THE DANGEROUS AGE
LETTERS AND FRAGMENTS FROM A WOMAN'S DIARY
TRANSLATED FROM THE DANISH OF KARIN MICHAELIS
NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY. MCMXI
MY DEAR BROTHER-IN-LAW
BARON YOOST DAHLERUP
INTRODUCTION TO THE FRENCH EDITION By MARCEL PREVOST
Here is a strange book. A novel from the North, its solid structure, its clear, unadorned form are purely Latin. A woman's novel, in its integral and violent sincerity it can only be compared to certain famous masculine confessions.
The author, Karin Michaelis, a Dane, is not at all known in France. The Dangerous Age is not her first book; but it is, I feel sure, the first that has been translated into French. Naturally enough the Danish-Scandinavian literature is transmitted in the first instance through newspapers and reviews, and through German publishers. This is the result of local proximity and the affinity of language. Several novels by Karin Michaelis were known to the German public before The Dangerous Age; but none of them had awakened the same keen curiosity, provoked such discussion, or won such success as this book. In all the countries of Central Europe the most widely read novel at the present moment is The Dangerous Age. Edition succeeds edition, and the fortune of the book has been increased by the quarrels it has provoked; for it has been much discussed and criticised, not on account of its literary value, which is incontestable, but because of the idea which animates it.
Shall I confess that it was just this great success, and the polemical renown of the novel, that roused my suspicions when first I chanced to see the German version of it? Contrary to the reputation which our neighbours on the other side of the Vosges like to foist upon us, French literature, at the present day, is far less noisily scandalous than their own. It is only necessary to glance over the advertisements which certain German publishing firms issue at the end of their publications in order to be convinced of this. It is amusing to find every kind of "puff" couched in the exaggerated style which the modern German affects.
It was with some bias and suspicion, therefore, that I took up Das gefaehrliche Alter. When I started to read the book, nothing could have been further from my mind than to write, a French version and to present it myself to the public. This is all the more reason why justice should be done to Karin Michaelis. I have read no other book of hers except The Dangerous Age; but in this novel she has in no way exceeded what a sincere and serious observer has a right to publish. Undoubtedly her book is not intended for young girls, for what the English call "bread-and-butter misses." But nobody is compelled to write exclusively for schoolgirls, and it has yet to be proved that there is any necessity to feed them on fiction as well as on bread and butter.
The Dangerous Age deals with a bold subject; it is a novel filled with the "strong meat" of human nature; a novel which speaks in accents at once painful and ironical, and ends in despair; but it is also a book to which the most scrupulous author on the question of "the right to speak out" need not hesitate to attach his name.
It is difficult for one who knows no Danish, to judge of its literary value; and that is my case. In the German version—and I hope also in the French—the reader will not fail to discern some of the novelist's finest gifts. In the first instance, there is that firmness and solidity of structure which is particularly difficult to keep up when a book takes the form of a journal, of jottings and meditations, as does The Dangerous Age. Then there are the depth of reflection, the ingenuity of the arguments, the muscular brevity of style, the expression being closely modelled upon the thought; nothing is vague, but nothing is superfluous. We must not seek in this volume for picturesque landscape painting, for the lyrical note, for the complacently woven "purple patch." The book is rigorously deprived of all these things; and, having regard to its subject, this is not its least merit.
* * * * *
When a woman entitles a book The Dangerous Age we may feel sure she does not intend to write of the dangers of early youth. The dangerous age described by Karin Michaelis is precisely that time of life which inspired Octave Feuillet to write the novel, half-dialogue, half-journal, which appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes in 1848, was adapted for the stage, played at the Gymnase in 1854, and reproduced later with some success at the Comedie-Francaise—I mean the work entitled La Crise.
It is curious to compare the two books, partly on account of the long space of time which separates them, and partly because of the different way in which the two writers treat the same theme.
Octave Feuillet, be it remembered, only wrote what might be spoken aloud in the most conventional society. Nevertheless those who think the author of Monsieur de Cantors timid and insipid are only short-sighted critics. I advise my readers when they have finished the last page of The Dangerous Age to re-read La Crise. They will observe many points of resemblance, notably in the "journal" portion of the latter. Juliette, Feuillet's heroine, thus expresses herself:
"What name can I give to this moral discomfort, this distaste for my former habits, this aimless restlessness and discontent with myself and others, of which I have been conscious during the last few months?... I have taken it into my head to hate the trinkets on my husband's watchchain. We lived together in peace for ten years, those trinkets and I ... Now, I don't know why, we have suddenly fallen out...."
These words from La Crise contain the argument of The Dangerous Age.
And yet I will wager that Karin Michaelis never read La Crise. Had she read it, however, her book would still have remained all her own, by reason of her individual treatment of a subject that is also a dangerous one. We have made considerable advances since 1848. Even in Denmark physiology now plays a large part in literature. Feuillet did not venture to do more than to make his Juliet experience temptation from a medical lover, who is a contrast to her magistrate husband. Although doctors come off rather badly in The Dangerous Age, the book owes much to them and to medical science. Much; perhaps too much. If this woman's work had been imagined and created by a man, no doubt he would have been accused of having lost sight of women's repugnance to speak or write of their physical inferiority, or even to dwell upon it in thought. Yet the name Karin Michaelis is no pseudonym; the writer really is of the same sex as her heroine Elsie Lindtner.
Is not this an added reason for the curiosity which this book awakens? The most sincere and complete, the humblest and most moving of feminine confessions proceeds from one of those Northern women, whom we Latin races are pleased to imagine as types of immaterial candour, sovereign "intellectuality," and glacial temperament—souls in harmony with their natural surroundings, the rigid pine forests and snow-draped heathlands of Scandinavia.
A Scandinavian woman! Immediately the words evoke the chaste vision sung by Leconte de Lisle, in his poem "l'Epiphanie":
Elle passe, tranquille, en un reve divin, Sur le bord du plus frais de tes lacs, o Norvege! Le sang rose et subtil qui dore son col fin Est doux comme un rayon de l'aube sur la neige.
Quand un souffle furtif glisse en ses cheveux blonds, Une cendre ineffable inonde son epaule, Et, de leur transparence argentant leurs cils longs, Ses yeux out la couleur des belle nuits du pole.
Et le gardien pensif du mystique oranger Des balcons de l'Aurore eternelle se penche, Et regarde passer ce fantome leger Dans les plis de sa robe immortellement blanche.
"Immortellement blanche!" Very white indeed!... Read the intimate journal of Elsie Lindtner, written precisely by the side of one of these fresh Northern lakes. Possibly at eighteen Elsie Lindtner may have played at "Epiphanies" and filled "the pensive guardian of the mystic orange tree" with admiration. But it is at forty-two that she begins to edit her private diary, and her eyes that "match the hue of polar nights" have seen a good deal in the course of those twenty years. And if in the eyes of the law she has remained strictly faithful to her marriage vows, she has judged herself in the secret depths of her heart. She has also judged other women, her friends and confidants. The moment of "the crisis" arrives, and, taking refuge in "a savage solitude," in which even the sight of a male servant is hateful to her, she sets down with disconcerting lucidity all she has observed in other women, and in herself. These other women are also of the North: Lillie Rothe, Agatha Ussing, Astrid Bagge, Margarethe Ernst, Magna Wellmann.... Her memory invokes them all, and they reappear. We seem to take part in a strange, painful revel; a witches' revel of ardent yet withered sorceresses; a revel in which the modern demons of Neurasthenia and Hysteria sport and sneer.
* * * * *
Let us not be mistaken, however. Elsie Lindtner's confession is not merely to be weighed by its fierce physiological sincerity; it is the feminine soul, and the feminine soul of all time, that is revealed in this extraordinary document. I think nothing less would give out such a pungent odour of truth. The Dangerous Age contains pages dealing with women's smiles and tears, with their love of dress and desire to please, and with the social relations between themselves and the male sex, which will certainly irritate some feminine readers. Let them try to unravel the real cause of their annoyance: perhaps they will perceive that they are actually vexed because a woman has betrayed the freemasonry that exists among their own sex. We must add that we are dealing here with another nation, and every Frenchwoman may, if she choose, decline to recognise herself among these portraits from Northern Europe.
A sure diagnosis of the vital conditions under which woman exists, and an acute observation of her complicated soul—these two things alone would suffice, would they not, to recommend the novel in which they were to be found? But The Dangerous Age possesses another quality which, at first sight, seems to have no connection with the foregoing: it is by no means lacking in emotion. Notwithstanding that she has the eye of the doctor and the psychologist, Elsie Lindtner, the heroine, has also the nerves and sensibility of a woman. Her daring powers of analysis do not save her from moments of mysterious terror, such as came over her, for no particular reason, on a foggy evening; nor yet from the sense of being utterly happy—equally without reason—on a certain autumn night; nor from feeling an intense sensuous pleasure in letting the little pebbles on the beach slide between her fingers. In a word, all the harshness of her judgments and reflections do not save her from the dreadful distress of growing old....
In vain she withdraws from the society of her fellow-creatures, in the hope that old age will no longer have terrors for her when there is no one at hand to watch her physical decay; the redoubtable phantom still haunts her in her retreat; watches her, brushes past her, and mocks her sincere effort to abandon all coquetry and cease "to count as a woman." At the same time a cruel melancholia possesses her; she feels she has become old without having profited by her youth. Not that she descends to the coarse and libertine regrets of "grand'mere" in Beranger's song, "Ah! que je regrette!" Elsie Lindtner declares more than once that if she had to start life over again she would be just as irreproachable. But the nearer she gets to the crisis, the more painfully and lucidly she perceives the antinomy between two feminine desires: the desire of moral dignity and the desire of physical enjoyment. In a woman of her temperament this need of moral dignity becomes increasingly imperious the more men harass her with their desires—an admirable piece of observation which I believe to be quite new. Moral resistance becomes weaker in proportion as the insistent passion of men becomes rarer and less active. She will end by yielding entirely when men cease to find her desirable. Then, even the most honourable of women, finding herself no longer desired, will perhaps lose the sense of her dignity so far as to send out a despairing appeal to the companion who is fleeing from her....
