
"Puff! Puff! Come, let us be off! doggy."
"Where is the prince?" asked Darvid, hurriedly. "Is he here, or in the carriage?"
"In the carriage," answered the servant.
"Beg him to come in, beg him to come in!"
In the delight which the unexpected arrival of the prince caused him at that time, he did not notice the expression of regret on Cara's face. Raising the little dog from the floor and holding him in her arms, she whispered:
"This is the third time, or the fourth—it is unknown which time it is!" Darvid sprang toward her.
"You may remain! You know the prince—"
"Oh, no, father, I flee—I am not dressed!"
Her white robe with blue dots had the shape of a wrapper, and her hair was somewhat dishevelled. With the dog on her arm she ran to the door beyond which was darkness.
"Wait!" cried Darvid, and he took one of the candles which were burning on the desk in tall candlesticks. The prince was coming up the stairs slowly. "I will light you through the dark chambers."
Saying this he walked with her to the second chamber, and when passing through that, she, while going at his side with the dog on her arm, and with her short step, which gave her tall form the charm of childhood, repeated:
"This is the fourth time, perhaps—it is unknown how many times it will be in this way!"
"What will be in this way?"
"Just when I begin to talk with you. Paf! something hinders!"
"What is to be done?" answered he, with a smile; "since your father is not a hermit, nor a small person on this world's chessboard."
They went hurriedly, and passed through the second chamber. The flame of the candle which Darvid carried cast passing flashes on the gold and polish of the walls, and the furniture. These were like tricky gnomes, appearing and vanishing in the silence, darkness, and emptiness.
"How dark it is here, and deserted!" Cara divined this thought, as it were, and said:
"Mamma and Ira are invited to dine to-day at—"
She gave the name of one of the financial potentates, and added:
"After dinner they will come to dress for the theatre."
"And thou?" inquired Darvid.
"I? I do not go into society yet, and so far the doctor forbids me to go to the theatre. I will read or talk with Miss Mary, and amuse myself with Puff."
She stroked with her palm the silky head of the little dog. Darvid halted at the door of the third chamber, and gave Cara the light, from the weight of which her slight arm bent somewhat.
"Go on alone; I must hurry to the prince."
She bent down to his hands, covered them with hurried, ardent kisses. With the flame of the candle before her rosy face, with the dog at her breast, and the pale, golden hair pushed back on her shoulders, she advanced in the darkness. Darvid returned through that darkness in the opposite direction, and when he had passed the two spacious chambers hastily, he felt in the twinkle of an eye as if from behind, from that interior, some weight had been placed on his shoulders. He looked around. There was nothing but vacancy, obscurity, and silence.
"Stupid! I must have the house lighted!" thought Darvid, and he hurried into the study, where, with movements a little too vivacious, with a fondling smile, and with repeated declarations that he felt happy, he greeted the prince, a man of middle age, of agreeable exterior, affable and pleasant in speech. When they had sat down in armchairs, the prince declared the object of his visit, which was to invite Darvid to a hunt which was to take place soon on one of his estates. Darvid accepted the invitation with expressions of pleasure, a little too prompt and hearty. But he was never so well able to measure his words and movements in presence of those high-born people as in presence of others. He felt this himself, still he had not the power to refrain. In presence of them he found himself under the influence of one of his passions, and it carried him too far. The prince spoke of the sculptor, whose gifts he esteemed highly; the young man had gone directly from Darvid to him and told of all that he had heard, and what he had experienced.
"I was really affected by your kindness toward this youthful genius, and am delighted that he found in you a patron so magnanimous."
Darvid thought that in every case his arrows always struck the mark. To that act of his he was surely indebted for this unusual visit of the prince, and the invitation. With a smile, in which honey was overflowing, he said:
"That young man seems very ill. A visit to more favorable climates might save him. I must try that he does not reject the means which I shall offer him for that purpose. I foresee resistance, but I shall do what I can to overcome it, out of regard for art, and through good-will for a young man who, besides many sympathetic traits, has this on his side, that he rejoices in the exceptional favor of Prince Zeno."
Had he been able, Darvid would have kissed himself for that phrase, he felt so well satisfied with it; especially when the prince answered with animation:
"This, in the full sense of the words, means speaking and acting beautifully! You use the gifts of fortune in a manner truly noble."
"Not fortune, prince, not fortune!" exclaimed Darvid, "but iron labor."
"Such toilers as you are the knights of the contemporary world," answered the prince, with vivacity; "the Du Guesclins and Cids of the present century."
He rose and, while pressing the hand of that Cid, fixed again in his memory the date of the hunt, which was not distant. Prince Zeno was an aristocrat of the purest blood, possessing a wide popularity which was fairly well deserved.
Darvid was radiant. While accompanying the prince to the door of the antechamber he looked as if no coil of serpents had ever crawled up in his bosom, which was now beating with delight and with pride. The prince halted still a moment at the door, as if to recall something.
"Pardon me an indiscreet question, but this interests me immensely. Is there truth in the reports which are circulating in the city, that Baron Blauendorf is to have the honor in the near future of receiving the hand of your elder daughter?"
