ON a full-moon night of 1863 a dhow was on its way from Lamu to Zanzibar, following the coast about a mile out.
She carried full sails before the monsoon, and had in her a freight of ivory and rhino-horn. This last is highly valued as an aphrodisiac, and traders come for it to Zanzibar from as far as China. But besides these cargoes the dhow also held a secret load, which was about to stir and raise great forces, and of which the slumbering countries which she passed did not dream.
This still night was bewildering in its deep silence and peace, as if something had happened to the world; as if the soul of it had been, by some magic, turned upside down. The free monsoon came from far places, and the sea wandered on under its sway, on her long journey, in the face of the dim luminous moon. But the brightness of the moon upon the water was so clear that it seemed as if all the light in the world were in reality radiating from the sea, to be reflected in the skies. The waves looked solid, as if one might safely have walked upon them, while it was into the vertiginous sky that one might sink and fall, into the turbulent and unfathomable depths of silvery worlds, of bright silver or dull and tarnished silver, forever silver reflected within silver, moving and changing, towering up, slowly and weightless.
The two slaves in the prow were still like statues, their bodies, naked to the waist in the hot night, iron-gray like the sea where the moon was not shining on it, so that only the clear dark shades running along their backs and limbs marked out their forms against the vast plane. The red cap of one of them glowed dull, like a plum, in the moonlight. But one corner of the sail, catching the light, glinted like the while belly of a dead fish. The air was like that of a hothouse, and so damp that all the planks and ropes of the boat were sweating a salt dew. The heavy waters sang and murmured along the bow and stern.
On the after deck a small lantern was hung up, and three people were grouped round it.
The first of them was young Said Ben Ahamed, the son of Tippo Tip’s sister, and himself deeply beloved by the great man. He had been, through the treachery of his rivals, for two years a prisoner in the North, and had escaped and got to Lamu by many strange ways. Now he was here, unknown to the world, on his way home to take revenge upon his enemies. It was the hope of revenge within Said’s heart which, more powerful than the monsoon, was in reality forcing the boat on. It was both sail and ballast to the dhow. Had they now been aware that Said was in a ship on his way to Zanzibar tonight, many great people would have been hurriedly packing up their property and their harems, to get away before it should be too late. Of Said’s revenge, in the end, other tales have told.
He sat on the deck crosslegged, bent forward, his hands loosely folded and resting on the planks before him, in deep thought.
The second, and eldest, of the party was a person of great fame, the much-renowned story-teller Mira Jama himself, the inventions of whose mind have been loved by a hundred tribes. He sat with his legs crossed, like Said, and with his back to the moon, but the night was clear enough to show that he had, at some rencounter with his destiny, had the nose and ears of his dark head cut clear off. He was poorly dressed, but still had kept a regard for his appearance. Around his thin body he had a faded, thick, crimson silk scarf, which sometimes, at a movement of his, flamed up and burned like fire or pure rubies in the light of the small lantern.
The third in the company was a red-haired Englishman whose name was Lincoln Forsner, and whom the natives of the coast called Tembu, which may mean either ivory or alcohol, as it pleases you. Lincoln was the child of a rich family in his own country, and had been blown about by many winds to lie tonight flat on his stomach on the deck of the dhow, dressed in an Arab shirt and loose Indian trousers, but still shaved and whiskered like a gentleman. He was chewing the dried leaves which the Swaheli call murungu, which keep you awake and in a pleasant mood, and from time to time spitting at a long distance. This made him communicative. He was joining Said’s expedition out of his love for the young man, and also to see what would happen, as he had before seen things happen in various countries. His heart was light. He was very fond of a boat, and pleased with the speed, the warm night, and the full moon.
“How is it, Mira,” he said, “that you cannot tell us a story as we are sailing on here tonight? You used to have many tales, such as make the blood run cold and make you afraid to trust your oldest friend, tales good on a hot night and for people out on great undertakings. Have you no more?”
“No, I have no more, Tembu,” said Mira, “and that in itself makes a sad tale, good for people out on great undertakings. I was once a great story-teller, and I specialized in such tales as make the blood run cold. Devils, poison, treachery, torture, darkness, and lunacy: these were Mira’s stock in trade.”
“I remember one of your tales now,” said Lincoln. “You frightened me by it, and two young dancers of Lamu, who really need not have been afraid of it, so that we did not sleep all night. The Sultan wanted a true virgin, and after much trouble she was fetched for him from the mountains. But he found her—”
“Yes, yes,” Mira took up the tale, his whole countenance suddenly changing, his dark eyes brightening and his hands coming to life in the old telltale manner, like two aged dancing snakes called out from their basket by the flute, “the Sultan wanted a true virgin, such as had never heard of men. With great trouble she was fetched for him from the Amazon kingdom in the mountains, where all male children had been killed off by the women, who made wild wars on their own. But when the Sultan went in to her, between the hangings of the door he saw her looking out at a young water-carrier, who was walking to and fro in the palace, and heard her speak to herself ‘Oh, I have come to a good place,’ she said, ‘and that creature there must be God, or a strong angel, the one who hurls the lightning. I do not mind dying now, for I have seen what no one has ever seen.’ And at that the young water-carrier looked up at the window too, and kept standing there, gazing at the maiden. So the Sultan became very sad, and he had the virgin and the young man buried alive together, in a marble chest broad enough to make a marriage bed, under a palm tree of his garden, and seating himself below the same tree he wondered at many things, and at how he was never to have his heart’s desire, and he had a young boy to play the flute to him. That was the tale you heard once.”
“Yes, but better told then,” said Lincoln.
“It was that,” said Mira, “and the world could not do without Mira then. People love to be frightened. The great princes, fed up with the sweets of life, wished to have their blood stirred again. The honest ladies, to whom nothing ever happened, longed to tremble in their beds just for once. The dancers were inspired to a lighter pace by tales of flight and pursuit. Ah, how the world loved me in those days! Then I was handsome, round-cheeked. I drank noble wine, wore gold-embroidered clothes and amber, and had incense burned in my rooms.”
“But how has this change come upon you?” asked Lincoln.
“Alas!” said Mira, sinking back into his former quiet manner, “as I have lived I have lost the capacity of fear. When you know what things are really like, you can make no poems about them. When you have had talk with ghosts and connections with the devils you are, in the end, more afraid of your creditors than of them; and when you have been made a cuckold you are no longer nervous about cuckoldry. I have become too familiar with life; it can no longer delude me into believing that one thing is much worse than the other. The day and the dark, an enemy and a friend—I know them to be about the same. How can you make others afraid when you have forgotten fear yourself? I once had a really tragic tale, a great tale, full of agony, immensely popular, of a young man who in the end had his nose and his ears cut off. Now I could frighten no one with it, if I wanted to, for now I know that to be without them is not so very much worse than to have them. This is why you see me here, skin and bone, and dressed in old rags, the follower of Said in prison and poverty, instead of keeping near the thrones of the mighty, flourishing and flattered, as was young Mira Jama.”
“But could you not, Mira,” Lincoln asked, “make a terrible tale about poverty and unpopularity?”
“No,” said the story-teller proudly, “that is not the sort of story which Mira Jama tells.”
“Well, yes, alas,” said Lincoln, turning around on his side, “what is life, Mira, when you come to think upon it, but a most excellent, accurately set, infinitely complicated machine for turning fat playful puppies into old mangy blind dogs, and proud war horses into skinny nags, and succulent young boys, to whom the world holds great delights and terrors, into old weak men, with running eyes, who drink ground rhino-horn?”