Such is the inward conflict which forms the subject of The Dangerous Age. It must be conceded that it lacks neither greatness nor human interest.
* * * * *
I wish to add a few lines in order to record here an impression which I experienced while reading the very first pages of The Dangerous Age; an impression that became deeper and clearer when I had closed the book.
The Dangerous Age is one of those rare novels by a woman in which the writer has not troubled to think from a man's point of view. I lay stress upon this peculiarity because it is very rare, especially among the contemporary works of Frenchwomen.
The majority of our French authoresses give us novels in which their ambition to think, to construct and to write in a masculine style is clearly perceptible. And nothing, I imagine, gives them greater pleasure than when, thanks to their pseudonyms, their readers actually take them for men writers.
Therefore all this mass of feminine literature in France, with three or four exceptions—all this mass of literature of which I am far from denying the merits—has really told us nothing new about the soul of woman. A strange result is that not a single woman writer of the present day is known as a specialist in feminine psychology.
Karin Michaelis has been inspired to write a study of womankind without trying to interpose between her thought and the paper the mind and vision of a man. The outcome is astonishing. I have said that the construction of the novel is solid; but no man could have built it up in that way. It moves to a definite goal by a sure path; yet its style is variable like the ways of every woman, even if she be completely mistress of herself.... Thus her flights of thought, like carrier-pigeons, never fail to reach their end, although at times they circle and hover as though troubled by some mysterious hesitancy or temptation to turn back from their course....
Elsie Lindtner's journal shows us many examples of these circling flights and retrogressions. Sometimes too we observe a gap, an empty space, in which words and ideas seem to have failed. Again, there are sudden leaps from one subject to another, the true thought appearing, notwithstanding, beneath the artificial thought which is written down. Sometimes there comes an abrupt and painful pause, as though somebody walking absent-mindedly along the road found themselves brought up by a yawning cleft....
This cinematograph of feminine thought, stubborn yet disconnected, is to my mind the principal literary merit of the book; more so even than its strength and brevity of style.
* * * * *
For all these reasons, it seemed to me that The Dangerous Age was worthy to be presented to the public in a French translation. The Revue de Paris also thought it worthy to be published in its pages. I shall be astonished if French readers do not confirm this twofold judgment, offering to this foreign novel the same favourable reception that has already been accorded to it outside its little native land.
The Dangerous Age
MY DEAR LILLIE,
Obviously it would have been the right thing to give you my news in person—apart from the fact that I should then have enjoyed the amusing spectacle of your horror! But I could not make up my mind to this course.
All the same, upon my word of honour, you, dear innocent soul, are the only person to whom I have made any direct communication on the subject. It is at once your great virtue and defect that you find everything that everybody does quite right and reasonable—you, the wife eternally in love with her husband; eternally watching over your children like a brood-hen.
You are really virtuous, Lillie. But I may add that you have no reason for being anything else. For you, life is like a long and pleasant day spent in a hammock under a shady tree—your husband at the head and your children at the foot of your couch.
You ought to have been a mother stork, dwelling in an old cart-wheel on the roof of some peasant's cottage.
For you, life is fair and sweet, and all humanity angelic. Your relations with the outer world are calm and equable, without temptation to any passions but such as are perfectly legal. At eighty you will still be the virtuous mate of your husband.
Don't you see that I envy you? Not on account of your husband—you may keep him and welcome! Not on account of your lanky maypoles of daughters—for I have not the least wish to be five times running a mother-in-law, a fate which will probably overtake you. No! I envy your superb balance and your imperturbable joy in life.
I am out of sorts to-day. We have dined out twice running, and you know I cannot endure too much light and racket.
We shall meet no more, you and I. How strange it will seem. We had so much in common besides our portly dressmaker and our masseuse with her shiny, greasy hands! Well, anyhow, let us be thankful to the masseuse for our slender hips.
I shall miss you. Wherever you were, the atmosphere was cordial. Even on the summit of the Blocksberg, the chillest, barest spot on earth, you would impart some warmth.
Lillie Rothe, dear cousin, do not have a fit on reading my news: Richard and I are going to be divorced.
Or rather, we are divorced.
Thanks to the kindly intervention of the Minister of Justice, the affair was managed quickly and without fuss, as you see. After twenty-two years of married life, almost as exemplary as your own, we are going our separate ways.
You are crying, Lillie, because you are such a kind, heaven-sent, tender-hearted creature. But spare your tears. You are really fond of me, and when I tell you that all has happened for the best, you will believe me, and dry your eyes.
There is no special reason for our divorce. None at least that is palpable, or explicable, to the world. As far as I know, Richard has no entanglements; and I have no lover. Neither have we lost our wits, nor become religious maniacs. There is no shadow of scandal connected with our separation beyond that which must inevitably arise when two middle-aged partners throw down the cards in the middle of the rubber.
It has cost my vanity a fierce struggle. I, who made it such a point of honour to live unassailable and pass as irreproachable. I, who am mortally afraid of the judgment of my fellow creatures—to let loose the gossips' tongues in this way!
I, who have always maintained that the most wretched menage was better than none at all, and that an unmarried or divorced woman had no right to expect more than the semi-existence of a Pariah! I, who thought divorce between any but a very young couple an unpardonable folly! Here am I, breaking a union that has been completely harmonious and happy!
You will begin to realize, dear Lillie, that this is a serious matter.
For a whole year I delayed taking the final step; and if I hesitated so long before realizing my intention, it was partly in order to test my own feelings, and partly for practical reasons; for I am practical, and I could not fancy myself leaving my house in the Old Market Place without knowing where I was going to.
My real reason is so simple and clear that few will be content to accept it. But I have no other, so what am I to do?
You know, like the rest of the world, that Richard and I have got on as well as any two people of opposite sex ever can do. There has never been an angry word between us. But one day the impulse—or whatever you like to call it—took possession of me that I must live alone—quite alone and all to myself. Call it an absurd idea, an impossible fancy; call it hysteria—which perhaps it is—I must get right away from everybody and everything. It is a blow to Richard, but I hope he will soon get over it. In the long run his factory will make up for my loss.
We concealed the business very nicely. The garden party we gave last week was a kind of "farewell performance." Did you suspect anything at all? We are people of the world and know how to play the game...!
If I am leaving to-night, it is not altogether because I want to be "over the hills" before the scandal leaks out, but because I have an indescribable longing for solitude.
Joergen Malthe has planned and built a little villa for me—without having the least idea I was to be the occupant.
The house is on an island, the name of which I will keep to myself for the present. The rooms are fourteen feet high, and the dining-room can hold thirty-six guests. There are only two reception-rooms. But what more could a divorced woman of my age require? The rest of the house—the upper storey—consists of smaller rooms, with bay-windows and balconies. My bedroom, isolated from all the others, has a glass roof, like a studio. Another of my queer notions is to be able to look up from my bed and see the sky above me. I think it is good for the nerves, and mine are in a terrible condition.
So in future, having no dear men, I can flirt with the little stars in God's heaven.
Moreover, my villa is remarkable for its beautiful situation, its fortress-like architecture, and—please make a note of this—its splendid inhospitality. The garden hedge which encloses it is as high as the wall of the women's penitentiary at Christianshafen. The gates are never open, and there is no lodge-keeper. The forest adjoins the garden, and the garden runs down to the water's edge. The original owner of the estate was a crank who lived in a hut, which was so overgrown with moss and creepers that I did not pull it down. Never in my life has anything given me such delight as the anticipation of this hermit-like existence. At the same time, I have engaged a first-rate cook, called Torp, who seems to have the cookery of every country as pat as the Lord's Prayer. I have no intention of living upon bread and water and virtue.
I shall manage without a footman, although I have rather a weakness for menservants. But my income will not permit of such luxuries; or rather I have no idea how far my money will go. I should not care to accept Richard's generous offer to make me a yearly allowance.
I have also engaged a housemaid, whose name is Jeanne. She has the most wonderful amber-coloured eyes, flaming red hair, and long, pointed fingers, so well kept that I cannot help wondering where she got them from. Torp and Jeanne will make the sum-total of my society, so that I shall have every opportunity of living upon my own inner resources.
Dear Lillie, do all you can to put a stop to the worst and most disgusting gossip, now you know the true circumstances of the case. One more thing, in profound confidence, and on the understanding that you will not say a word about it to my husband: Joergen Malthe, dear fellow, formerly honoured me with his youthful affections—as you all knew, to your great amusement. Probably, like a true man, he will be quite frantic when he hears of my strange retirement. Be a little kind and friendly to the poor boy, and make him understand that there is no mystical reason for my departure.
Later on, when I have had time to rest a little, I shall be delighted to hear from you; although I foresee that five-sixths of the letters will be about your children, and the remaining sixth devoted to your husband—whereas I would rather it was all about yourself, and our dear town, with its life and strife. I have not taken the veil; I may still endure to hear echoes of all the town gossip.
If you were here, you would ask what I proposed to do with myself. Well, dear Lillie, I have not left my frocks nor my mirror behind me. Moreover, time has this wonderful property that, unlike the clocks, it goes of itself without having to be wound up. I have the sea, the forest; my piano, and my house. If time really hangs heavy on my hands, there is no reason why I should not darn the linen for Torp!