The expression of Darvid's face changed quickly, it became sharp and severe.
"Were there any truth in the report," answered he, "I should try to destroy it together with the report."
"And you would be right, perfectly right!" exclaimed the prince. Then he bent his lips almost to Darvid's ear and whispered:
"There is no Pactolus which such a young buck as Baron Emil would not drink up. He is a genuine devourer of fortunes. He has swallowed one already and the half of another."
He laughed and added at once, with immense affability:
"I see your son frequently—that worthy Kranitski presented him a year ago to us; I and my wife are very, very thankful. He is sympathetic, handsome, and a highly intellectual young man, who does you honor."
He went out. Darvid stood at the round table sunk in thought, with pins of irony in his smile and his eyes, with a cloud of wrinkles between his brows. That young sculptor, the favorite of Prince Zeno, with clothing almost in tatters, brought consumption on himself unhindered, till a parvenu appeared with his money-bag and rescued the pocket of the aristocrat, receiving in return a visit and an invitation to hunt. "Behold the significance of money! Almost infinite power—ha! ha! ha!"
Internal laughter bore him away, and in his brain sounded the word: "Wretchedness! Wretchedness!"
What was it specially that he called wretchedness? He was not clearly conscious himself of this, but the feeling of it penetrated him. Again he heard the prince saying "that honest Kranitski," and a wave of blood rushed to his forehead. Everything that he had forgotten a moment earlier returned to his mind; the prince's voice roared in his ears: "That honest Kranitski." He repeated a number of times to himself, in a hissing whisper, "honest! honest!" And then he said:
That Baron Emil, the young buck capable of gulping down many a Pactolus! And he was to possess the hand of his daughter, with a considerable part of that fortune won by iron labor. Is Irene in love with him? But the baron is a vibrio and a monkey all in one. There is need to think over this family matter, lest a misfortune might happen. He cast a glance at the door behind which was darkness, thick, silent, immovable. It resembled a window opened into a great and impenetrable secret.
"I must have the house lighted up," thought he. At this moment he heard the dull rumble of a carriage in the gateway as it entered. He pressed the button of the electric bell.
"Is that the lady who has come?"
"Yes, serene lord."
"Tell the coachman to wait. He will take me to the club."
When the servant opened the door the rustle of silk came in like the sound of wind. Two long silken robes passed over the floor of the anteroom and farther on in the darkness of the chambers, which was dispelled by the light of the lamp, borne by the servant advancing in front of them.
The glittering gnomes called forth by that light sprang along the gildings, polished walls, and furniture; ran out of the darkness, ran into it again; were lighted up and quenched on the inclined heads, drooping lids, and silent lips of the two women in rich array and gloomy.
Malvina Darvid was one of those women to whom old age is very tardy in coming, and whose beauty, modified in each season of life, never leaves them. For this last she was indebted less to the features of her face than to the immense charm of her movements, her smile, her expression, her speech. She retained yet the same pale, golden hair which she had years earlier, which she arranged high above her low forehead, calling to mind the statues of Grecian women. In contrast with that hair, and her slightly faded but delicate complexion, shone, from under dark brows, large eyes, also dark, with a very mild, warm expression, now bright, now tempered by a deep inevitable cloud of pensiveness. In a robe covered with lace, in the glitter of a star of diamonds in the bright aureole of her hair, she greeted the numerous acquaintances who entered her box at the theatre, with the affability and freedom of a perfect society lady. She was even celebrated in that great city for the qualities which constitute so-called society personages, and which, in those who knew her past, roused a certain wonder. It was known to all that that past was very modest. Darvid in his youth, which was far less brilliant than his present, married a poor orphan, a teacher. But Malvina Darvid was of those women who need only a golden setting to sparkle like diamonds. She shone in the great world with a charm, an elegance, a power of speech which were the same as if she had been its own daughter. She was radiant with satisfaction, with serenity, often even with joyous animation, and only now and then did a slight wrinkle, with a barely discernible line furrowing her Grecian forehead, sink itself and cast on her face an expression of weariness, or the corners of her lips, still red and shapely, drop downward and make that oval, white, delicate face ten years older than it seemed to be usually. But those were only short and rare moments, after which Malvina Darvid was again entirely flooded with the brilliancy of her beautiful eyes, her splendid toilet, the sounds of her metallic voice, warm and full of sweetness. She seemed barely a few years older than her elder daughter. Sometimes guests left her box with the words:
"She is more beautiful than her daughter."
And offener still: "She is more charming and sympathetic than her daughter."
Still nature had been no stepmother to Irene Darvid; but life, though so short thus far, had stamped on her exterior a mark which, while it astonished and discouraged, repelled.