“Oh, Lincoln Forsner,” said the noseless story-teller, “what is man, when you come to think upon him, but a minutely set, ingenious machine for turning, with infinite artfulness, the red wine of Shiraz into urine? You may even ask which is the more intense craving and pleasure: to drink or to make water. But in the meantime, what has been done? A song has been composed, a kiss taken, a slanderer slain, a prophet begotten, a righteous judgment given, a joke made. The world drank in the young story-teller Mira. He went to its head, he ran in its veins, he made it glow with warmth and color. Now I am on my way down a little; the effect has worn off. The world will soon be equally pleased to piss me out again, and I do not know but that I am pressing on a little myself. But the tales which I made—they shall last.”
“What do you do in the meantime to keep so good a face toward it, in this urgency of life to rid itself of you?” Lincoln asked.
“I dream,” said Mira.
“Dream?” said Lincoln.
“Yes, by the grace of God,” said Mira, “every night, as soon as I sleep I dream. And in my dreams I still know fear. Things are terrible to me there. In my dreams I sometimes carry with me something infinitely dear and precious, such as I know well enough that no real things be, and there it seems to me that I must keep this thing against some dreadful danger, such as there are none in the real world. And it also seems to me that I shall be struck down and annihilated if I lose it, though I know well that you are not, in the world of the daytime, struck down and annihilated, whatever you lose. In my dreams the dark is filled with indescribable horrors, but there are also sometimes flights and pursuits of a heavenly delight.”
He sat for a while in silence.
“But what particularly pleases me about dreams,” he went on, “is this: that there the world creates itself around me without any effort on my part. Here, now, if I want to go to Gazi, I have to bargain for a boat, and to buy and pack my provisions, to tack up against the wind, and even to make my hands sore by rowing. And then, when I get to Gazi, what am I to do there? Of that also I must think. But in my dreams I find myself walking up a long row of stone steps which lead from the sea. These steps I have not seen before, yet I feel that to climb them is a great happiness, and that they will take me to something highly enjoyable. Or I find myself hunting in a long row of low hills, and I have got people with me with bows and arrows, and dogs in leads. But what I am to hunt, or why I have gone there, I do not know. One time I came into a room from a balcony, in the very early morning, and upon the stone floor stood a woman’s two little sandals, and at the same moment I thought: they are hers. And at that my heart overflowed with pleasure, rocked in ease. But I had taken no trouble. I had had no expense to get the woman. And at other times I have been aware that outside the door was a big black man, very black, who meant to kill me; but still I had done nothing to make him my enemy, and I shall just wait for the dream itself to inform me how to escape from him, for in myself I cannot find out how to do it. The air in my dreams, and particularly since I have been in prison with Said, is always very high, and I generally see myself as a very small figure in a great landscape, or in a big house. In all this a young man would not take any pleasure at all; but to me, now, it holds such delight as does making water when you have finished with wine.”
“I do not know about it, Mira; I hardly ever dream,” said Lincoln.
“Oh, Lincoln, live forever,” said old Mira. “You dream indeed more than I do myself. Do I not know the dreamers when I meet them? You dream awake and walking about. You will do nothing yourself to choose your own ways: you let the world form itself around you, and then you open your eyes to see where you will find yourself. This journey of yours, tonight, is a dream of yours. You let the waves of fate wash you about, and then you will open your eyes tomorrow to find out where you are.”
“To see your pretty face,” said Lincoln.
“You know, Tembu,” said Mira suddenly, after a pause, “that if, in planting a coffee tree, you bend the taproot, that tree will start, after a little time, to put out a multitude of small delicate roots near the surface. That tree will never thrive, nor bear fruit, but it will flower more richly than the others.
“Those fine roots are the dreams of the tree. As it puts them out, it need no longer think of its bent taproot. It keeps alive by them—a little, not very long. Or you can say that it dies by them, if you like. For really, dreaming is the well-mannered people’s way of committing suicide.
“If you want to go to sleep at night, Lincoln, you must not think, as people tell you, of a long row of sheep or camels passing through a gate, for they go in one direction, and your thoughts will go along with them. You should think instead of a deep well. In the bottom of that well, just in the middle of it, there comes up a spring of water, which runs out in little streamlets to all possible sides, like the rays of a star. If you can make your thoughts run out with that water, not in one direction, but equally to all sides, you will fall asleep. If you can make your heart do it thoroughly enough, as the coffee tree does it with the little surface roots, you will die.”
“So that is the matter with me, you think: that I want to forget my taproot?” asked Lincoln.
“Yes,” said Mira, “it must be that. Unless it be that, like many of your countrymen, you never had much of it.”
“Unless it be that,” said Lincoln.
They sailed on for a little while in silence. A slave took up a flute and played a few notes on it, to try it.
“Why does not Said speak a word to us?” Lincoln asked Mira.
Said lifted his eyes a little and smiled, but did not speak.
“Because he thinks,” said Mira. “This conversation of ours seems to him very insipid.”
“What is he thinking of?” asked Lincoln.
Mira thought for a little. “Well,” he said, “there are only two courses of thought at all seemly to a person of any intelligence. The one is: What am I to do this next moment?—or tonight, or tomorrow? And the other: What did God mean by creating the world, the sea, and the desert, the horse, the winds, woman, amber, fishes, wine? Said thinks of the one or the other.”
“Perhaps he is dreaming,” said Lincoln.
“No,” said Mira after a moment, “not Said. He does not know how to dream yet. The world is just drinking him in. He is going to its head and into its blood. He means to drive the pulsation of its heart. He is not dreaming, but perhaps he is praying to God. By the time when you have finished praying to God—that is when you put out your surface roots; that is when you begin to dream. Said tonight may be praying to God, throwing his prayer at the Lord with such energy as that with which the Angel shall, upon the last day, throw at the world the note of his trump, with such energy as that with which the elephant copulates. Said says to God: ‘Let me be all the world.’
“He says,” Mira went on after a minute, “I shall show no mercy, and I ask for none. But that is where Said is mistaken. He will be showing mercy before he has done with all of us.”
“Do you ever dream of the same place twice?” asked Lincoln after a time.
“Yes, yes,” said Mira. “That is a great favor of God’s, a great delight to the soul of the dreamer. I come back, after a long time, in my dream, to the place of an old dream, and my heart melts with delight.”
They sailed on for some time, and no one said anything. Then Lincoln suddenly changed his position, sat up, and made himself comfortable. He spat out on the deck the last of his Morungu, dived into a pocket, and rolled himself a cigarette.
“I will tell you a tale tonight, Mira,” he said, “since you have none. You have reminded me of long-gone things. Many good stories have come from your part of the world to ours, and when I was a child I enjoyed them very much. Now I will tell this one, for the pleasure of your ears, Mira, and for the heart of Said, to whom my tale may prove useful. It all goes to teach you how I was, twenty years ago, taught, as you say, Mira, to dream, and of the woman who taught me. It happened just as I tell it to you. But as to names and places, and conditions in the countries in which it all took place, and which may seem very strange to you, I will give you no explanation. You must take in whatever you can, and leave the rest outside. It is not a bad thing in a tale that you understand only half of it.”
Twenty years ago, when I was a young man of twenty-three, I sat one winter night in the room of a hotel, amongst mountains, with snow, storm, great clouds and a wild moon outside.