Should it happen by any chance—which God forbid—that I were struck dead by lightning, or succumbed to a heart attack, would you, acting as my cousin, and closest friend, undertake to put my belongings in order? Not that you would find things in actual disorder; but all the same there would be a kind of semi-order. I do not at all fancy the idea of Richard routing among my papers now that we are no longer a married couple.
With every good wish, Your cousin, ELSIE LINDTNER.
MY DEAR, KIND FRIEND, AND FORMER HUSBAND,
Is there not a good deal of style about that form of address? Were you not deeply touched at receiving, in a strange town, flowers sent by a lady? If only the people understood my German and sent them to you in time!
For an instant a beautiful thought flashed through my mind: to welcome you in this way in every town where you have to stay. But since I only know the addresses of one or two florists in the capitals, and I am too lazy to find out the others, I have given up this splendid folly, and simply note it to my account as a "might-have-been."
Shall I be quite frank, Richard? I am rather ashamed when I think of you, and I can honestly say that I never respected you more than to-day. But it could not have been otherwise. I want you to concentrate all your will-power to convince yourself of this. If I had let myself be persuaded to remain with you, after this great need for solitude had laid hold upon me, I should have worried and tormented you every hour of the day.
Dearest and best friend, there is some truth in these words, spoken by I know not whom: "Either a woman is made for marriage, and then it practically does not matter to whom she is married, she will soon understand how to fulfil her destiny; or she is unsuited to matrimony, in which case she commits a crime against her own personality when she binds herself to any man."
Apparently, I was not meant for married life. Otherwise I should have lived happily for ever and a day with you—and you know that was not the case. But you are not to blame. I wish in my heart of hearts that I had something to reproach you with—but I have nothing against you of any sort or kind.
It was a great mistake—a cowardly act—to promise you yesterday that I would return if I regretted my decision. I know I shall never regret it. But in making such a promise I am directly hindering you.... Forgive me, dear friend ... but it is not impossible that you may some day meet a woman who could become something to you. Will you let me take back my promise? I shall be grateful to you. Then only can I feel myself really free.
When you return home, stand firm if your friends overwhelm you with questions and sympathy. I should be deeply humiliated if anyone—no matter who—were to pry into the good and bad times we have shared together. Bygones are bygones, and no one can actually realise what takes place between two human beings, even when they have been onlookers.
Think of me when you sit down to dinner. Henceforward eight o'clock will probably be my bedtime. On the other hand I shall rise with the sun, or perhaps earlier. Think of me, but do not write too often. I must first settle down tranquilly to my new life. Later on, I shall enjoy writing you a condensed account of all the follies which can be committed by a woman who suddenly finds herself at a mature age complete mistress of her actions.
Follow my advice, offered for the twentieth time: go on seeing your friends; you cannot do without them. Really there is no need for you to mourn for a year with crape on the chandeliers and immortelles around my portrait.
You have been a kind, faithful, and delicate-minded friend to me, and I am not so lacking in delicacy myself that I do not appreciate this in my inmost heart. But I cannot accept your generous offer to give me money. I now tell you this for the first time, because, had I said so before, you would have done your best to over-persuade me. My small income is, and will be, sufficient for my needs.
The train leaves in an hour. Richard, you have your business and your friends—more friends than anyone I know. If you wish me well, wish that I may never regret the step I have taken. I look down at my hands that you loved—I wish I could stretch them out to you....
A man must not let himself be crushed. It would hurt me to feel that people pitied you. You are much too good to be pitied.
Certainly it would have been better if, as you said, one of us had died. But in that case you would have had to take the plunge into eternity, for I am looking forward with joy to life on my island.
For twenty years I have lived under the shadow of your wing in the Old Market Place. May I live another twenty under the great forest trees, wedded to solitude.
How the gossips will gossip! But we two, clever people, will laugh at their gossip.
Forgive me, Richard, to-day and always, the trouble I have brought upon you. I would have stayed with you if I could. Thank you for all....
That my feeling for you should have died, is quite as incomprehensible to me as to you. No other man has ever claimed a corner of my heart. In a word, having considered the question all round, I am suffering simply from a nervous malady—alas! it is incurable!
MY DEAR MALTHE,
We two are friends, are we not, and I think we shall always remain so, even now that fate has severed our ways? If you feel that you have any good reason for being angry with me now, then, indeed, our friendship will be broken; for we shall have no further opportunity of becoming reconciled.
If at this important juncture I not only hid the truth from you, but deliberately misled you, it was not from any lack of confidence in you, or with the wish to be unfriendly. I beg you to believe this. The fact that I cannot even now explain to you my reasons for acting thus makes it all the more difficult to justify my conduct to you. Therefore you must be contented to take my word for it. Joergen Malthe, I would gladly confide in you, but it is impossible. Call it madness, or what you will, but I cannot allow any human being to penetrate my inner life.
You will not have forgotten that September evening last year, when I spoke to you for the first time about one of my friends who was going to separate from her husband, and who, through my intervention, asked you to draw the plan of a villa in which she might spend the rest of her days in solitude? You entered so completely into this idea of a solitary retreat that your plan was almost perfect. Every time we met last year we talked about the "White Villa," as we called it, and it pleased us to share this little secret together. Nor were you less interested in the interior of the house; in making sketches for the furniture, and arranging the decorations. You took a real delight in this task, although you were annoyed that you had no personal knowledge of your client. You remember that I said to you sometimes in joke: "Plan it as though it were for me"; and I cannot forget what you replied one day: "I hate the idea of a stranger living in the house which I planned with you always in my mind."
Judge for yourself, Malthe, how painful it was to leave you in error. But I could not speak out then, for I had to consider my husband. For this reason I avoided meeting you during the summer; I found it impossible to keep up the deception when we were face to face.
It is I—I myself—who will live in the "White Villa." I shall live there quite alone.
It is useless for me to say, "Do not be angry." You would not be what you are if you were not annoyed about it.
You are young, life lies before you. I am old. In a very few years I shall be so old that you will not be able to realise that there was a time when I was "the one woman in the world" for you. I am not harping on your youth in order to vex you—your youth that you hate for my sake! I know that you are not fickle; but I know, too, that the laws of life and the march of time are alike inexorable.
When I enter the new home you have planned for me, a lonely and divorced woman, I shall think of you every day, and my thoughts will speak more cordial thanks than I can set down coldly in black and white on this paper.
I do not forbid you to write to me, but, save for a word of farewell, I would prefer your silence. No letters exchanged between us could bring back so much as a reflection of the happy hours we have spent together. Hours in which we talked of everything, and chiefly of nothing at all.
I do not think we were very brilliant when we were together; but we were never bored. If my absence brings you suffering, disappointment, grief—lose yourself in your work, so that in my solitude I may still be proud of you.
You taught me to use my eyes, and there is much, much in the world I should like to see, for, thanks to you, I have learnt how beautiful the world is. But the wisest course for me is to give myself up to my chosen destiny. I shut the door of my "White Villa"—and there my story ends.
Your ELSIE LINDTNER.
Reading through my letter, it seems to me cold and dry. But it is harder to write such a letter to a dear friend than to a stranger.
LANDED ON MY ISLAND. CREPT INTO MY LAIR.
The first day is over. Heaven help me through those to come! Everything here disgusts me, from the smell of the new woodwork and the half-dried wallpapers to the pattering of the rain over my head.
What an idiotic notion of mine to have a glass roof to my bedroom! I feel as though I were living under an umbrella through which the water might come dripping at any moment. During the night this will probably happen. The panes of glass, unless they are very closely joined together, will let the water through, and I shall awake in a pool of water.
Awake, indeed! If only I ever get to sleep! My head aches and burns from sheer fatigue, but I have not even thought of getting into bed yet.
For the last year I have had plenty of time to think things over, and now I am at a loss to understand why I have done this. Suppose it is a piece of stupidity—a carefully planned and irrevocable folly? Suppose my irritable nerves have played a trick upon me? Suppose ... suppose ...
I feel lonely and without will power. I am frightened. But the step is taken; and I can never turn back. I must never let myself regret it.
This constant rain gives me an icy, damp feeling down my back. It gets on my nerves.
What shall I come to, reduced to the society of two females who have nothing in common with me but our sex? No one to speak to, no one to see. Jeanne is certainly attractive to look at, but I cannot converse with her. As to Torp, she suits her basement as a gnome suits his mountain cave. She looks as though she was made to repopulate a desert unaided. She wears stays that are crooked back and front.
Never in all my life have I felt so disappointed, and compelled to put a good face upon a bad business, as when I splashed through the wet garden and entered the empty house where there was not even a flower to welcome my arrival. The rooms are too large and bare.... Why did I not think of that before?
All the same, decorum must be maintained, and my entry was not undignified.
Ah, the rain, the rain! Jeanne and Torp are still cleaning up. They mean to go on half the night, scrubbing and sweeping as though we expected company to-morrow. I start unpacking my trunk, take out a few things and stop—begin again and stop again, horrified at the quantity of clothes I've brought. It would have been more sensible to send them to one of our beloved "charity sales." They are of no use or pleasure now. Black merino and a white woollen shawl—what more do I want here?
God knows how I wish at the present moment I were back in the Old Market Place, even if I only had Richard's society to bore me.
What am I doing here? What do I want here? To cry, without having to give an account of one's tears to anyone?
Of course, all this is only the result of the rain. I was longing to be here. It was not a mere hysterical whim. No, no....
It was my own wish to bury myself here.
* * * * *
Yesterday I was all nerves. To-day I feel as fresh and lively as a cricket.
We have been hanging the pictures, and made thirty-six superfluous holes in the new walls. There is no way of concealing them. (I must write to Richard to have my engravings framed.) It would be stretching a point to say we are skilled picture-hangers; we were nearly as awkward as men when they try to hook a woman's dress for her. But the pictures were hung somehow, and look rather nice now they are up.