If the younger sister seemed a living portrait of her mother, the elder recalled her father, with her high forehead, thin lips, and—a thing wonderful at such a tender age—the mark of irony drawn over them. Her hair, too, like her father's, changed with fiery gleams of gold and bronze, while the pale complexion of her face, which was too long, was lighted by the frequent sharp glitter of her eyes, which, as those of her father, were not large, and had gray pupils with a cold glance, penetrating and reasoning. Her shapely form was somewhat too slender; her posture and movements too stiff and ceremonious. She passed in society for a haughty, cold, unapproachable, original, and even eccentric young lady. On the stage was presented a play which had been preceded by immense praise; in the theatre had collected all that bore the name of high and fashionable society in the city. The boxes were filled, except one, which only just before the beginning of the second act was opened with a rattle and filled with loud, free, and bold conversation. It was occupied by a number of young men of elegant dress and manners; they, as it seemed, were connected by similarity in position, habits, and pleasures. Prom the higher to the lower rows of the theatre all eyes and glasses were turned toward that box, with its princes, young nabobs, sons of ancient families, or heirs to immense fortunes. Through boxes, armchairs, galleries, passed names notorious through deeds of originality, witty sayings, astonishing excesses; names interwoven with anecdotes about money and love-passages; the substance of the love-passages could be repeated only in whispers, while the amounts of money were mentioned with eyes widely opened in amazement. Two among these young men occupied public attention beyond others that winter: Baron Emil Blauendorf, and Maryan Darvid, both of families recently, but greatly, enriched. The Blauendorf house was older by some generations, and had become widely connected; on the other hand, their fortune in possession of the present descendant was vanishing quickly; in comparison with the entirely new edifice of the Darvids, it seemed a ruin. On these two general attention was concentrated with the greatest curiosity; for during that winter and the preceding one the most numerous anecdotes touching them were in circulation among those who frequented that theatre. They were so young, and still so noted! But Baron Emil was considerably older than Maryan; he was thirty and little favored in looks. Small, weakly, with red, closely-cut hair, with features which were too small, and injured by a faded complexion, with small eyes, which, because of nearsightedness, were either covered with eyeglasses, or blinked at the light from behind yellow lids, which gave them an expression of pride and weariness. An unshapely exterior, unimposing, slight, bent, sickly. But through those small, yellowish, thin hands had passed already the fortune of the old baron, who was dead some years, and now a second fortune was passing through them—a fortune left scarcely a year before to her son by the baroness, who was famous for her idolatrous love of him. People looked, and wondered how such a great river of gold could flow through a creature so small and insignificant. With Maryan it was different. He astonished also, but he roused general sympathy. Such a child! And such a perfectly beautiful fellow at the same time! He was not twenty three years of age yet; of fine stature; his manners were elegant and pleasing; he had the head of a cherub, with bright curling locks; a noble fresh face from which gazed eyes as blue as turquoise; and wise, too wise, perhaps, in so youthful a countenance, for these eyes seemed not to confide but to jeer, or to be wearied and seeking something through the world without finding it. Women whispered into one another's ears that that lad, when in England, had joined the Salvation Army; but after he had remained a short time in its ranks, he became, in Paris, a member of the Hashish Club, and brought away the habit of using narcotics to rouse dreams in himself and unusual conditions. If the city at that moment had temporary possession of Bianca Bianetti it was thanks to that lad, who, in a remote land, had won the heart of the singer. Some insisted that he had spent fabulous sums on her; others contradicted, declaring that not Bianca, the singer, had consumed them, but Aurora, that noted Amazon of the circus, for whose favor princes of blood royal had striven in various capitals. That shapely little nabob had come, seen, and conquered; and when he had got his prize at an incredible outlay, he threw it aside and brought home Bianca. But is that all that may be told of him? He and Baron Emil are fountains of histories of this sort. The baron is considerably older, but this lad has a father. That father himself is a source of unbounded credit. Young Darvid has as many debts as there are golden curls on that cherub head of his. What will his papa say? What? Not long since that papa returned from the ends of the earth, after a long absence; will he put an end to the tricks of the boy? will he be able to do so? The white forehead of the youth has an expression of maturity, and at times of something else—namely, weariness—and in his blue eyes gleams of firmness, resolve, and contempt. He looks as if he despised the whole world then. He and the baron occupy themselves much with art and literature. They expend almost as much on art as on women and joyous suppers. They are highly cultured. The baron plays like an artist; Maryan translates poetry into various languages. In the box were a number of others resembling these two, but the others had places elsewhere in the theatre: they had come for a brief time and left the box afterward, then there remained only the baron and young Darvid. Behind their chairs sat some third man, very quietly, as if to attract the least attention possible. This was Pan Arthur Kranitski. People were accustomed to see him here and elsewhere with these two young men, and with others also, but with these two most frequently; his hair curled, freshened; his black mustache, pointed at the ends above his red lips, in the fashion of young men. But to-day he looks considerably more retiring and older than usual. With much bold conversation, with laughter which cast his head back, with movements full of grace and animation, he generally strove to equal, and did equal, those two young nabobs, whose Mentor he seemed to be, and at the same time their comrade and continual guest, as well as their gracious protector. This time he was weighed down and gloomy, with spots on his aged forehead. He was sitting in a corner of the box, turning his attention neither to the play nor the audience; and, what was more, not striving to attract the attention of anyone. But from behind the shoulders of the young men in the front of the box, his hand, as if directed by an irresistible impulse, turned the opera-glass, from moment to moment, toward Malvina Darvid. He felt that he ought not to look so persistently at that woman with the gleaming star above her forehead, so he dropped his hand to raise it again and turn it in the same direction. As if imitating Kranitski, though really he did not even think of his existence, Baron Emil was acting in the same way with reference to Irene, gazing through his opera-glass at her face, which showed indifference and even weariness. He did this with a perfect disregard for the rest of the audience, and beginning at the second act, with an insolence which might have confused or angered another woman. But Irene, indifferent for some time, raised her glass also, and turned it on the baron. With these glasses the two people brought their faces near each other; they looked each other straight in the eyes, separated themselves from the audience, and gazed from the height of their two boxes in full disregard of everything happening around them. These two opera-glasses, planted in permanent opposition, attract the attention of all; but Irene and the baron do not heed that, do not care to know anything what ever about the audience, or the love scenes and tragedy represented in that theatre. They gaze long at each other with such indifference that one might ask. Why do they do that? Perhaps because it is original, perhaps to rouse the curiosity or the censure of the audience. But, after a long time, there appeared on their faces a jeering, self-willed smile, with a tinge of friendly comradeship, mixed in the baron's case with a passing gleam of the eyes; and in Irene's a pale flush, which covered her lofty forehead for a moment and then vanished. Dropping his hand with the opera-glass the baron turned to Maryan: "Tres garconniere ta soeur!" said he. "She is bold and looks down on every thing; she is disenchanted. Une desabusee! Very interesting, and grows more and more so."