Now the continent of Europe, of which you have heard, consists of two parts, the one of which is more pleasant than the other, and these two are separated by a high and steep mountain chain. You cannot cross it except in a few places where the formation of the mountains is a little less hostile than elsewhere, and where roads have been made, with much trouble, to take you over them. Such a place there was near the hotel where I was staying. A road that would admit pedestrians, horses and mules, and even coaches had been cut in the rocks, and on the top of the pass, where, from laboriously climbing upwards, cursing your fate, you begin to descend, soon to feel the sweet air caressing your face and lungs, a brotherhood of holy men have built a great house for the refreshment of travelers. I was on my way from the North, where things were cold and dead, to the blue and voluptuous South. The hotel was my last station before the steep journey to the top of the pass, which I meant to undertake on the next day. It was a little early in the season yet to travel this way at all. There were only a few people on the road as yet, and higher up in the mountains the snow was lying deep.
To the world I looked a pretty, rich, and gay young man, on his way from one pleasure to another, and providing himself, on the way, with the best of everything. But in truth I was just being whirled about, forward and backward, by my aching heart, a poor fool out on a wild-goose chase after a woman.
Yes, after a woman, Mira, if you believe it or not. I had already been searching for her in a variety of places. In fact, so hopeless was my pursuit of her that I should most certainly have given it up if it had been at all within my power to do so. But my own soul, Mira, my dear, was in the breast of this woman.
And she was not a girl of my own age. She was many years older than I. Of her life I knew nothing except what was painful to me to swallow, and, what was the worst of the business, I had no reason to believe that she would be at all pleased should I ever contrive to find her.
The whole thing had come about like this: My father was a very rich man in England, the owner of large factories and of a pleasant estate in the country, a man with a big family and an enormous working capacity. He read the Bible much—our Holy Book—and had come to feel himself God’s one substitute on earth. Indeed, I do not know if he was capable of making any distinction between his fear of God and his self-esteem. It was his duty, he thought, to turn the chaotic world into a universe of order, and to see that all things were made useful—which, to him, meant making them useful to him himself. Within his own nature I know of two things only which he could not control: he had, against his own principles, a strong love of music, particularly of Italian opera music; and he sometimes could not sleep at night. Later on I was told by my aunt, his sister, who much disliked him, that he had, as a young man in the West Indies, driven to suicide, or actually killed, a man. Perhaps this was what kept him awake. I and my twin sister were much younger than our other brothers and sisters. What flea had bitten my father that he should beget two more children when he had got through most of his trouble with the rest of us, I do not know. At the day of judgment I shall ask him for an explanation. I have sometimes thought that it was really the ghost of the West Indian gentleman which had been after him.
My father was not pleased with anything which I did. In the end I think that I became a carking care to him, for had I not been of his own manufacture he would have been pleased to see me come to a bad end. Now I felt that I was ever, as My Son Lincoln, being drawn, hammered and battered into all sorts of shapes, in order to be made useful, between one o’clock and three of the night. During these hours I myself generally had a pretty heated and noisy time, for I had become an officer in a smart regiment of the army, and there, to keep up my prestige amongst the sons of the oldest families of the land, spent much of the money, time, and wit which my father reckoned to be really and rightly his.
At about this time a neighbor of ours died, and left a young widow. She was pretty and rich, and had been unhappily married, and in her trials had consoled herself with a sentimental friendship with my twin sister, who was so like me that if I dressed up in her clothes nobody would know the one of us from the other. Therefore my father now thought that this lady might consent to marry me, and lift the burden of me from his shoulders onto hers. This prospect suited me as well as anything that I at that time expected from life. The only thing for which I asked my father was his consent to let me travel on the continent of Europe during the lady’s year of mourning. In those days I had various strong inclinations, for wine, gambling and cockfighting, and the society of gypsies, together with a passion for theological discussion which I had inherited from my father himself—all of which my father thought I had better rid myself of before I married the widow, or, at least, which I had better not let her contemplate at too close quarters while she could still change her mind. As my father knew me to be quick and ardent in love affairs, I think that he also feared that I might seduce my fiancée into too close a relation, profiting by our neighborhood in the country, and, perhaps, by my likeness to my sister. For all these reasons the old man agreed that I should go traveling for nine months, in the company of an old schoolfellow of his, who had lived on his charity and whom he was pleased to turn in this way to some sort of use.
This man, however, I soon managed to rid myself of, for when we came to Rome he took up the study of the mysteries of the ancient Priapean cult of Lampsacus and I enjoyed myself very well.
But in the fourth month of my year of grace, it happened to me that I fell in love with a woman within a brothel of Rome. I had gone there, on an evening, with a party of theologians. It was thus not a dashing place where people with lots of money went to amuse themselves, neither was it a murky house frequented by artists or robbers. It was just a middling respectable establishment. I remember the narrow street in which it stood, and the many smells which met therein. If ever I were to smell them again, I should feel that I had come home. To this woman I owe it that I have ever understood, and still remember, the meaning of such words as tears, heart, longing, stars, which you poets make use of. Yes, as to stars in particular, Mira, there was much about her that reminded one of a star. There was the difference between her and other women that there is between an overcast and a starry sky. Perhaps you too have met in the course of your life women of that sort, who are self-luminous and shine in the dark, who are phosphorescent, like touchwood.
As, upon the next day, I woke up in my hotel in Rome, I remember that I had a great fright. I thought: I was drunk last night; my head has played a trick on me. There are no such women. At this I grew hot and cold all over. But again I thought, lying in my bed: I could not possibly, all on my own, have invented such a person as this woman. Why, only our greatest poet could have done that. I could never have imagined a woman with so much life in her, and that great strength. I got up and went straight back to her house, and there I found her again, such indeed as I remembered her.
Later on I learned that the extraordinary impression of great strength which she gave me was somehow false after all; she had not all the strength that she showed. I will tell you what it was like:
If all your life you had been tacking up against the winds and the currents, and suddenly, for once, you were taken on board a ship which went, as we do tonight, with a strong tide and before a following wind, you would undoubtedly be much impressed with the power of that ship. You would be wrong; and yet in a way you would also be right, for the power of the waters and the winds might be said rightly to belong to the ship, since she had managed, alone amongst all vessels, to ally herself with them. Thus had I, all my life, under my father’s ægis, been taught to tack up against all the winds and currents of life. In the arms of this woman I felt myself in accord with them all, lifted and borne on by life itself. This, to my mind then, was due to her great strength. And still, at that time I did not know at all to what extent she had allied herself with all the currents and winds of life.
After this first night we were always together. I have never been able to get anything out of the orthodox love affairs of my country, which begin in the drawing-room with banalities, flatteries and giggles, and go through touches of hands and feet, to finish up in what is generally held to be a climax, in the bed. This love affair of mine in Rome, which began in the bed, helped on by wine and much noisy music, and which grew into a kind of courtship and friendship hitherto unknown to me, was the only one that I have ever liked. After a while I often took her out with me for the whole day, or for a whole day and night. I bought a small carriage and a horse, with which we went about in Rome and in the Campagna, as far as Frascati and Nemi. We supped in the little inns, and in the early mornings we often stopped on the road and let the horse graze on the roadside, while we ourselves sat on the ground, drank a bottle of fresh, sour, red wine, ate raisins and almonds, and looked up at the many birds of prey which circled over the great plain, and whose shadows, upon the short grass, would run alongside our carriage. Once in a village there was a festival, with Chinese lamps around a fountain in the clear evening. We watched it from a balcony. Several times, also, we went as far as the seaside. It was all in the month of September, a good month in Rome. The world begins to be brown, but the air is as clear as hill water, and it is strange that it is full of larks, and that here they sing at that time of the year.