But why on earth did I give Torp my sketch of "A Villa by the Sea" to hang in her kitchen? Was I afraid to have it near me? Or was it some stupid wish to hurt his feelings? His only gift.... I feel ashamed of myself.
Jeanne has arranged flowers everywhere, and that helps to make the house more homelike.
The place is mine, and I take possession of it. Now the sun is shining. I find pleasure in examining each article of furniture and remembering the days when we discussed the designs together. I ought not to have let him do all that. It was senseless of me.
* * * * *
They are much to be envied who can pass away the time in their own society. I am in my element when I can watch other people blowing soap-bubbles; but to blow them myself....
I am not really clever at creating comfortable surroundings. Far from it. My white villa always looks uninhabited, in spite of all the flowers with which I allow Jeanne to decorate the rooms. Is it because everything smells so new? Or because there are no old smells? Here there are no whiffs of dust, smoke, or benzine, nor anything which made the Old Market Place the Old Market Place. Everything is so clean here that one hesitates to move a step. The boards are as shiny as though they were polished silver.... This very moment Torp appeared in felt shoes and implored me to get her a strip of oilcloth to save her kitchen floor. I feel just the same; I scarcely dare defile this spotless pitchpine.
* * * * *
What is the use of all these discussions and articles about the equality of the sexes, so long as we women are at times the slaves of an inevitable necessity? I have suffered more than ever the last few days, perhaps because I was so utterly alone. Not a human being to speak to. Yes, I ought to have stayed in bed if only to conceal my ugliness. In town I was wise. But here ...
* * * * *
All the same I am proud of my self-control. Many women do not possess as much.
The moon is in her first quarter; a cold dry wind is blowing up; it makes one cough merely to hear it whistle.
I hate winds of all kinds, and here my enemy seems to have free entry. I ought to have built my house facing south and in some hollow sheltered from the wind. Unfortunately it looks to the north, straight across the open sea.
I have not yet been outside the garden. I have made up my mind to keep to this little spot as long as possible. I shall get accustomed to it. I must get accustomed to it.
Dear souls, how they worry me with their letters. Only Malthe keeps silence. Will he deign to answer me?
Jeanne follows me with her eyes as though she wanted to learn some art from me. What art?
Good heavens, what can that girl be doing here?
She does not seem made for the celibate life of a desert island. Yet I cannot set up a footman to keep her company. I will not have men's eyes prying about my house, I have had enough of that.
A manservant—that would mean love affairs, squabbles, and troubles; or marriage, and a change of domestics. No, I have a right to peace, and I will secure it. The worst that could happen to me would be to find myself reduced to playing whist with Jeanne and Torp. Well, why not?
Torp spends all her evenings playing patience on the kitchen window-sill. Perhaps she is telling her fortune and wondering whether some good-looking sailor will be wrecked on the shores of her desert island.
Meanwhile Jeanne goes about in silk stockings. This rather astonishes me. Lillie reproved me for the pernicious custom. Are they a real necessity for Jeanne, or does she know the masculine taste so well?
* * * * *
From all the birch trees that stand quivering around the house a golden rain is falling. There is not a breath of wind, but the leaves keep dropping, dropping. This morning I stood on the little balcony and looked out over the forest. I do not know why or wherefore, but such a sense of quiet came over me. I seemed to hear the words: "and behold it was very good." Was it the warm russet tint of the trees or the profound perfume of the woods that induced this calm?
All day long I have been thinking of Malthe, and I feel so glad I have acted as I have done. But he might have answered my letter.
Jeanne has discovered the secret of my hair. She asked permission to dress it for me in the evening when my hair is "awake." She is quite an artist in this line, and I let her occupy herself with it as long as she pleased. She pinned it up, then let it down again; coiled it round my forehead like a turban; twisted it into a Grecian knot; parted and smoothed it down on each side of my head like a hood. She played with it and arranged it a dozen different ways like a bouquet of wild flowers.
My hair is still my pride, although it is losing its gloss and colour. Jeanne said, by way of consolation, that it was like a wood in late autumn....
I should like to know whether this girl sprang from the gutter, or was the child of poor, honest parents....
* * * * *
"Thousands of women may look at the man they love with their whole soul in their eyes, and the man will remain as unmoved as a stone by the wayside. And then a woman will pass by who has no soul, but whose artificial smile has a mysterious power to spur the best of men to painful desire...."
One day I found these words underlined in a book left open on my table. Who left it there, I cannot say; nor whether it was underlined with the intention of hurting my feelings, or merely by chance.
* * * * *
I sit here waiting for my mortal enemy. Will he come gliding in imperceptibly or stand suddenly before me? Will he overcome me, or shall I prove the stronger? I am prepared—but is that sufficient?
Torp is really too romantic! To-day it pleased her to decorate the table with Virginia creeper. Virginia creeper festooned the hanging lamp; Virginia creeper crept over the cloth. Even the joint was decked out with wine-red leaves, until it looked like a ship flying all her flags on the King's birthday. Amid all this pomp and ceremony, I sat all alone, without a human being for whom I might have made myself smart. I, who for the last twenty years, have never even dressed the salad without at least one pair of eyes watching me toss the lettuce as though I was performing some wonderful Indian conjuring trick.
A festal board at which one sits in solitary grandeur is the dreariest thing imaginable.
I rather wish Torp had less "style," as she calls it. Undoubtedly she has lived in large establishments and has picked up some habits and customs from each of them. She is welcome to wait at table in white cotton gloves and to perch a huge silk bow on her hair, which is redolent of the kitchen, but when it comes to trimming her poor work-worn nails to the fashionable pyramidal shape—she really becomes tragic.
She "romanticises" everything. I should not be at all surprised if some day she decked her kitchen range with wreaths of roses and hung up works of art between the stewpans.
I am really glad I did not bring Samuel the footman with me. He could not have waited on me better than Jeanne, and at any rate I am free from his eyes, which, in spite of all their respectful looks, always reminded me of a fly-paper full of dead and dying flies.
Jeanne's look has a something gliding and subtle about it that keeps me company like a witty conversation. It is really on her account that I dress myself well. But I cannot converse with her. I should not like to try, and then to be disillusioned.
Men have often assured me that I was the only woman they could talk with as though I were one of themselves. Personally I never feel at one with menkind. I only understand and admire my own sex.
In reality I think there is more difference between a man and a woman than between an inert stone and a growing plant. I say this ... I who ...
* * * * *
What business is it of mine? We were not really friends. The fact of her having confided in me makes no demands on my feelings. If this thing had happened five years ago, I should have taken it as a rather welcome sensation—nothing more. Or had I read in the paper "On the—inst., of heart disease, or typhoid fever," my peace of mind would not have been disturbed for an hour.
I have purposely refrained from reading the papers lately. Chancing to open one to-day, after a month's complete ignorance of all that had been happening in the world, I saw the following headline: Suicide of a Lady in a Lunatic Asylum.
And now I feel as shaken as though I had taken part in a crime; as though I had had some share in this woman's death.
I am so far to blame that I abandoned her at a moment when it might still have been possible to save her.... But this is a morbid notion! If a person wants "to shuffle off this mortal coil" it is nobody's duty to prevent her.
To me, Agatha Ussing's life or death are secondary matters; it is only the circumstances that trouble me.
Was she mad, or no? Undoubtedly not more insane than the rest of us, but her self-control snapped like a bowstring which is overstrained. She saw—so she said—a grinning death's head behind every smiling face. Merely a bee in her bonnet! But she was foolish enough to talk about it; and when people laughed at her words with a good-natured contempt, her glance became searching and fixed as though she was trying to convince herself. Such an awful look of terror haunted her eyes, that at her gaze a cold shiver, born of one's own fears and forebodings, ran through one.
She compelled us to realise the things we scarcely dare foresee....
I shall never forget a letter in which she wrote these words in a queer, faltering handwriting:
"If men suspected what took place in a woman's inner life after forty, they would avoid us like the plague, or knock us on the head like mad dogs."
Such a philosophy of life ended in the poor woman being shut up in a madhouse. She ought to have kept it to herself instead of posting it up on the walls of her house. It was quite sufficient as a proof of her insanity.
I cannot think what induced me to visit her in the asylum. Not pure pity. I was prompted rather by that kind of painful curiosity which makes a patient ask to see a limb which has just been amputated. I wanted to look with my own eyes into that shadowy future which Agatha had reached before me.
What did I discover? She had never cared for her husband; on the contrary she had betrayed him with an effrontery that would hardly have been tolerated outside the smart world; yet now she suffered the torments of hell from jealousy of her husband. Not of her lovers; their day was over; but of him, because he was the one man she saw. Also because she bore his name and was therefore bound to him.
On every other subject she was perfectly sane. When we were left alone together she said: "The worst of it is that I know my 'madness' will only be temporary. It is a malady incident to my age. One day it will pass away. One day I shall have got through the inevitable phase. But how does that help me now?"
No, it was no more help to her than the dreadful paint with which she plastered her haggard features.
It was not the least use to her....
Her death is the best thing that could have happened, for her own sake and for those belonging to her. But I cannot take my thoughts off the hours which preceded her end; the time that passed between the moment when she decided to commit suicide until she actually carried out her resolve.
* * * * *
"If men suspected ..."
It may safely be said that on the whole surface of the globe not one man exists who really knows a woman.
They know us in the same way as the bees know the flowers; by the various perfumes they impart to the honey. No more.
How could it be otherwise? If a woman took infinite pains to reveal herself to a husband or a lover just as she really is, he would think she was suffering from some incurable mental disease.