"Does she rouse a new shiver in you?" laughed Maryan.
"Yes, an entirely new shiver. That is a type of woman which is barely beginning. Twenty years old, and a perfectly distinct individuality! Twenty years old, and knows painted pots thoroughly!"
"That is a family trait with us," retorted Maryan.
"Your mother," continued the baron, "has undying beauty. Such splendid hair and eyes! But hers is another type entirely."
"A past one," put in Maryan.
"Yes, that is true, a past type, a simple one. But Panna Irene is new and intricate; yes, that is the word, intricate! We are all intricate now, full of contrasts, dissonances, and vexations."
In the theatre a thunder of applause was heard. The two young men looked at each other and laughed almost loudly.
"What are they playing?" asked the baron, indicating the stage with his head. "Ma foi! I have not heard one word."
"Well old man," said Maryan, turning to Kranitski, "what are they doing on the stage?" Kranitski dropped his hand with the opera-glass quickly and blurted out:
"What is the question, Maryan?" His eyes, which were fine yet in their prolonged lids, were glazed with a tear.
"Ho, ho! romantic, there is a tear in your eye. The subject must be affecting! Let us listen!" They began to listen, but quite differently from others. When passions exhibited on the stage quickened the beating of all hearts, or poetry, pulsating in lofty words, brightened faces with enthusiasm, Maryan and the baron laughed inattentively and with contempt; when stupidity, selfishness, or wit called out laughter, or ridicule, they were immovable in cold importance, puffed up and insolent; when the curtain came down at the end, and a deafening, prolonged thunder of applause was heard, their hands rested ostentatiously on the edge of the box. This opposition to the impressions and opinions of the audience might seem a childish wish for distinction; but one could feel besides in it, a bold throwing down of the gauntlet to common taste, and an estimate of the various elements and values in life directly in conflict with that of others.
Toward the end of the last act Kranitski entered Malvina Darvid's box, and saluting each woman silently he stood motionless. Malvina bowed toward him slightly, then a shadow came out on her face; this shadow seemed to have torn itself from an internal cloud. She frowned—a deep wrinkle appeared on her forehead, the corners of her mouth drooped somewhat, and her face, with that brilliant star in the aureole of bright hair above, had an expression of pain when seen on the drapery of the box as a background.
But that did not last long. The box was filled with an assembly of brilliant and agreeable men, one of whom, with his gray hair and bearing of an official, made a low obeisance before the wife of Darvid, and seemed to lay at her feet smiles full of homage. Hence she grew affable, pleasant, vivacious, elegant in gestures, and in the modulation of her beautiful voice, she answered politeness with politeness, requests with promises, and gave opinions in return for questions touching the piece just played.
Baron Emil meanwhile approached Irene and, indicating the excited audience with his eyes, inquired:
"How do those shouting Arcadians please you?"
Taking on her shoulders the wrap which he held for her, she answered:
"They are happy!"
"Because they are naive!"
"You have described the position famously!" cried he, with enthusiasm. "Only Arcadians could be so happy—"
"As to believe in those painted pots—"
"As their great-grandfathers did," added he.
"Who knows," said she, as it were, with deep thought, "whether the great-grandfathers really believed in them, or only—"
"Pretended belief! Ha! ha! ha! Beyond price! excellent! How you and I converse, do we not? This is harmony!"
"Not without dissonance."
"Yes, yes, not without vexation. But that is nothing. That even rouses-"
During this interchange of opinions, which was like the glitter of cold and sharp steel, Kranitski, in the crowd which surrounded Malvina, was able to whisper to her:
"To-morrow at eleven." Without looking at him, and with a quiver of her brows, which drooped a little, she answered:
"It is too early."
"Absolutely necessary. A catastrophe! A misfortune!" whispered he in addition.