Olalla was very pleased with all this. She had a great love for Italy, and much knowledge of good food and wine. At times she would dress up, as gay as a rainbow in cashmeres and plumes, as a prince’s mistress, and there never was a lady in England to beat her then; but at other times she would wear the linen hood of the Italian women, and dance in the villages in the manner of the country. Then a stronger or more graceful dancer was not to be found, although she liked even better to sit with me and watch them dance. She was extraordinarily alive to all impressions. Wherever we went together she would observe many more things than I did, though I have been a good sportsman all my life. But at the same time there never seemed to be to her much difference between joy and pain, or between sad and pleasant things. They were all equally welcome to her, as if in her heart she knew them to be the same.
One afternoon we were on our way back to Rome, about sunset, and Olalla, bareheaded, was driving the horse and whipping him into a gallop. The breeze then blew her long dark curls away from her face, and showed me again a long scar from a burn, which, like a little white snake, ran from her left ear to her collar bone. I asked her, as I had done before, how she had come to be so badly burned. She would not answer, but instead began to talk of all the great prelates and merchants of Rome who were in love with her, until I said, laughing, that she had no heart. Over this she was silent for a little while, still going at full speed, the strong sunlight straight in our faces.
“Oh, yes,” she said at last, “I have a heart. But it is buried in the garden of a little white villa near Milan.”
“Forever?” I asked.
“Yes, forever,” she said, “for it is the most lovely place.”
“What is there,” I asked her, oppressed by jealousy, “in a little white villa of Milan to keep your heart there forever?”
“I do not know,” she said. “There will not be much now, since nobody is weeding the garden or tuning the piano. There may be strangers living there now. But there is moonlight there, when the moon is up, and the souls of dead people.”
She often spoke in this vague whimsical way, and she was so graceful, gentle, and somehow humble in it that it always charmed me. She was very keen to please, and would take much trouble about it, though not as a servant who becomes rigid by his fear of displeasing, but like somebody very rich, heaping benefactions upon you out of a horn of plenty. Like a tame lioness, strong of tooth and claw, insinuating herself into your favor. Sometimes she seemed to me like a child, and then again old, like those aqueducts, built a thousand years ago, which stand over the Campagna and throw their long shadows on the ground, their majestic, ancient, and cracked walls shining like amber in the sun. I felt like a new, dull thing in the world, a silly little boy beside her then. And always there was that about her which made me feel her so much stronger than myself. Had I known for certain that she could fly, and might have flown away from me and from the earth whenever she choose to, it would have given me the same feeling, I believe.
It was not till the end of September that I began to think of the future. I saw then that I could not possibly live without Olalla. If I tried to go away from her, my heart, I thought, would run back to her as water will run downhill. So I thought that I must marry her, and make her come to England with me.
If when I asked her she had made the slightest objection, I should not have been so much upset by her behavior later on. But she said at once that she would come. She was more caressing, more full of sweetness toward me from that time than she had ever been before, and we would talk of our life in England, and of everything there, and laugh over it together. I told her of my father, and how he had always been an enthusiast about the Italian opera, which was the best thing that I could find to say of him. I knew, in talking to her about all this, that I should never again be bored in England.
It was about then that I was for the first time struck by the appearance, whenever I went near Olalla, of a figure of a man that I had never seen before. The first few times I did not think of it, but after our sixth or seventh meeting he began to occupy my thoughts and to make me curiously ill at ease. He was a Jew of fifty or sixty years, slightly built, very richly dressed, with diamonds on his hands, and with the manners of a fine old man of the world. He was of a pale complexion and had very dark eyes. I never saw him with her, or in the house, but I ran into him when I went there, or came away, so that he seemed to me to circle around her, like the moon around the earth. There must have been something extraordinary about him from the beginning, or I should not have had the idea, which now filled my head, that he had some power over Olalla and was an evil spirit in her life. In the end I took so much interest in him that I made my Italian valet inquire about him at the hotel where he was living, and so learned that he was a fabulously rich Jew of Holland, and that his name was Marcus Cocoza.
I came to wonder so much about what such a man could have to do in the street of Olalla’s house, and why he thus appeared and again disappeared, that in the end, half against my will—for I was afraid of what she might tell me—I asked her if she knew him. She put two fingers under my chin and lifted it up. “Have you not noted about me, Carissime,” she asked me, “that I have no shadow? Once upon a time I sold my shadow to the devil, for a little heart-ease, a little fun. That man whom you have seen outside—with your usual penetration you will easily guess him to be no other than this shadow of mine, with which I have no longer anything to do. The devil sometimes allows it to walk about. It then naturally tries to come back and lay itself at my feet, as it used to do. But I will on no account allow it to do so. Why, the devil might reclaim the whole bargain, did I permit it! Be you at ease about him, my little star.”
She was, I thought, in her own way obviously speaking the truth for once. As she spoke I realized it: she had no shadow. There was nothing black or sad in her nearness, and the dark shades of care, regret, ambition, or fear, which seem to be inseparable from all human beings—even from me myself, although in those days I was a fairly careless boy—had been exiled from her presence. So I just kissed her, saying that we would leave her shadow in the street and pull down the blind.
It was about this time, too, that I began to have a strange feel ing, that I have come to know since, and which I then innocently mistook for happiness. It seemed to me, wherever I went, that the world around me was losing its weight and was slowly beginning to flow upwards, a world of light only, of no solidity whatever. Nothing seemed massive any longer. The Castel San Angelo was entirely a castle in the air, and I felt that I might lift the very Basilica of St. Peter between my two fingers. Nor was I afraid of being run over by a carriage in the streets, so conscious was I that the coach and the horses would have no more weight in them than if they had been cut out of paper. I felt extremely happy, if slightly light-headed, under the faith, and took it as a foreboding of a greater happiness to come, a sort of apotheosis. The universe, and I myself with it, I thought, was on the wing, on the way to the seventh heaven. Now I know well enough what it means: it is the beginning of a final farewell; it is the cock crowing. Since then, on my travels, I have known a country or a circle of people to have taken on that same weightless aspect. In one way I was right. The world around me was indeed on the wing, going upwards. It was only me myself, who, being too heavy for the flight, was to be left behind, in complete desolation.
I was occupied with the thought of a letter that I must write to my father, to tell him that I could not marry the widow, when I was informed that one of my brothers, who was an officer in the navy, was at Naples with his ship. I reflected that it might be better to give him the letter to carry, and told Olalla that I should have to go to Naples for a couple of days. I asked her if she would be likely to see the old Jew while I was away, but she assured me that she would neither see him nor speak to him.
I did not get on quite well with my brother. When I talked to him, I saw for the first time how my plans for the future would appear to the eyes of others, and it made me feel very ill at ease. For while I still held their views to be idiotic and inhuman, I was yet, for the first time since I had met Olalla, reminded of the dead and clammy atmosphere of my former world and my home. However, I gave my letter to my brother, and asked him to plead my cause with my father as well as he could, and I hastened to return to Rome.
When I came back there I found that Olalla had gone. At first they told me, in the house where she had been, that she had died suddenly from fever. This made me deadly ill and nearly drove me mad for three days. But I soon found out that it could not possibly be so, and then I went to every inhabitant of the house, imploring and threatening them to tell me all. I now realized that I ought to have taken her away from the place before I went to Naples—although what would it have helped me if she herself had meant to leave me? A strange superstition made me connect her disappearance with the Jew, and in a last interview with the madama of the house I seized her by the throat, told her that I knew all, and promised her that I would strangle her if she did not tell me the truth. In her terror the old woman confessed: Yes, it had been he. Olalla had left the house one day and had not come back. The next day a pale old Jewish gentleman with very dark eyes had appeared at the house, had settled Olalla’s debts and paid a sum to the madama to raise no trouble. She had not seen the two together. “And where have they gone?” I cried, sick because I had not had an outlet for my despair in killing off the old yellow female. That she could not tell me, but on second thought she believed that she had heard the Jew mention to his servant the name of a town called Basel.