A few of us indicate our true natures in hysterical outbreaks, fits of bitterness and suspicion; but this involuntary frankness is generally discounted by some subtle deceit.
Do men and women ever tell each other the truth? How often does that happen? More often than not, I think, they deal in half-lies, hiding this, embroidering that, fact.
Between the sexes reigns an ineradicable hostility. It is concealed because life has to be lived, because it is easier and more convenient to keep it in the background; but it is always there, even in those supreme moments when the sexes fulfil their highest destiny.
A woman who knows other women and understands them, could easily prove this in so many words; and every woman who heard her—provided they were alone—would confess she was right. But if a man should join in the conversation, both women would stamp truth underfoot as though it were a venomous reptile.
Men can be sincere both with themselves and others; but women cannot. They are corrupted from birth. Later on, education, intercourse with other women and finally marriage, corrupt them still more.
A woman may love a man more than her own life; may sacrifice her time, her health, her existence to him. But if she is wholly a woman, she cannot give him her confidence.
She cannot, because she dares not.
In the same way a man—for a certain length of time—can love without measure. He can then be unlocked like a cabinet full of secret drawers and pigeonholes, of which we hold the keys. He discloses himself, his present and his past. A woman, even in the closest bonds of love, never reveals more of herself than reason demands.
Her modesty differs entirely from that of a male. She would rather be guilty of incest than reveal to a man the hidden thoughts which sometimes, without the least scruple, she will confide to another woman. Friendship between men is a very different thing. Something honest and frank, from which consequently they withdraw without anger, mutual obligation, or fear. Friendship between women is a kind of masonic oath; the breaking of it a mutual crime. When two women friends quarrel, they generally continue to carry deadly weapons against each other, which they are only restrained from using by mutual fear.
There are honest women. At least we believe there are. It is a necessary part of our belief. Who does not think well of mother or sister? But who believes entirely in a mother or a sister? Absolutely and unconditionally? Who has never caught mother or sister in a falsehood or a subterfuge? Who has not sometimes seen in the heart of mother or sister, as by a lightning flash, an abyss which the profoundest love cannot bridge over?
Who has ever really understood his mother or sister?
The human being dwells and moves alone. Each woman dwells in her own planet formed of centrifugal fires enveloped in a thin crust of earth. And as each star runs its eternal course through space, isolated amid countless myriads of other stars, so each woman goes her solitary way through life.
It would be better for her if she walked barefoot over red-hot ploughshares, for the pain she would suffer would be slight indeed compared to that which she must feel when, with a smile on her lips, she leaves her own youth behind and enters the regions of despair we call "growing old," and "old age...."
All this philosophizing is the result, no doubt, of having eaten halibut for lunch; it is a solid fish and difficult to digest.
Perhaps, too, having no company but Jeanne and Torp, I am reduced to my own aimless reflections.
Just as clothes exercise no influence on the majority of men, so their emotional life is not much affected by circumstances. With us women it is otherwise. We really are different women according to the dresses we wear. We assume a personality in accord with our costume. We laugh, talk and act at the caprice of purely external circumstances.
Take for instance a woman who wants to confide in another. She will do it in quite a different way in broad daylight in a drawing-room than in her little "den" in the gloaming, even if in both cases she happens to be quite alone with her confidante.
If some women are specially honoured as the recipients of many confidences from their own sex, I am convinced they owe it more to physical than moral qualities. As there are some rooms of which the atmosphere is so cosey and inviting that we feel ourselves at home in them without a word of welcome, so we find certain women who seem to be endowed with such receptivity that they invite the confidences of others.
The history of smiles has never yet been written, simply because the few women capable of writing it would not betray their sex. As to men, they are as ignorant on this point as on everything else which concerns women—not excepting love.
I have conversed with many famous women's doctors, and have pretended to admire their knowledge, while inwardly I was much amused at their simplicity. They know how to cut us open and stitch us up again—as children open their dolls to see the sawdust with which they are stuffed and sew them up afterwards with a needle and thread. But they get no further. Yes—a little further perhaps. Possibly in course of time they begin to discover that women are so infinitely their superiors in falsehood that their wisest course is to appear once and for all to believe them then and there....
Women's doctors may be as clever and sly as they please, but they will never learn any of the things that women confide to each other. It is inevitable. Between the sexes lies not only a deep, eternal hostility, but the unfathomable abyss of a complete lack of reciprocal comprehension.
For instance, all the words in a language will never express what a smile will express—and between women a smile is like a masonic sign; we can use them between ourselves without any fear of their being misunderstood by the other sex.
Smiles are a form of speech with which we alone are conversant. Our smiles betray our instincts and our burdens; they reflect our virtues and our inanity.
But the cleverest women hide their real selves behind a factitious smile.
Men do not know how to smile. They look more or less benevolent, more or less pleased, more or less love-smitten; but they are not pliable or subtle enough to smile. A woman who is not sufficiently prudent to mask her features, gives away her soul in a smile. I have known women who revealed their whole natures in this way.
No woman speaks aloud, but most women smile aloud. And the fact that in so doing we unveil all our artifice, all the whirlpool of our inmost being to each other, proves the extraordinary solidarity of our sex.
When did one woman ever betray another?
This loyalty is not rooted in noble sentiment, but proceeds rather from the fear of betraying ourselves by revealing things that are the secret common property of all womanhood.
And yet, if a woman could be found willing to reveal her entire self?...
I have often thought of the possibility, and at the present moment I am not sure that she would not do our sex an infinite and eternal wrong.
We are compounded so strangely of good and bad, truth and falsehood, that it requires the most delicate touch to unravel the tangled skein of our natures and find the starting point.
No man is capable of the task.
During recent years it has become the fashion for notorious women to publish their reminiscences in the form of a diary. But has any woman reader discovered in all this literature a single intimate feature, a single frank revelation of all that is kept hidden behind a thousand veils?
If indeed one of these unhappy women ventured to write a plain, unvarnished, but poignant, description of her inner life, where would she find a publisher daring enough to let his name appear on the cover of the book?
I once knew a man who, stirred by a good and noble impulse, and confident of his power, endeavoured to "save" a very young girl whom he had rescued from a house of ill-fame. He took her home and treated her like a sister. He lavished time and confidence upon her. His pride at the transformation which took place in her passed all bounds. The girl was as grateful as a mongrel and as modest as the bride in a romantic novel. He then resolved to make her his wife. But one fine day she vanished, leaving behind her a note containing these words: "Many thanks for your kindness, but you bore me."
During the whole time they had lived together, he had not grasped the faintest notion of the girl's true nature; nor understood that to keep her contented it was not sufficient to treat her kindly, but that she required some equivalent for the odious excitements of the past.
* * * * *
All feminine confessions—except those between relations which are generally commonplace and uninteresting—assume a kind of beauty in my eyes; a warmth and solemnity that excuses the casting aside of all conventional barriers.
I remember one day—a day of oppressive heat and the heavy perfume of roses—when, with a party of women friends, we began to talk about tears. At first no one ventured to speak quite sincerely; but one thing led to another until we were gradually caught in our own snares, and finally we each gave out something that we had hitherto kept concealed within us, as one locks up a deadly poison.
Not one of us, it appeared, ever cried because of some imperative inward need. Tears are nature's gift to us. It is our own affair whether we squander or economise their use.
Of all our confessions Sophie Harden's was the strangest. To her, tears were a kind of erotic by-play, which added to the enjoyment of conjugal life. Her husband, a good-natured creature, always believed he was to blame, and she never enlightened him on the point.
Most of the others owned that they had recourse to tears to work themselves up when they wanted to make a scene. But Astrid Bagge, a gentle, quiet housewife and mother, declared she kept all her troubles for the evenings when her husband dined at the volunteer's mess, because he hated to see anyone crying. Then she sat alone and in darkness and wept away the accumulated annoyances of the week.
When it came to my turn, I spoke the truth by chance when I said that, however much I wanted to cry, I only permitted myself the luxury about once in two years. I think my complexion is a conclusive proof that my words were sincere.
There are deserts which never know the refreshment of dew or rain. My life has been such a desert.
I, who like to receive confidences, have a morbid fear of giving them. Perhaps it is because I was so much alone, so self-centred, in my childhood.
The more I reflect upon life, the more clearly I see that I have not laid out my talents to the best advantage. I have no sweet memories of infidelity; I have lived irreproachably—and now I am very tired.
I sit here and write for myself alone. I know that no one else will ever read my words; and yet I am not quite sincere, even with myself.
Life has passed me by; my hands are empty; now it is too late.
Once happiness knocked at my door, and I, poor fool, did not rise to welcome it.
I envy every country wench or servant girl who goes off with a lover. But I sit here waiting for old age.
Astrid Bagge.... As I write her name, I feel as though she were standing weeping behind my back; I feel her tears dropping on my neck. I cannot weep—but how I long for tears!
* * * * *
Autumn! Torp has made a huge fire of logs in the open grate. The burning wood gives out an intoxicating perfume and fills the house with cosey warmth. For want of something better to do I am looking after the fire myself. I carefully strip the bark from each log before throwing it on the flames. The smell of burning birch-bark goes to my head like strong wine. Dreams come and go.
Joergen Malthe, what a mere boy you are!
* * * * *
The garden looks like a neglected churchyard, forgotten of the living. The virginia creeper falls in blood-red streamers from the verandah. The snails drag themselves along in the rain; their slow movements remind me of women enceinte. The hedge is covered with spiders' webs, and the wet clay sticks to one's shoes as one walks on the paths.
Yet there are people who think autumn a beautiful time of year!