She raised to him a glance which showed that she was tortured to her inmost soul by fear, but at the same moment Maryan gave her his arm, and said:
"To be original, to edify the Arcadians, and to give myself pleasure, I shall be to-day a virtuous son, conducting his own beautiful mamma downstairs!"
Adroit, with almost childish delight in his blue eyes, but with a sarcastic smile which seemed to have grown to his lips, which were shaded by a minute mustache, this youth led through the theatre corridor that woman not young, but whose beautiful and original head, and whose rich toilet drew all eyes to her.
"I am proud of you, dear mamma. To-day I have heard whole odes sung in your honor; even Emil declares that you are eclipsing Irene with your beauty."
She was smiling and also angry. Her dark gleaming eyes rose with love to the shapely face of her son, but, striving to be dignified, she said:
"Maryan, you know that I am displeased at hearing you talk to me in such a tone."
He laughed loudly.
"Then, my dear mamma, you should grow old as quickly as possible, put on a cap, and sit in a jacket at the fireplace. I should be filled then with timid respect, and would hurry away with all speed from such an annoying mamma!"
"But since I am not annoying you will be good and come home with us. We shall drink tea together."
"Au desespoir, chere maman! But that cannot be. The rest of this day, or night, I have promised to friends."
"Is to-day the only time promised?" asked she, with a shade of sadness.
"For the true sage to-morrow and yesterday have no existence," answered Maryan.
They were at the open door of the carriage; Maryan bent and kissed his mother's hand.
"Be not angry, mamma dear! But you are never angry. If there is anything on earth that I worship yet it is your marvellous sweetness of temper."
"It is excessive," answered Malvina. "If I only knew how to dominate—"
He interrupted her, with a laugh:
"I should avoid you in that ease; but now, all relations between us are excellent, though they are constitutional or even republican."
"I go for anarchy!" put in Baron Emil, helping Irene to a seat in the carriage.
He spoke somewhat through his nose and teeth, it was difficult to say whether by nature or habit, but that gave to his speech a character of contemptuousness and indolence.
"But of dissonances to-morrow n'est ce pas?" asked he.
"And of vexations!" concluded Irene with a smile, wherewith her hand remained on the baron's palm a few seconds longer than was necessary.
Soon after, Malvina Darvid was sitting at a small table covered with a tea service, in a study which was like the lined and gilded interior of a costly confectionery box. Massive silver artistically finished, expensive porcelain, exquisite tid-bits, enticing the eye by their ornamentation, and the taste by the odor from them, tempered, however, by the strong fragrance of hyacinths, syringa, and violets which were blooming at the window and the walls, and on largo and small tables everywhere.
The dress worn at the theatre was replaced now by a wrapper, composed of lace and material soft as down. Her posture in the low and deep armchair, the very manner even in which she arranged the folds of her robe seemed to exhale the luxury of rest; but her mind was at work, and filled her eyes with an expression of disquiet.
"'Catastrophe! Misfortune!' What could that be?" Marks of pain had begun to wind around her mouth; her hands were firmly clasped on her knees. "It may be that lost letter? A man must have a head filled with exaltation, and a character as weak as Kranitski's to write such a letter. It may be—it is even sure to be so, for during a number of days she has felt in the air a catastrophe. But if?—Well! Is that a misfortune? Oh, rather the opposite?" The supposition that the dark, grievous truth of her life might be discovered by him who would seek vengeance because of it roused no fear in her; it caused her to hope for a thing disagreeable and yet desired. Let that horrid knot in which her life was involved be untied or torn apart sometime, in any way whatever. Alone she would never have strength to untie or to cut it, she is such an eternally weak, weak, weak creature! And still anything would be better than the present condition.
Two glittering tears rolled slowly down her cheeks; above the drooping eyelids a deep wrinkle cut a dark line across her forehead. The diamond star flashing rainbow gleams from her hair, and the flowers, which dotted the room thickly with their pale colors, gave a background of wealth to that woman's life tragedy.
With a teacup in her hand Irene stood in the opposite door and looked at her mother uneasily, keenly, with such attention that her eyelids blinked repeatedly. Far from her now were those dry and sneering smiles in conversation with the baron. But she passed through the room calmly and sat in front of her mother.
"It seems that the play of to-night did not amuse you much, mamma." She looked into the teacup so steadily that she could not see her mother's tears or expression of face. But that face grew bright on a sudden and was covered with an unrestrained smile.
"Is Cara sleeping?" inquired she.
"Of course; her room is quite silent, and so is Miss Mary's. Why do you not drink tea, mamma?"
Malvina raised the spoon slowly to her lips, and Irene began to speak calmly:
"I heard very unexpected news to-day. It seems that father has told Prince Zeno, who inquired about the matter, that he will not consent to my marriage with Baron Blauendorf."
"Why call that news unexpected?" asked Malvina, looking at her daughter.
Irene shrugged her shoulders slowly.
"I did not suppose that father would devote his precious time to things so trivial. This is unexpected and may bring trouble."
"What trouble?" inquired Malvina, with alarm.
"Father's opinions and mine may be in opposition."