To Basel I then proceeded, but people who have not themselves tried it can have no idea of the difficulties you have in trying to find, in a strange town, a person whose name you do not know.
My search was made more difficult by the fact that I did not know at all in what station of life I was to seek Olalla. If she had gone with the Jew she might be a great lady by now, whom I should meet in her own carriage. But why had the Jew left her in the house where I had found her in Rome? He might do the same thing now, for some reason unknown to me. I therefore searched all the houses of ill renown in Basel, of which there are more than one would think, for Basel is the town in Europe which stands up most severely for the sanctity of marriage. But I found no trace of her. I then bethought me of Amsterdam, where I should have, at least, the name of Cocoza to go by. I did indeed find, in Amsterdam, the fine old house of the Jew, and learned about him that he was the richest man of the place, and that his family had traded in diamonds for three hundred years. But he himself, I was told, was always traveling. It was thought that he was now in Jerusalem. I ran, from Amsterdam, upon various false tracks which took me to many countries. This maddening journey of mine went on for five months. In the end I made up my mind to go to Jerusalem, and I was on my way back to Italy, to take ship at Genoa, and these things were all running through my mind when I was sitting, as I have told you, at the Hotel of Andermatt, waiting to cross the pass upon the following day.
On the previous day I had found a letter from my father, which had been following at my heels for some months, being sent after me from one place to another. My father wrote to me:
“I am now able to look upon your conduct with calm and understanding. This I owe to the perusal of a collection of family papers, to which I have during the three last months given much of my time and attention. From the study of these papers it has become clear to me that a highly remarkable fate lies, and for the last two hundred years has lain, upon our family.
“We are, as a family, only so much better than others because we have always had amongst us one individual who has carried all the weakness and vice of his generation. The faults which normally would have been divided up among a whole lot of people have been gathered together upon the head of one of them only, and we others have in this way come to be what we have been, and are.
“In going through our papers I can no longer have any doubt of this fact. I have been able to trace the one particular chosen delinquent through seven generations, beginning with our great-aunt Elizabeth, into whose behavior I do not want here to go. I shall only quote the examples of my uncles Henry and Ambrose, who in their days without any doubt …”
Here followed various names and facts for the support of my father’s theory. He then continued:
“I do not know whether it would not be more of a fatal blow than of a blessing to our name and family should this strange condition ever cease to be. It might do away with much trouble and anxiety, but it might also lead to the family becoming no better than other people.
“As to you, you have so perseveringly declined to follow my command or advice that I feel I have reason to believe you the chosen victim of your generation. You have refused to make, by your example, virtue attractive and the reward of good conduct obvious. I have now reached, in my relation to you, a sufficiently philosophical outlook to give you my blessing in the completion of a career which may make filial disobedience, weakness, and vice a usefully repugnant and deterring example to your generation of our family.”
I never saw my father again. But from my former tutor, whom, many years later, I happened to meet again in Smyrna, in melancholy circumstances, I heard of him. My father had so far reconciled himself to the situation as to marry my young widow himself. They had a son, and him he christened Lincoln. But whether he did so because after all he had liked me better than I had known, or with the purpose of removing any unpleasant sensations which might present themselves to him between one and three o’clock of a night, in connection with the thought of his son Lincoln, I cannot tell.
I had read his letter twice, and was taking it from my pocket to read it again to pass the time, when, looking up, I saw two young men come into the dining-room of the hotel from the cold night outside. One of them I knew, and I thought that if he caught sight of me he would come and sit down with me, which he did, so that the three of us spent the rest of the night together.
The first of these two nicely dressed and well-mannered young gentlemen was a boy of a noble family of Coburg, whom, a year before, I had known in England, where he was sent to study parliamentary procedure, since he meant to become a diplomat, and also to study horse-breeding, which was the livelihood of his people. His name was Friederich Hohenemser, but he was, in looks and manners, so like a dog I had once owned and which was named Pilot, that I used to call him that. He was a tall and fair, handsome, young man.
But since it will please you, Mira, to hear your own ingenious parable made use of, I am going to tell you of him that he was a person whom life would on no account consent to gulp down. He had himself a burning craving to be swallowed by life, and on every occasion would try to force himself down her throat, but she just as stubbornly refused him. She might, from time to time, just to imbue him with an illusion, sip in a little of him, though never a good full draught; but even on these occasions she would vomit him up again. What it was about him which thus made her stomach rise, I cannot quite tell you; only I know this: that all people who came near him had, somehow, the same feeling about him, that, while they had nothing against him, here was a fellow with whom they could do nothing at all. In this way he was, mentally, in the state of a very young embryo.
It probably takes a certain amount of cunning, or luck, in a man to get himself established as an embryo. My friend Pilot had never got beyond that. His condition was often felt by himself, I believe, as very alarming; and so indeed it was. His blue eyes at times gave out a most painful reflection of the hopeless struggle for existence which went on inside him. If he ever found in himself any original taste at all, he made the most of it. Thus he would go on talking of his preference for one wine over another, as if he meant to impress such a precious finding deeply upon you. A philosopher, about whom I was taught in school and whom you would have liked, Mira, has said: “I think; consequently I am.” In this way did my friend Pilot repeat to himself and to the world: “I prefer Moselle to Rhenish wine; consequently I exist.” Or, if he enjoyed a show or a game, he would dwell upon it the whole evening, telling you: “That sort of thing amuses me.” But he had no imagination, and was, besides, very honest. He could invent nothing for himself, but was left to describe such preferences as he really found in his own mind, which were always preciously few. Probably it was, altogether, his lack of imagination which prevented him from existing. For if you will create, as you know, Mira, you must first imagine, and as he could not imagine what Friederich Hohenemser was to be like, he failed to produce any Friederich Hohenemser at all.
I had named him, I have told you, after a dog of mine, which had so much the same sort of disposition—never having the slightest idea of what he wanted to do, or had to do—that I finished up by shooting him. The God of Friederich Hohenemser was more forbearing to him in the end.
With all this, Pilot did not get on badly in society, which, I suppose, demands but a minimum of existence from its members, on the continent of Europe. He was, besides, a rich young man, pink and white, with a pair of vigorous calves—about all of which he was not a little vain—and he was even thought by elderly ladies to be a very model of a youth. He liked me, and was pleased at having made such a definite impression on me that I had given him a nickname. A person, he thought, has given me a nickname. Consequently I exist.
As he now came up to me I noticed that a change had come upon him. He had come to life; there was a shine about him. Thus did the dog Pilot shine and wag his tail upon the rare occasions on which he hoped to have proved that he did really exist. It might have been, in the boy, the effect of his new friendship with the young gentleman who accompanied him. In any case he would be sure, I felt, to play out his ace to me in the course of the evening. I sighed. I would have given much, on that night, for the company of a really good dog. I thought regretfully of my old dogs in England.