* * * * *
My will is paralysed from self-disgust. I find myself involuntarily listening and watching for the postman, who brings nothing for me. There are moments when my fingers seem to be feeling the smoothness of the cream-laid "At Home" cards which used to be showered upon us, especially at this season. Towards evening I grow restless. Formerly my day was a crescendo of activity until the social hours were reached. Now the hours fall one by one in ashes before my eyes.
I am myself, yet not myself. There are moments when I envy every living creature that has the right to pair—either from hate or from habit. I am alone and shut out. What consolation is it to be able to say: "It was my own choice!"
* * * * *
A letter from Malthe.
No, I will not open it. I do not wish to know what he writes.... It is a long letter.
* * * * *
My nerves are quiet. But I often lie awake, and my sleep is broken. The stars are shining over my head, and I never before experienced such a sense of repose and calm. Is this the effect of the stars, or the letter?
I am forty-two! It cannot be helped. I cannot buy back a single day of my life. Forty-two! But during the night the thought does not trouble me. The stars above reckon by ages, not by years, and sometimes I smile to think that as soon as Richard returns home, the rooms in our house in the Old Market will be lit up, and the usual set will assemble there without me.
The one thing I should like to know is whether Malthe is still in Denmark.
I would like to know where my thoughts should seek him—at home or abroad.
I played with him treacherously when I called him "the youth," and treated him as a mere boy. If we compare our ages it is true enough, but not if we compare feelings.
Can there be anything meaner than for a woman to make fun of what is really sacred to her? My feelings for Malthe were and still are sacred. I myself have befouled them with my mockery.
But when I am lying in my bed beneath the vast canopy of the sky, all my sins seem forgiven me. Fate alone—Fate who bears all things on his shoulders—is to blame, and I wish nothing undone.
The letter will never be read. Never voluntarily by me.
* * * * *
I do not know the day of the week. That is one step nearer the goal for which I long. May it come to pass that the weeks and months shall glide imperceptibly over me, so that I shall only recognise the seasons by the changing tints of the forest and the alternations of heat and cold.
Alas, those days are still a long way off!
I have just been having a conflict with myself, and I find that all the time I have been living here as though I were spending a summer holiday in Tyrol. I have been simply deceiving myself and playing with the hidden thought that I could begin my life over again.
I have shivered with terror at this self-deception. The last few nights I have hardly slept at all. A traveller must feel the same who sails across the sea ignorant of the country to which he journeys. Vaguely he pictures it as resembling his native land, and lands to find himself in a wilderness which he must plant and cultivate until it blossoms with his new desires and dreams. By the time he has turned the desert into a home, his day is over....
* * * * *
If I could but make up my mind to burn that letter! I weigh it, first in my right hand, then in my left. Sometimes its weight makes me happy; sometimes it fills me with foreboding. Do the words weigh so heavy, or only the paper?
Last night I held it close to the candle. But when the flame touched my letter, I drew it quickly away.—It is all I have left to me now....
* * * * *
Richard writes to me that Malthe has been commissioned to build a great hospital. Most of our great architects competed for the work. He goes on to ask whether I am not proud of "my young friend."
My young friend!...
* * * * *
Jeanne spoke to me about herself to-day. I think she was quite bewildered by the extraordinary fall of leaves which has almost blinded us the last three days. She was doing my hair, and tracing a line straight across my forehead, she remarked:
"Here should be a ribbon with red jewels."
I told her that I had once had the same idea, but I had given it up out of consideration for my fellow creatures.
"But there are none here," she exclaimed,
I replied laughing:
"Then it is not worth while decking myself out!"
Jeanne took out the pins and let my hair down.
"If I were rich," she said, "I would dress for myself alone. Men neither notice nor understand anything about it."
We went on talking like two equals, and a few minutes later, remembering what I had observed, I gave her some silk stockings. Instead of thanking me, she remarked so suddenly that she took my breath away:
"Once I sold myself for a pair of green silk stockings."
I could not help asking the question:
"Did you regret your bargain?"
She looked me straight in the face:
"I don't know. I only thought about my stockings."
Naturally such conversations are rather risky; I shall avoid them in future. But the riddle is more puzzling than ever. What brought Jeanne to share my solitude on this island?
* * * * *
Now we have a man about the place. Torp got him. He digs in the garden and chops wood. But the odour impregnates Torp and even reaches me.
He makes eyes at Jeanne, who looks at me and smiles. Torp makes a fuss of him, and every night I smell his pipe in the basement.
* * * * *
I have shut myself upstairs and played patience. The questions I put to the cards come from that casket of memories the seven keys of which I believed I had long since thrown into the sea. A wretched form of amusement! But the piano makes me feel sad, and there is nothing else to do.
Malthe's letter is still intact. I wander around it like a mouse round a trap of which it suspects the danger. My heart meanwhile yearns to know what words he uses.
He and I belong to each other for the rest of our lives. We owe that to my wisdom. If he never sees me, he will never be able to forget me.
* * * * *
How could I suppose it for a single moment! There is no possibility of remaining alone with oneself! No degree of seclusion, nor even life in a cell, would suffice. Strong as is the call of freedom, the power of memory is stronger; so that no one can ever choose his society at will. Once we have lived with our kind, and become filled with the knowledge of them, we are never free again.
A sound, a scent—and behold a person, a scene, or a destiny, rises up before us. Very often the phantoms that come thronging around me are those of people whose existence is quite indifferent to me. But they appear all the same—importunate, overbearing, inevitable.
We may close our doors to visitors in the flesh; but we are forced to welcome these phantoms of the memory; to notice them and converse with them without reserve.
People become like books to me. I read them through, turn the pages lightly, annotate them, learn them by heart. Sometimes I am at fault; I see them in a new light. Things that were not clear to me become plain; what was apparently incomprehensible becomes as straightforward as a commercial ledger.
It might be a fascinating occupation if I could control the entire collection of these memories; but I am the slave of those that come unbidden. In the town it was just the reverse; one impression effaced another. I did not realise that thought might become a burden.
* * * * *
The time draws on. The last few days my nerves have made me feverish and restless; to-day for no special reason I opened and read all my letters, except his. It was like reading old newspapers; yet my heart beat faster with each one I opened.
Life there in the city runs its course, only it has nothing more to do with me, and before long I shall have dropped out of memory like one long dead. All these hidden fears, all this solicitude, these good wishes, preachings and forebodings—there is not a single genuine feeling among the whole of them!
Margethe Ernst is the only one of my old friends who is sincere and does not let herself be carried away by false sentiment. She writes cynically, brutally even: "An injection of morphia would have had just the same effect on you; but everyone to his own taste."
As to Lillie, with her simple, gushing nature, she tries to write lightly and cheerfully, but one divines her tears between the lines. She wishes me every happiness, and assures me she will take Malthe under her motherly wing.
"He is quiet and taciturn, but fortunately much engrossed with his plans for the new hospital which will keep him in Denmark for some years to come."
His work absorbs him; he is young enough to forget.
As to the long accounts of deaths, accidents and scandals, a year or two ago they might have stirred me in much the same way as the sight of a fire or a play. Now it amuses me quite as much to watch the smoke from my chimney, as it ascends and seems to get caught in the tops of the trees.
Richard is still travelling with his grief, and entertains me scrupulously with accounts of all the sights he sees and of his lonely sleepless nights. Are they always as lonely as he makes out?
As in the past, he bores me with his interminable descriptions and his whole middle-class outlook. Yet for many years he dominated my senses, which gives him a certain hold over me still. I cannot make up my mind to take the brutal step which would free me once and for all from him. I must let him go on believing that our life together was happy.
Why did I read all these letters? What did I expect to find? A certain vague hope stirred within me that if I opened them I should discover something unexpected.
The one remaining letter—shall I ever find courage to open it? I will not know what he has written. He does not write well I know. He is not a good talker; his writing would probably be worse. And yet, I look upon that sealed letter as a treasure.
Merely touching it, I feel as though I was in the same room with him.
* * * * *
Lillie's letter has really done me good; her regal serenity makes itself apparent beneath all she undertakes. It is wonderful that she does not preach at me like the others. "You must know what is right for yourself better than anybody else," she says. These words, coming from her, have brought me unspeakable strength and comfort, even though I feel that she can have no idea of what is actually taking place within me.
Life for Lillie can be summed up in the words, "the serene passage of the days." Happy Lillie. She glides into old age just as she glided into marriage, smiling, tranquil, and contented. Nobody, nothing, can disturb her quietude.
It is so when both body and soul find their repose and happiness in the same identical surroundings.
* * * * *
Jeanne, with some embarrassment, asked permission to use the bathroom. I gave her leave. It is quite possible that living in the basement is not to her taste. To put a bathroom down there would take nearly a fortnight, and during that time I shall be deprived of my own, for I cannot share my bathroom or my bedroom with anyone, least of all a woman....
I shall never forget the one visit I paid to the Russian baths and the sight of Hilda Bang. Clothed, she presents rather a fine appearance, with a good figure; but seen amid the warm steam, in nature's garb, she seemed horrible.
I would rather walk through an avenue of naked men than appear before another woman without clothes. This feeling does not spring from modesty—what is it?
* * * * *
How quiet it is here! Only on Wednesdays and Saturdays the steamer for England goes by. I know its coming by the sound of the screw, but I take care never to see it pass. What if I were seized with an impulse to embark on her....
If one fine morning when Jeanne brought the tea she found the bird flown?
The time is gone by. Life is over.
I am getting used to sitting here and stitching at my seam. My work does not amount to much, but the mechanical movement brings a kind of restfulness.
I find I am getting rather capricious. Between meals I ring two or three times a day for tea—like a convalescent trying a fattening cure. Jeanne attends to my hair with indefatigable care. Without her, should I ever trouble to do it at all?
What can any human being want more than this peace and silence?