"In that case your opinion will yield."
"I doubt that. I have my plans, my needs, my tastes; of these father can know nothing."
They were silent rather long; during this time Malvina raised her eyes to her daughter repeatedly, with the intent to say something, but she was unable, or at least she hesitated. At last she inquired in irresolute, almost timid, tones:
"Irene, do you love him?"
"Do I love the baron?"
These words coming from the lips of the young girl expressed immense astonishment.
"If Baron Emil should hear that question he would be the first to call it Arcadian or great-grandfatherly." And she laughed. "That is one of those things which do not exist, or which, at least, are changeable, temporary, dependent on the state of the nerves and the imagination. I have a cool imagination and calm nerves. I can do without painted pots."
As these words came slowly and coldly from the lips of her daughter, Malvina straightened herself, and her face was covered with a faint blush. She had preserved the rare, and at her age even wonderful, faculty of blushing.
"Ira!" cried she, "I hear these opinions not for the first time, and they give me such pain!"
She clasped her hands.
"Love, sympathy, when a choice is made—"
The voice broke in her throat all at once. Her eyelids drooped; her shoulders fell back on the chair; she was silent.
Irene laughed and made a gesture of despair with her hands.
"What can I do with the situation?" began she in a jesting tone. "It was not I who made this world, and cannot reconstruct it. I might like to do so, perhaps, but I cannot." Then she grew serious, and continued: "Love and sympathy may be very charming. I admit even that most assuredly they are when they exist; but usually if they exist it is for a short period, they flash up and quench—a few years, a few days, most frequently only days, and they pass—they are as if they had never been. Why illusions, when after them disenchantment must conic? They merely cause useless exertion in life, disappointment, and suffering."
Irene's words and sententious, hard tones were in marvellous contrast with the maiden-roundness of her arms, which were bare in the broad sleeves of her dressing-gown, with the fresh red of her delicate lips, and the gleam of her blue eyes.
"Besides," added she, "I feel a sympathy for the baron; a certain kind of sympathy." Malvina, after a moment's silence, asked in a low voice:
"What kind of sympathy is it?"
After a little hesitation Irene answered with a harsh, abrupt laugh:
"What kind of sympathy? A kind very common, it seems known universally. Sometimes his way of looking at me, or his pressure of the hand, moves me. But he pleases me most by his sincerity; he makes no pretence. He has never told me, like those three or four other suitors of mine, that he loves me. He has for me, as I have for him, a certain kind of sympathy; he considers me financially an excellent match, and for these two reasons he wishes to share with me his title of baron, and his relationship with certain families of counts and princes. And as I, on my part, need independence at the earliest, and my own house, so one thing for another, the exchange of services and interests is accomplished. We do not hide from each other these motives of ours, and this creates between us sincere and comrade-like relations, quite agreeable, and leading to no tirades or elegies in which there is not one bit of truth, or to any exaltation or despair which has no title to the future. This is all."
"Ira!" whispered Malvina after a long silence.
"If I could—if I had the right—" Both were silent.
"If I could believe in spite of—"
The gilded and artistic clock ticked among the pinks and lilies: tick-tack, tick-tack.
"What is it, mamma?"
"A cake, Ira!"
As Irene took a cake from the silver basket with her trembling hand, she cried, with glad laughter:
"At last you will eat even a cake! You have changed immensely, mamma. I cannot call you now as I once did, a little glutton, since for some time past you eat so little that it is nearly nothing."
Malvina smiled fondly at the name which on a time her daughter had given her jestingly, and Irene continued in the same tone:
"Remember, mamma, how you and I, with one small assistant in Cara, ate whole baskets of cakes, or big, big boxes of confectionery. Now that is past. I notice this long time that you eat almost nothing, and that you dress richly only because you must do so. At times, were it possible, you would put on haircloth instead of rich silks, would you not? Have I guessed rightly?"
While a faint blush covered her forehead and cheeks again, Malvina answered:
Irene grew thoughtful; without raising her eyes to her mother she inquired in a low voice:
"What is the cause of this?"
"Returning currents of life are the cause," answered Malvina after a rather long silence, and she continued, thoughtfully: "You see, my child, currents of a river when once they have passed never come back again, but currents of life come hack. My early youth was poor, as you know, calm, laborious, brightened by ideals, from which I have deviated much! That was long ago, but it happened. In life so many years pass sometimes, that events which precede those years seem a dream, but they are real and come back to us."
Irene listened to this hesitating, low conversation with drooping eyelids and forehead resting on her hand. She made no answer. Malvina, sunk in thought, was silent also.
A few minutes later the tea things vanished from the table, removed without a sound almost, and borne out by the young waiting-maid.
With eyelids still drooping, as if she were finishing an idea circling stubbornly in her head, Irene said with pensive lips:
"A haircloth!" She rose then, and, suppressing a yawn, said: "I am sleepy. Good-night, mamma, dear!" She placed a brief kiss on her mother's hand: "Shall I call Kosalia?"
"No, no! Tell her to go to sleep. I will undress myself and go to bed unattended."