He presented his friend to me as Baron Guildenstern of Sweden. I had not had the pleasure of their company for ten minutes before I had been informed by both of them that the Baron in his own country held the reputation of a great seducer of women. This made me meditate—although all the time my intercourse with other people was carried on only upon the surface of my mind—on what kind of women they have in Sweden. The ladies who have done me the honor of letting me seduce them have, all of them, insisted upon deciding themselves which was to be the central point in the picture. I have liked them for it, for therein lay what was to me the variety of an otherwise monotonous performance. But in the case of the Baron it was clear that the point of gravity had always been entirely with him. You would suppose him to be of an unenthusiastic nature, even while he was talking of the beauties whom he had pursued, but you would not find him lacking in enthusiasm when he had once turned your eyes toward what he wanted you really to admire. It appeared from his talk that all his ladies had been of exactly the same kind, and that kind of woman I have never met. With himself so absolutely the hero of each single exploit, I wondered why he should have taken so much trouble—and he was obviously prepared to go to any length of trouble in these affairs—to obtain, time after time, a repetition of exactly the same trick. To begin with I was, being a young man myself, highly impressed by such a superabundance of appetite.
Still I got, after a while, from his conversation, which was very lively and became more so after we had emptied a few bottles together, the key to the existence of the young Swede, which lay in the single word “competition.” Life, to him, was a competition in which he must needs shine beyond the other entrants. I had myself been fairly keen for competition as a boy, but even while I had been still at school I had lost my sense of it, and by this time, unless a thing was in itself to my taste, I thought it silly to exert myself about it just because it happened to be to the taste of others. Not so this Swedish Baron. Nothing in the whole world was in itself good or bad to him. He was waiting for a cue, and a scent to follow, from other people, and to find out from them what things they held precious, in order to outshine them in the pursuit of such things, or to bereave them of them. When he was left alone he was lost. In this way he became more dependent upon others than Pilot himself, and probably he shunned solitude as the very devil. His past life, I found from his talk, he saw as a row of triumphs over a row of rivals, and as nothing else whatever, although he was a little older than I. Neither in his rivals nor in his victims had he any interest at all. He had in him neither admiration nor pity, no feeling that was not either envy or contempt.
Yet he was no fool. On the contrary, I should say that he was a very shrewd person. He had adopted in life the manner of a good, plain, outspoken fellow who is a little unpolished but easily forgiven on account of his open, simple mind. With that he had an attentive, lurking glance, and spied on you, when you least expected it, in order to get from you a valuation of things, so as to be able to defraud you of them. As he was without the nerves which make ordinary people feel the strain of things, he had without doubt an extraordinary strength and stamina, and was held by himself and by others to be a giant in comparison with those who have imagination or compassion in them.
The two got on very well together, Pilot being flattered into existence by the cute young Swede—I have got, Pilot thought, a friend who is a terrible seducer of women; consequently I exist—and the Baron quite pleased to have outshone all former friends of the rich young German, and to be admired by him. They would really rather have been without me. But they were drawn magnetically toward me, Pilot to show off his friend to me, and the Baron hot on the track of something which I might value or want, and which he might win or trick from me.
I was so bored, after a while, with the conversation of the Baron that I turned my attention to Pilot—a thing rarely done by anyone—and as soon as he got the chance he began to reveal to me the great happenings in his life.
“You might not care to be seen in my company, Lincoln,” he said, “if you knew all. I shall not be out of danger till I am out of Switzerland. The walls have ears in a country of so much political unrest.” He waited to watch the effect of his words, then went on: “I come from Lucerne.”
Now I knew that there had been a fight in that town, but it had never occurred to me that Pilot might have been in it.
“It was hot there,” he said. Poor Pilot! In his little, bashfully smiling mouth the very truth sounded badly invented. The Baron, I am sure, would have made a whole chain of lies come out with such aplomb that his audience would not for a moment have doubted them. “I shot a man in the barricade fight on the third of March,” said Pilot.
I knew that there had been a fight in the streets between, on the one side, the parties in power, and particularly the partisans of the priests, and on the other, the common people in rebellion. “You did?” I asked, with a deep pang of envy because he had been in a fight. “You shot a rebel?” For Pilot had always been to me a figure of high respectability and small intellect. I took it for granted that he had sided with the priests, and this at least I did not envy him.
Pilot shook his head proudly and secretively. After a moment he said, “I shot the chaplain of the Bishop of St. Gallen.”
The newspapers had been full of this murder, and the murderer had been searched for everywhere. I naturally became interested to know how the great deed had fallen to Pilot, and made him tell me his tale from the beginning. The Baron, bored by the recount of somebody else’s martial exploits, sat without listening, drinking and watching the people as they went in and out.
“When I went away from Coburg,” said Pilot, “I meant to stay in Lucerne for three weeks with my uncle De Watteville. As I was about to depart, all the elegant ladies of the place, one after the other, begged me to bring her back from Lucerne a bonnet from a milliner whom they called Madame Lola. This woman, they assured me, was famous from one end of Europe to the other. Ladies from the great courts and capitals came to her for their bonnets, and never in the history of millinery had there been such a genius. I was naturally not averse to doing the ladies of my native town a service, so I went off, my pockets bulging with little silk patterns, and even, will you believe it, with little locks of hair for Madame Lola to match her bonnets to. Still, in Lucerne, where the air was filled with political discussions, I forgot all about Madame Lola until one night, when I was dining with a party of high officials and politicians, I suddenly drew out, with my handkerchief, a little slip of rose-colored satin, and had to furnish my explanation. To my surprise the whole conversation immediately turned to the milliner. The married men, at least, and all the clericals, all knew about her. It was true, said the Bishop of St. Gallen, who was present, that the woman was a genius. The slightest touch of her hand, like a magic wand, created miracles of art and elegance, and the great ladies of St Petersburg and Madrid, and of Rome itself, made pilgrimages to the milliner’s shop. But she was more than that. She was suspected of being a conspirator of the first water, who made use of her atelier as a meeting place for the most dangerous revolutionists. And in this capacity, also, she was a genius, a Circe, moving and organizing things with her little hands, and the roughest of her partisans would have died for her.
“They all warned me so strongly against her that naturally the first thing which I did on the following day was to go to her house, in the street which had been pointed out to me. On that occasion I found her only a highly intelligent and agreeable woman. She took all my orders, and talked to me of my journey and even of my character and career. A red-haired young man came in while I was there, and went out again, who looked much like a revolutionist, but to whom she paid but little attention.
“While she was completing all these bonnets for me, the atmosphere of Lucerne was darkening more and more; a thunderstorm hung over the town. My uncle, who held a high position in the town council, foresaw disaster He sent my aunt and his daughters away to his château, and advised me to go with them. But I felt that I could not go away without having seen Madame Lola again, and having collected my goods from her.
“On the day on which I went to her at last, the disturbance in the streets was so great that I had to approach her abode by a network of little side streets, and even that was extremely difficult. But upon entering the house I found it, from doorway to garret, one seething mass of armed people streaming in and out, the whole place indeed like a witch’s cauldron. There was no time to talk of bonnets. She herself, standing on the counter, discoursing and directing the people, at the sight of me jumped straight into my arms. ‘Ah,’ she cried, ‘your heart has driven you the right way at last!’ And the whole crowd, she with it, at this moment advanced out of the house and down the street. It dragged me with it, or I was so filled with the very enthusiasm of the woman that I went freely. In this way, in a second, I was whirled into a barricade fight, and on to the barricades, always at the side of Madame Lola.
“She was loading the guns and handing them to the combatants, and she was using for the terrible task all the verve and adroitness which she had used in trimming her bonnets. Now all the people around her, although they were brave, were afraid, and had reason to be so; but she was not in the least afraid. As she handed the rifles to the men on the barricade, she handed them with the weapons some of her own fearlessness. I saw this on their faces. And it was strange that I myself was at the time convinced that nothing could harm her, or could harm me as long as I was with her. I remembered our old cook at Coburg telling me that a cat has nine lives. Madame Lola, I thought, must have in her the life of nine cats. At that moment I really saw her as something more than human, although she was, as I think I told you, no lady of noble birth, but only a milliner of Lucerne, not young.