* * * * *
If I could only lose this sense of being empty-handed, all would be well. Yesterday I went down to the seashore and gathered little pebbles. I carried them away and amused myself by taking them up in handfuls. During the night I felt impelled to get up and fetch them, and this morning I awoke with a round stone in each hand.
Hysteria takes strange forms. But who knows what is the real ground of hysteria? I used to think it was the special malady of the unmated woman; but, in later years, I have known many who had had a full share of the passional life, legitimate and otherwise, and yet still suffered from hysteria.
* * * * *
I begin to realise the fascination of the cloister; the calm, uniform, benumbing existence. But my comparison does not apply. The nun renounces all will and responsibility, while I cannot give up one or the other.
I have reached this point, however; only that which is bounded by my garden hedge seems to me really worthy of consideration. The house in the Old Market Place may be burnt down for all I care. Richard may marry again. Malthe may....
Yes, I think I could receive the news in silence like the monk to whom the prior announces, "One of the brethren is dead, pray for his soul." No one present knows, nor will ever know, whether his own brother or father has passed away.
What hopeless cowardice prevents my opening his letter!
Somebody should found a vast and cheerful sisterhood for women between forty and fifty; a kind of refuge for the victims of the years of transition. For during that time women would be happier in voluntary exile, or at any rate entirely separated from the other sex.
Since all are suffering from the same trouble, they might help each other to make life, not only endurable, but harmonious. We are all more or less mad then, although we struggle to make others think us sane.
I say "we," though I am not of their number—in age, perhaps, but not in temperament. Nevertheless I hear the stealthy footsteps of the approaching years. By good fortune, or calculation, I have preserved my youthful appearance, but it has cost me dear to economise my emotions.
Old age, in truth, is only a goal to be foreseen. A mountain to be climbed; a peak from which to see life from every side—provided we have not been blinded by snowfalls on the way. I do not fear old age; only the hard ascent to it has terrors for me. The day, the hour, when we realise that something has gone from our lives; when the cry of our heart provokes laughter in others!
To all of us women comes a time in life when we believe we can conquer or deceive time. But soon we learn how unequal is the struggle. We all come to it in the end.
Then we grow anxious. Anxious at the coming of day; still more anxious at the coming of night. We deck ourselves out at night as though in this way we could put our anxiety to flight.
We are careful about our food and our rest; we watch that our smiles leave no wrinkles.... Yet never a word of our secret terror do we whisper aloud. We keep silence or we lie. Sometimes from pride, sometimes from shame.
Hitherto nobody has ever proclaimed this great truth: that as they grow older—when the summer comes and the days lengthen—women become more and more women. Their feminality goes on ripening into the depths of winter.
Yet the world compels them to steer a false course. Their youth only counts so long as their complexions remain clear and their figures slim. Otherwise they are exposed to cruel mockery. A woman who tries late in life to make good her claim to existence, is regarded with contempt. For her there is neither shelter nor sympathy.
It sometimes happens that a winter gale strips all the leaves from a tree in a single night. When does a woman grow old in body and soul in one swift and merciful moment? From our birth we are accursed.
I blame no one for my failure in life. It was in my own hands. If I could live it through again from the start, it is more than probable I should waste the years for a second time.
At this hour there will be festivities in the Old Market Place. Richard's last letter touched me profoundly; something within me went out toward his honest nature....
What is the use of all these falsehoods? I long for an embrace. Is that shocking? We women are so wrapped in deceit that we feel ashamed of confessing such things. Yet it is true, I miss Richard. Not the husband or companion, but the lover.
What use in trying to soothe my senses by walking for hours through the silent woods.
Lillie, in the innocence of her heart, sent me a tiny Christmas tree, decorated by herself and her lanky daughters. Sweets and little presents are suspended from the branches. She treats me like a child, or a sick person.
Well, let it be so! Lillie must never have the vexation of learning that I detested her girls simply because they represented the youthful generation which sooner or later must supplant me.
I have made good use of my eyes, and I know what I have seen: the same enmity exists between two generations as between the sexes.
While the young folk in their arrogant cruelty laugh at us who are growing old, we, in our turn, amuse ourselves by making fun of them. If women could buy back their lost youth by the blood of those nearest and dearest to them, what crimes the world would witness!
How I used to hate Richard when I saw him so completely at his ease among young people, and able to take them so seriously.
* * * * *
Christmas Eve! In honour of Jeanne, I put on one of my very best frocks—Paquin. Moreover, I have decorated myself with rings and chains as though I were a silly Christmas Tree myself.
Jeanne has enjoyed herself to-day. She and Torp rose before it was light to deck the rooms with pine branches. Over the verandah waves the Swedish flag, which Torp generally suspends above her bed, in remembrance of Heaven knows who. I gave myself the pleasure of surprising Jeanne, by bestowing upon her my green crepe de Chine. In future grey and black will be my only wear.
After the obligatory goose, and the inevitable Christmas dishes, I spent the evening reading the letters with which "my friends" honour me punctiliously.
Without seeing the handwriting, or the signature, I could name from the contents alone the writer of each one of them. They all write about the honours which have befallen Joergen Malthe: a hospital here; a palace of archives there. What does it matter to me? I would far rather they wrote: "To-day a motor-car ran over Joergen Malthe and killed him on the spot."
I have arrived at that stage.
But to-night I will not think about him; I would rather try to write to Magna Wellmann. I may be of some use to her. In any case I will tell her things that it will do her good to hear. She is one of those who take life hard.
DEAR MAGNA WELLMANN,
It is with great difficulty that I venture to give you advice at this moment. Besides, we are so completely opposed in habit, thought, and temperament. We have really nothing in common but our unfortunate middle age and our sex; therefore, how can it help you to know what I should do if I were in your place?
May I speak quite frankly without any fear of hurting your feelings? In that case I will try to advise you; but I can only do so by making your present situation quite clear to you. Only when you have faced matters can you hope to decide upon some course of action which you will not afterwards regret. Your letter is the queerest mixture of self-deception and a desire to be quite frank. You try to throw dust in my eyes, while at the same time you are betraying all that you are most anxious to conceal. Judging from your letter, the maternal feeling is deeply ingrained in your nature. You are prepared to fight for your children and sacrifice yourself for them if necessary. You would put yourself aside in order to secure for them a healthy and comfortable existence.
The real truth is that your conscience is pricking you with a remorse that has been instigated by others. Maternal sentiment is not your strong point; far from it. In your husband's lifetime you did not try to make two and two amount to five; and you often showed very plainly that your children were rather an encumbrance than otherwise. When at last your affection for them grew, it was not because they were your own flesh and blood, but because you were thrown into daily contact with these little creatures whom you had to care for.
Now you have lost your head because the outlook is rather bad. Your family, or rather your late husband's people, have attempted to coerce you in a way that I consider entirely unjustifiable. And you have allowed yourself to be bullied, and therefore, all unconsciously, have given them some hold over your life and actions.
You must not forget that your husband's family, without being asked, have been allowing you a yearly income which permitted you to live in the same style as before Professor Wellmann's death. They placed no restrictions upon you, and made no conditions. Now, the family—annoyed by what reaches their ears—want to insist that you should conform to their wishes; otherwise they will withdraw the money, or take from you the custody of the children. This is a very arbitrary proceeding.
Reflect well what they are asking of you before you let yourself be bound hand and foot.
Are you really capable, Magna, of being an absolutely irreproachable widow?
Perhaps there ought to be a law by which penniless widows with children to bring up should be incarcerated in some kind of nunnery, or burnt alive at the obsequies of their husbands. But failing such a law, I do not think a grown-up woman is obliged to promise that she will henceforth take a vow of chastity. One must not give a promise only to break it, and, my dear Magna, I do not think you are the woman to keep a vow of that kind.
For this reason you ought never to have made yourself dependent upon strangers by accepting their money for the education of your children. At the same time I quite see how hard it would be to find yourself empty-handed with a pack of children all in need of something. If you had not courage to try to live on the small pension allowed by the State, you would have done better to find some means of earning a livelihood with the help of your own people.
You never thought of this; while I was too much taken up with my own affairs just then to have any superfluous energy for other people's welfare or misfortune.
But now we come to the heart of the question. For some years past you have confided in me—more fully than I really cared about. While your husband was alive I often found it rather painful to be always looking at him through the keyhole, so to speak. But this confidence justifies me in speaking quite frankly.
My dear Magna, listen to me. A woman of your temperament ought never to bind herself by marriage to any man, and is certainly not fit to have children. You were intended—do not take the words as an insult—to lead the life of a fille de joie. The term sounds ugly—but I know no other that is equally applicable. Your vehement temperament, your insatiable desire for new excitements—in a word, your whole nature tends that way. You cannot deny that your marriage was a grave mistake.
There was just the chance—a remote one—that you might have met the kind of husband to suit you: an eminently masculine type, the kind who would have kept the whip-hand over you, and regarded a wife as half-mistress, half-slave. Even then I think your conjugal happiness would have ceased the first day he lost the attraction of novelty.
Professor Wellmann, your quiet, correct husband, was as great a torment to you as you were to him. Without intending it, you made his life a misery. The dreadful scenes which were brought about by your violent and sensual temperament so changed his disposition that he became brutal; while to you they became a kind of second nature, a necessity, like food or sleep.
Magna, you will think me brutal, too, because I now tell you in black and white what formerly I lacked the courage to say. Believe me, it was often on the tip of my tongue to exclaim: "Better have a lover than torment this poor man whose temperament is so different to your own."
I will not say you did not care for your husband. You learnt to see his good qualities; but there was no true union between you. You hated his work. Not like a woman who is jealous of the time spent away from her; but because you believed such arduous brain work made him less ardent as a lover. Although you did not really care for him, you would have sacrificed all his fame and reputation for an hour of unreasoning passion.