Stepping quietly along the carpet Irene passed out. Malvina followed the young lady to the door with her eyes, and the moment she was alone she threw her arm over her head, turned her face upward, and repeated a number of times, audibly: "God! God!" Then she rested her elbows on the arms of the chair, covered her face with both palms, the broad sleeves of her dress fell from her arms like broken wings. Thus, altogether motionless, she dropped into an abyss of regrets, reminiscences, and fears. The night flowed on. The clock among the flowers in that study struck the first hour after midnight, then the second hour, and each time in the darkness of the drawing-rooms another clock answered in tones which were deeper and more resonant. The syringa and hyacinths gave out a still stronger odor, though the cold increased in that chamber. The frosty winter night was creeping in, even to dwellings which were carefully heated, and was filling them with darkness penetrated with cold; along Malvina's shoulders, which were bent over the arm of the chair, shivers began to pass.
In the darkness and cold a slight rustle was heard, and on the background of this darkness, in the doorway, appeared Irene. She wore a short, embroidered dress of cambric, and her fiery tresses were on her shoulders. She stood in the doorway with neck extended toward her mother, then walking in soft slippers silently she passed through the room like a shadow, and vanished beyond the opposite door. There was something ghostlike in those two women; one passed, without the slightest rustle, by the other, who was sleeping in a low chair, without making the least movement. Outside that mansion the streets of the city were entering into a deeper and longer silence.
The clock in the study struck three, in the darkness three strokes, remote and deep, answered. In the air the volatile and languid odor of syringas was overcome by the narcotic and stronger odor of hyacinths. The increasing cold flowed around them with painful contrast. In the door, beyond which she had vanished, Irene appeared again, just as silently as before. She passed through the room and placed a shawl upon her mother's shoulders. Malvina, feeling the soft stuff, woke as if from a dream.
"What is this?" exclaimed she, raising her face, the cheeks of which were gleaming in the light of the lamp; but when she saw her daughter she smiled with relief immediately.
"That is you, Ira? Why are you not asleep?"
"I cannot sleep, and I came for the book which we began to read together. It is growing cold, so I brought a shawl. Good-night."
She went aside but did not leave the room. She had no book in her hand; perhaps she was looking for it in the beautifully carved ease filled with books, for she opened the case and stood before it with arms raised toward the upper shelves, her hair lying motionless on the white cambric covering her shoulders.
Malvina was looking at her daughter, in her eyes was impatience; she was waiting for her to go.
"Is it late?" asked she.
"Very late," answered Irene, without turning her head.
"Does Cara cough to-night?"
"I have not heard her cough to-day." Malvina rose, but tottered so much that she was forced to rest her hand on the edge of the table. She seemed greatly wearied.
"Go to sleep. Good-night!" said she, passing her daughter.
Irene looked at her tottering step and followed her quickly a number of paces.
"Mamma!" cried she.
Irene stood before her mother a moment, her lips were quivering with words which she withheld, till she bent, kissed her mother's hand gently, and said in her usual manner:
Then she stood a while longer before the open case, listening to the rustle made by her mother while going to bed, and when that had ceased she closed the case and moved quietly into the darkness behind the outer door.
At that same time a carriage thundered in the silence and passed through the gateway. Restrained movement rose in the antechamber from which one servant ran out into the dimly lighted stairway, and another rushed to the study and bedroom of the master of the mansion to increase quickly the light of the lamps there. Darvid went up the stairs quickly and with sprightliness; he threw into the hands of the servant his fur, which was costly and original, since it was brought from the distant North, and began at once to read at the round table, through an eyeglass, that which he had jotted down recently in his pocket notebook. The book was in ivory binding with a gold monogram, and a pencil with a gold case. While reading Darvid put a brief question to the servant:
"Has Pan Maryan returned?"
The answer was negative. Large and heavy wrinkles appeared between Darvid's brows, but he continued to read his notes. Almost a quarter of an hour later he wrote something more while bending over the desk, and standing. Soon in the bedchamber, furnished by the most skillful decorator of the capital, a night-lamp on the mantel of a chimney illuminated a bed adorned with rich carving; a white and lean hand stretched out on a silk coverlet, and a face also, which was like ivory, and shining with two blue sleepless eyes, keenly glittering. Darvid cast an inattentive glance through the room, over which, in the pale lamplight, two beautiful female heads seemed to hover, reflected and multiplied in mirrors standing opposite each other. This was a most beautiful work—a genuine Greuze. To win this masterpiece Darvid outbid a number of men of high standing; he triumphed and was delighted. But now his sleepless glance passed over that pearl of art inattentively. His night at the club instead of diverting and calming had bored and irritated. His honorable partner was annoying, and rude in addition. Never would he have forced himself to play with the man, had not that relation been an honor, and—what was more—had it not been needful. Women say: one must suffer to be beautiful; men need to change only the last word and say: one must suffer to be powerful. But that was beginning to be repulsive, and, above all, to be wearisome. Only when in bed did he feel that he was weary. He could not sleep. He had slept badly for some weeks—since the time of that wretched letter. At thought of that letter the serpents stirred in Darvid's breast, but he shut them down in their den by hissing: "Stupidity!" And he fell into long and uneasy thought about that man whom he had sent on weighty business, but who had not returned yet.