“It was then that I myself, carried away by the rage around me, seized a rifle and fired into the crowd of soldiers and town militia which was slowly advancing up the street against us. My own uncle De Watteville, for all I knew, might be leading them, but I had no thought for him. At the same moment I was struck down, I know not how, and dropped like dead.
“When I woke up I was in a small room, in bed, and Madame Lola was in the room with me. As I tried to move I found that my right leg was all done up in bandages. She gave a great exclamation of joy at seeing me awake, but then approached with her finger on her lips. In the darkened room she told me of how the fight was over, and how I had killed the chaplain of the Bishop of St. Gallen. She begged me to be very still, first because my leg had been broken by a shot, and secondly, because things were still upset in Lucerne. I was in great danger and must be kept a secret in her house.
“I was there in the garret of her house, for three weeks, being nursed by her. The fighting was still going on, and I heard shots. But of this, of my wound, of what I had done and what my people would say, even of my dangerous position, I hardly thought. It seemed to me that I had, somehow, got up very high outside the world in which I used to live, and that I was now quite alone there, with her. A doctor came to see me from time to time. Nobody else came, but Lola would put on her shawl and leave me for a while, begging me to keep very quiet till she came back. These hours when she was away were to me infinitely long.
“But while I was with her we talked together much. When I have since thought of it, I remember that she did not say a great deal, but that I myself talked as well as I have always wished to do. Altogether, I understood life and the world, myself and God even, while I was in the garret. In particular we talked of the great things which I was to do in life. I had, you understand, already done enough to be known amongst people, but both of us felt that this was only the beginning.
“I understood that many of her friends had left Lucerne, and that she was exposing herself to dangers for my sake, and I begged her to go away. No, she said, she would not leave me for anything in the world. First of all, after what I had done, the revolutionists of Lucerne looked upon me as a brother, and would all be ready to die for my sake. But more than that, she explained, blushing deeply, in case we were found by the tyrants of the town or their militia, she and I must both insist that we had taken no part in the fight, but were here together because of a love affair. She would have to pose as my mistress, and I as her lover, while my wound would be said to have been given me by a jealous rival. These words of hers, although the whole thing was only a comedy, again made me feel extraordinarily happy, and made me dream of what I would do when I got well again. Yes, I do not know if any real love affair could possibly have made me as happy.
“At last one evening she told me that the doctor had declared me to be out of danger, and that we must part. She was leaving Lucerne herself that night. I was to go away, secretly, in the early morning. A friend, she said, would place his carriage at my disposal, and himself escort me out of town. A sort of terror came over me at her words. But I was too slow. I did not know what was the matter with me till it was too late. Madame Lola went on talking gently to me. I was, she said, to have something for my trouble, and she would give me all the bonnets that she had in her shop. ‘For I myself,’ she said, ‘am not coming back to Lucerne.’ So with the assistance of her little maid she made the journey up and down the stairs twelve times, each time loaded with bandboxes, which she placed around me. I began to laugh, and in the end could not stop again, for I found myself nearly drowned in bonnets of all the colors of the rainbow, trimmed with flowers, ribbons, and plumes. The floor, the bed, chair, and table were covered with them, probably the prettiest bonnets in all the world. ‘Now,’ she said, when she had filled the room with them, ‘here you have the wherewithal to conquer the hearts of women.’ She herself put on a plain bonnet and shawl, and took my hand. ‘Do not ever,’ said she, bear me any grudge. I have tried to do you good.’ She put her arms around my neck, kissed me, and was gone. ‘Lola!’ I cried, and sank back in my chair in a faint. I passed, when I woke up, a terrible night. There was not a single pleasant thing for me to think of The image of the curate of the Bishop of St. Gallen also began to worry me, and it seemed to me that I had nothing to turn to in all the world.
“Lola was as good as her word. The next morning an elderly Jewish gentleman, of great elegance, presented himself in my garret, and at the foot of the stair I found his handsome carriage waiting for me. He drove me through the town, where here and there I still saw traces of the fighting, and entertained me pleasantly on the way. As we were nearing the outskirts of the city he said to me: ‘The Baron de Watteville’s carriage will meet us at such and such a park. But the feelings of Monsieur your Uncle have been hurt by your behavior, and he has charged me to say that he prefers you to continue your journey straight on, so that he and you should not meet until later.’
“ ‘But does my uncle,’ I exclaimed in great surprise, ‘know of what has happened to me?’
“ ‘Yes,’ said the old Jew, ‘he has indeed known all the time. The Baron has much influence with the clergy of Lucerne, and it is doubtful whether we could have done without him.’ He said no more, so we drove on in silence, I in a disturbed mind.
“My uncle’s carriage was indeed waiting near a park, as the Jew had said. As we stopped, a man got out of it and slowly came up to meet us, and I recognized the red-haired young man whom I had seen in Lola’s house on my first visit there, and later, I now remembered, on the barricade. He now looked as if he had gone through much. He limped when he walked, and his face was very pale and stern as he bowed to my companion. Still, as he looked around at me, he suddenly smiled. ‘So this,’ I heard him say, ‘is Madame Lola’s little caged goldfinch?’
“ ‘Yes,’ said the old Jew, smiling, ‘that is her golem.’
“Then I did not know what I found out later, that the word golem, in the Jewish language, means a big figure of clay, into which life is magically blown, most frequently for the accomplishment of some crime which the magician dares not undertake himself. These golems are imagined to be very big and strong.
“The two saw me into my uncle’s carriage, and we took leave of one another. I drove on, but I had too much to think of now, and I did not know where to find myself again. The smell of gunpowder of the barricades, our talks of God and Lola’s kiss in the attic, together with all these bonnets which she had given me, all ran before my eyes, like the colored spots which you see before your eyes when you have for a long time been looking at the sun. I have not been able, since then, to think much of those great deeds which I was to perform. I cannot even remember what they were. But still, I have killed the curate of the Bishop of St. Gallen, and I must be careful until I get out of this country. I have seen a doctor, who tells me that my leg has been so skillfully put together that it is as if it had never been broken.”
“And so you are,” I said, “trying to find this woman, and searching for her everywhere, lying awake at night?”
“You guess that?” said Pilot. “Yes, I am looking for her. I do not know what to think or feel about anything until I shall see her again. Still she was not young, you know, and no woman of noble birth, but only a milliner of Lucerne.”
Now I had heard Pilot’s tale. And while I had been listening to it, I had been frightened more than once. There were many things in it alarming to my ears. I thought, I have not been drunk a single time since I lost Olalla, till tonight. It is obvious that when I drink now, even as much as two bottles of this Swiss wine, my head betrays me. That comes from thinking, for a long time, of one single thing only. This tale of my friend’s is too much like a dream of my own. There is much in his woman of the barricades which recalls to me the manner of my courtesan of Rome, and when, in the middle of his story, an old Jew appears like a djinn of the lamp, it is quite clear that I am a little off my head. How far can I be, I wonder, from plain lunacy?
To clear up this question I went on drinking.
The Baron Guildenstern, during the course of Pilot’s narration, had from time to time looked at me with a smile, and sometimes winked at me. But as it drew on he had lost his interest in it, and had had a new bottle brought in. Now he opened it, and refilled the glasses.