At his death you lost the breadwinner and the position you had gained in the world as the wife of a celebrity. Your grief was sincere; you felt your loneliness and loss. Then for the first time you clung to your children, and erroneously believed you were moved by maternal feeling. You honestly intended henceforward to live for them alone.
All went well for three months, and then the struggle began. Do you know, Magna, I admired the way you fought. You would not give way an inch. You wore the deepest weeds. Sheltered behind your crape, you surrounded yourself by your children, and fought for your life.
This inward conflict added to your attractions. It gave you an air of nobility you had hitherto lacked.
Then the world began to whisper evil about you while you were still quite irreproachable.
No, after all there was something to reproach you with, although it was not known to outsiders. While you were fighting your instincts and trying to live as a spotless widow, your character was undergoing a change: against your will, but not unconsciously, you were become a perfect fury. In this way your children acquired that timidity which they have never quite outgrown. Strangers began to notice this after a while, and to criticise your behaviour.
Time went on. You wrote that you were obliged to do a "cure" in a nursing home for nervous complaints. When I heard this, I could not repress a smile, in spite of your misfortunes. Nerve specialists may be very clever, but can they be expected, even at the highest fees, to replace defunct husbands. You were kept in bed and dosed with bromides and sulphonal. After a few weeks you were pronounced quite well, and left the home a little stouter and rather languid after keeping your bed so long.
When you got home you turned the house upside-down in a frantic fit of "cleaning." You walked for miles; you took to cooking; and at night, having wearied your body out with incessant work, you tried to lull your brain by reading novels.
What was the use of it all? The day you confessed to me that you had walked about the streets all night lest you should kill yourself and your children, I realised that your powers of resistance were at an end. A week later you had embarked upon your first liaison. A month later the whole town was aware of it.
That was about a year after the Professor's death. Six or seven years have passed since then, and you have gone on from adventure to adventure, all characterised by the same lamentable lack of discretion. The reason for this lies in your own tendency to self-deception. You want to make yourself and others believe that you are always looking for ideal love and constant ties. In reality your motives are quite different. You hug the traditional conviction that it would be disgraceful to own that your pretended love is only an affair of the senses. And yet, if you had not been so anxious to dupe yourself and others, you might have gone through life frankly and freely.
The night is far advanced, moreover it is Christmas Eve.
I will not accuse you without producing proofs. Enclosed you will find a whole series of letters, dated irregularly, for you only used to write to me when I was away from home in the summer. In these letters, which I have carefully collected, and for which I have no ground for reproaching you, you will see yourself reflected as in a row of mirrors. Do not be ashamed; your self-deception is not your fault; society is to blame. I am not sending the letters back to discourage or hurt you; only that you may see how, with each adventure, you have started with the same sentimental illusions and ended with the same pitiable disenchantment.
A penniless widow turned forty—we are about the same age—with five children has not much prospect of marrying again, however attractive she may be. I have told you so repeatedly; but your feminine vanity refuses to believe it. In each fresh adventure you have seen a possible marriage—not because you feel specially drawn towards matrimony, but because you are unwilling to leave the course free to younger women.
You have shown yourself in public with your admirers.
Neglecting the most ordinary precautions, you have allowed them to come to your house; in a word, you have unblushingly advertised connections which ought to have been concealed.
And the men you selected?
I do not wish to criticise your choice; but I quite understand why your friends objected and were ashamed on your account.
At first people made the best of the situation, tacitly hoping that the affairs might lead to marriage and that your monetary cares would thus find a satisfactory solution. But after so many useless attempts this benevolent attitude was abandoned, and scandal grew.
Meanwhile you, Magna, blind to all opinion, continued to follow the same round: flirtation, sentiment, intimacy, adoration, submission, jealousy, suspicion, suffering, hatred, and contempt.
The more inferior the man of your choice, the more determined you were to invest him with extraordinary qualities. But as soon as the next one appeared on the scene, you began to judge his predecessor at his true value.
If all this had resulted in your getting the wherewithal to bring up your children in comfort, I should say straight out: "My dear Magna, pay no attention to what other people say, go your own road."
But, unfortunately, it is just the reverse; your children suffer. They are growing up. Wanda and Ingrid are almost young women. In a year or two they will be at a marriageable age. How much longer do you suppose you can keep them in ignorance? Perhaps they know things already. I have sometimes surprised a look in Wanda's eyes which suggested that she saw more than was desirable.
In my opinion it is better for children not to find out these things until they are quite old enough to understand them completely. But the evil is done, and cannot be undone. And yet, Magna, the peace of mind of these innocent victims is entirely in your hands. You can secure it without making the sacrifice that your husband's family demands of you.
You have no right to let your children grow up in this unwholesome atmosphere; and the atmosphere with which their dear mother surrounds them cannot be described as healthy.
If your character was as strong as your temperament, you would not hesitate to take all the consequences on your own shoulders. But it is not so. You would shrink from the hard work involved in emigrating and making yourself a new home abroad; at the same time you would be lowered in your own eyes if you gave your children into the care of others.
Then, since for the next few years you will never resign yourself to single life, and are not likely to find a husband, you must so arrange your love affairs that they escape the attention of the world. Why should you mix them up with your home life and your children? What you need are prudence and calculation; but you have neither.
You will never fix your life on a firm basis until you have relegated men to the true place they occupy in your existence. If you could only make yourself see clearly the fallacy of thinking that every man you meet is going to love you for eternity. A woman like yourself can attract lovers by the dozen; but yours is not the temperament to inspire a serious relationship which might become a lasting friendship. If you constantly see yourself left in the lurch and abandoned by your admirers before you have tired of them yourself, it is because you always delude yourself on this point.
I know another woman situated very much as you are. She too has a large family, and a weakness for the opposite sex. Everybody knows that she has her passing love affairs, but no one quarrels with her on that score.
She is really entitled to some respect, for she lives in her own house the life of an irreproachable matron. She shows the tenderest regard for the needs of her children, and never a man crosses her threshold but the doctor.
You see, dear Magna, that I have devoted half my Christmas night to you, which I certainly should not have done if I did not feel a special sympathy for you. If I wind up my letter with a proposal that may wound your feelings at first sight, you must try to understand that it is kindly meant.
Living here alone, a few months' experience has shown me that my income exceeds my requirements, and I can offer to supply you with a sum which you can pay me back in a year or two, without interest. This would enable you to learn some kind of business which would secure you a living and free you from family interference. Consider it well.
I live so entirely to myself on this island that I have plenty of time to ponder over my own lot and that of other people. Write to me when you feel the wish or need to do so. I will reply to the best of my ability. If I am very taciturn about my own affairs, it springs from an idiosyncrasy that I cannot overcome. To make sure of my meaning I have read my letter through once more, and find that it does not express all I wanted to say. Never mind, it is true in the main. Only try to understand that I do not wish to sit in judgment upon you, only to throw some light on the situation. With all kind thoughts.
Yours, ELSIE LINDTNER.
* * * * *
It snows, and snows without ceasing. The trees are already wrapped in snow, like precious objects packed in wadding. The paths will soon be heaped up to their level. The snowflakes are as large as daisies. When I go out they flutter round me like a swarm of butterflies. Those that fall into the water disappear like shooting stars, leaving no trace behind.
The glass roof of my bedroom is as heavy as a coffin-lid. I sleep with my window open, and when there comes a blast of wind my eyes are filled with snow. This morning, when I woke, my pillow-case was as wet as though I had been crying all night.
Torp already sees us in imagination snowed up and receiving our food supplies down the chimney. She is preparing for the occasion. Her hair smells as though she had been singeing chickens, and she has illuminated the basement with small lamps and red shades edged with pearl fringes.
Jeanne is equally enchanted. When she goes outside without a hat her hair looks like a burning torch against the snow. She does not speak, but hums to herself, and walks more lightly and softly than ever, as though she feared to waken some sleeper.
... I remember how Malthe and I were once talking about Greece, and he gave me an account of a snowstorm in Delphi. I cannot recall a word of his description; I was not listening, but just thinking how the snow would melt when it fell upon his head.
He has fulfilled my request not to write. I have not had a line since his only letter came. And yet....
* * * * *
I have burnt his letter.
I have burnt his letter. A few ashes are all that remain to me.
It hurts me to look at the ashes. I cannot make up my mind to throw them away.
I have got rid of the ashes. It was harder than I thought. Even now I am restless.
* * * * *
I am glad the letter is destroyed. Now I am free at last. My temptations were very natural.
The last few days I have spent in bed. Jeanne is an excellent nurse. She makes as much fuss of me as though I were really ill, and I enjoy it.
* * * * *
The Nirvana of age is now beginning. In the morning, when Jeanne brushes my hair, I feel a kind of soothing titillation which lasts all day. I do not trouble about dressing; I wear no jewellery and never look in the glass.
Very often I feel as though my thoughts had come to a standstill, like a watch one has forgotten to wind up. But this blank refreshes me.
Weeks have gone by since I wrote in my diary. Several times I have tried to do so; but when I have the book in front of me, I find I have nothing to set down.
In the twilight I sit by the fire like an old child and talk to myself. Then Torp comes to me for the orders which she ends by giving herself, and I let her talk to me about her own affairs. The other day I got her on the subject of spooks. She is full of ghost stories, and relates them with such conviction that her teeth chatter with terror. Happy Torp, to possess such imagination!
Some days I hardly budge from one position, and can with difficulty force myself to leave my table; at other times I feel the need of incessant movement. The forest is very quiet, scarcely a soul walks there. If I do chance to meet anyone, we glare at each other like two wild beasts, uncertain whether to attack or to flee from each other.