Perhaps chance will not favor him this time, and another hand will seize the field of action and the great profits. He knows that he has enemies and rivals who envy, who undermine him. Well, he will win also in this case, only he would like something afterward—what? He himself does not know what—perhaps rest. To go for a time to Switzerland or Italy. For what purpose? He is not over curious about art and nature, he has no time to fall in love with them. Without occupation he would be bored in all places, and besides he must finish these family questions. He must tame Maryan, and hinder Irene's marriage to the baron. He is fighting a battle with his own son and daughter. Cara is the only one with whom he has no trouble. She is mild and beautiful. Her head is turned also, but in another, a more agreeable direction. She is greatly attached to him, the dear child! She is frail. He must speak to the doctor about her. Perhaps send her to Italy. With whom? With her mother? He would never permit that. The child is his. He will go himself with Cara. But in that case what will become of his enterprise?
In the interior of the mansion were heard deep, metallic sounds. The clock struck five.
In that same mansion, at the distant end of it, in a chamber lighted by a blue night-lamp, was heard a low, dry cough, and a frail, tall maiden, in night-clothing covered with lace, sat up in a blue and white bed.
"Miss Mary! Miss Mary!" cried she, with fear in her voice.
From the adjoining chamber came a voice of agreeable tone and somewhat drowsy:
"You are not asleep, Cara?"
"I have slept. The cough woke me, but that is well, for I had a dreadful dream. I dreamed that papa and mamma—"
She stopped suddenly, and, though no one was looking at her, she hid her delicate face in the blue coverlet. So only in a whisper did she tell the end of her dream:
"They were angry at each other—so awfully angry—Ira put her arms around mamma—Maryan went away hissing. I hung to papa, and cried so, and cried."
In fact her eyes were then filled with tears from the dream. But she stretched in the bed, and, with her head on the pillows, thought, till she called again:
"Miss Mary! Are you sleeping?"
"No, dear; do you wish anything?"
Cara began in a loud voice:
"I wish immensely, immensely, Miss Mary, to go with you to England, to your father and mother. Oh, how I should like to be in that parsonage a while, where your sisters teach poor children and nurse the sick, and your mother makes tea at the grate for your father when he comes home after services. Oh, Mary, if you and I could go to that place! It is so pleasant there." In the blue light and in the silence her thin voice recalled the twittering of a lark.
"We will go there sometime, dear. Your parents will permit, and we will go. But sleep now."
"Very well, I will sleep. Good-night, Miss Mary—my dear, good Miss Mary."
She lay some minutes quietly thinking, till she sat up again in bed coughing. When the cough had passed, she called in a low voice:
"Miss Mary! Miss Mary!"
There was no answer.
"She is sleeping," whispered Cara, and after a while she looked around, and, in a lower voice, called:
At this call the little dog sprang from a neighboring chair, and in the twinkle of an eye was on the bed.
Cara stroked the silken coat of the dog, and bending toward him whispered:
"Puffie! Puffie! dear, little dog! lie here, sleep for thyself!"
She put him on her breast almost at her chin; with her hand on his coat, and with the whisper: "Puffie! good Puffie!" she fell asleep.
Then was heard the sound of a drozhky, coming quickly, with uproar in front of the house, and again there was an end to voices and movement. Two men ascended the stairway, one much older than the other, with a carefully brushed, but somewhat worn hat, in a fashionable but somewhat worn fur. He spoke in a low voice:
"Yes, yes! c'est quelque chose d'inoui! he commanded me to break off all relations with you, and to stop visiting his house."
"A thousand and one nights! Why is it? What is it for?" exclaimed the other.
Suddenly he stopped part way on the stairs, and asked with a half jeering, half pitying look at his companion:
"If he should find out?"
Kranitski turned his face away.
"My Maryan—with you—of that—"
"Painted pots!" laughed Maryan. "Do you take me for my great-grandfather? Well, has he found it out?"
With red spots on his cheeks and forehead Kranitski blinked affirmatively.
"Sapristi!" imprecated Maryan, and immediately he laughed again. "And why? for what reason? Did he also believe in painted pots? I thought him modern."
"Alas!" sighed Kranitski.
They advanced in silence, passed the first story of the house. Maryan's bachelor chambers were on the second story.
"My dear old man, I am sorry for you, enormously sorry," began young Darvid again. "I have grown so accustomed to you. You will have to suffer, and poor mamma, too. Where did he get all this? A man of such sense! I thought that his head was better ventilated—"
He could not finish, for Kranitski threw himself on his neck at the very door of his apartments. He wept. Drying his eyes with his perfumed cambric handkerchief, he said:
"My Maryan, I shall not survive this blow! I love you all so much—you are—for me—as a younger brother—"
He tried to kiss him, but Maryan broke away from his embrace, and his tears, the moisture of which he felt on his face, with discomfort.
"But it is absurd!" exclaimed he. "Are we to break our relations because they displease someone? Are we slaves? Laugh at that, my dear. Come to me as before, but pass the night now with me, for it would be difficult for you to go home at this hour."