“My good Fritz,” he said, laughing, “I know that ladies love their bonnets. A husband to them means a person who will buy them bonnets of all possible shapes and colors, God bless him. But it is a poor article of dress to get off a woman. I have let them keep the bonnet on after everything else had gone; and as to having it flung at your head, I prefer the chemise.”
“Have you never, then, paid your court to a woman without getting the chemise?” Pilot asked, a little nervously, looking straight in front of him at things far away.
The Baron watched him attentively, as if he were on the point of finding out that a failure and an unsatisfied appetite might have a value for some kinds of people. “My dear friend,” he said, “I will tell you an adventure of mine in return for your confession”:
“Seven years ago I was sent by the colonel of my regiment in Stockholm, the Prince Oscar, to the riding school of Saumur. I did not stay my term out there, as I got into some sort of trouble at Saumur, but while I was there I had some pleasant hours in the company of two rich young friends of mine, one of whom was Waldemar Nat-og-Dag, who had come with me from Sweden. The other was the Belgian Baron Clootz, who belonged to the new nobility, and possessed a large fortune.
“Through letters of introduction of old aunts of ours, my Swedish friend and I dropped for a time into a curious community of old ruined Legitimists of the highest aristocracy, who had lost all that they had in the French Revolution, and who lived in a small provincial town near Saumur.
“They were all of them very aged, for when they had been young the ladies had had no dowries to marry on, and the gentlemen no money to maintain a family in the style of their old names, so there had been no younger generation produced. They could thus foresee the near end of all their world, and with them to be young was synonymous with being of the second-best circles. The ladies held their heads together over my aunts’ letters, wondering at the strangeness of conditions in Sweden, where the nobility still had the courage to breed.
“It all bored me to death. It was like being put on a shelf with a lot of bottles of old wine and old pickle pots, sealed and bound with parchment.
“In these circles there was much talk of a rich young woman who had for a year been renting a pretty country house outside the town. I had seen it myself, within its walled gardens, on my morning rides. In the beginning she interested me as little as possible. I thought her only one more of the company of Beguines. I wondered, though, how it was that the qualities of youth and prosperity were in her no faults, but on the contrary seemed to endear her to all the dry old hearts of the town.
“They themselves eagerly furnished me the explanation, informing me that this lady had consecrated her life to the memory of General Zumala Carregui, who had been, I believe, a hero and a martyr to the cause of the rightful king of Spain, and had been killed by the rebels. In his honor she dressed forever in white, lived on lenten food and water, and every year undertook a pilgrim’s voyage to his tomb in Spain. She gave much charity to the poor, and kept a school for the children of the village, and a hospital. From time to time she also had visions and heard voices, probably the sweet and martial voice of General Zumala. For all this she was highly thought of. That she had, before his death, stood in a more earthly relation to the martyr in no way damaged her reputation. The collection of old maids of both sexes were on the contrary much intrigued by the idea of experience in this holy person, as were, very likely, the eleven thousand martyrized virgins of Cologne when they were, in paradise, introduced to the highly ranking saint of heaven, St. Mary of Magdala.
“But the heart of my friend Waldemar, when he met her, melted as quickly as a lump of sugar in a cup of hot coffee.
“ ‘Arvid,’ he said to me, ‘I have never met such a woman, and I know that it was the will of fate that I should meet her. For as you know my name is Night-and-Day, and my arms two-parted in black and white. Therefore she is meant for me—or I for her. For this Madame Rosalba has in her more life than any person I have ever met. She is a saint of the first magnitude, and she uses in being a saint as much vigor as a commander in storming a citadel. She sits like a fresh, full flower in the circle of old dry perisperms. She is a swan in the lake of life everlasting. That is the white half of my shield. And at the same time there is death about her somewhere, and that is the black half of the Nat-og-Dag arms. This I can only explain to you by a metaphor, which presented itself to me as I was looking at her.
“ ‘We have heard much of wine growing since we came here, and have learned, too, how, to obtain perfection in the special white wine of this district, they leave the grapes on the vines longer than for other wines. In this way they dry up a little, become over-ripe and very sweet. Furthermore, they develop a peculiar condition which is called in French pourriture noble, and in German, Edelfaule, and which gives the flavor to the wine. In the atmosphere of Rosalba, Arvid, there is a flavor which there is about no other woman. It may be the true odor of sanctity, or it may be the noble putrefaction, the royal corrodent rust of a strong and rare wine. Or, Arvid, my friend, it may be both, in a soul two-parted white and black, a Nat-og-Dag soul.’
“On the following Sunday—in May, it was—I managed to be introduced to Madame Rosalba, after mass, at dinner in the house of an old friend of mine.
“These old aristocrats, in the midst of their ruin, kept a fairly good table, and did not despise a bottle of wine. But the younger woman ate lentils and dry bread, with a glass of water, and did this with such a sweet and frank demureness that the diet seemed very noble, and nobody would have thought of offering her anything else. After dinner, in the fresh, darkened salon, she entertained the company, with the same frankness and modesty, by describing a vision which she had lately had. She had found herself, she said, in a vast flowery meadow, with a great flock of young children, each of whom had around its head a small halo, as clear as the flame of a little candle. St. Joseph himself had come to her there, to inform her that this was paradise, and that she was to act as nurse to the children. These, he explained, were none other than those first of all martyrs, the babes of Bethlehem murdered by Herod. He pointed out to her what a sweet task was hers, inasmuch as, just as the Lord had suffered and died in the stead of humanity, so had these children suffered and died in the stead of the Lord. A great felicity had at his words come upon her, she said, and sighing with bliss she had declared that she should never want anything of all eternity but to look after and play with the martyrized children.
“I am not a great believer in visions or in paradise, but as this young woman told her tale I had no doubt that she had really seen with her own eyes what she described, or that she had been chosen for paradise. She had so much life in her that she made one feel how well the choice had been made; the little martyrs would have a great deal of fun.
“Once, while she was talking, she lifted her eyes. Good God, what a pair of eyes to have! They were, indeed, of the greatest power; and when she gave you one of her thirty-pound glances—puff!
“Now, as I was listening demurely myself and looking around at her happy circle of old disciples, I became convinced that somewhere in all this stuff there was a very bold piece of deceit. Rosalba might very well be a saint of the first water. She might also be heaping benefactions on rich and poor, out of a horn of plenty. And she might have loved the General Zumala Carregui, in which case the general was to be envied. But she had not loved him only in all the world, and she was not living now for his memory alone. Monogamy—for it does exist, and I have myself been loved by women of a monogamous disposition—shows in a woman. You may confound the nun and the whore, but those ladies who in India, I am told, beg to be committed to the flames of their husbands’ funeral pyres, you know when you see them. Either, I thought, this white swan Rosalba can count the names of her lovers with the beads of her rosary, or she is some perverse old maid—for as a maid she was not young; she had passed her thirtieth year—who, out of desperation, poses to my Legitimists as the mistress of a general.
“Rosalba had not looked at me more than once, but she was aware of me. She and I, for all that we were placed far apart, were as much in contact as if we had been performing a pas-de-deux upon the center of a stage, with the aged corps du ballet grouped around us. When she went to the window to look for her carriage, the folds of her white dress and the tresses of her dark hair moved and floated all for my benefit.
“I thought: I have never in my life had a dead rival. Let us see now what the General Zumala is capable of. At Easter I had to listen to a sermon on St. Mary Magdalen—this holy Mary, would she have been more difficult to seduce than any of the others of the name; or easier? The old war horse, we are told, raises its head to the war trumpet.
“I soon became a frequent visitor at Madame Rosalba’s château. I do not know whether the old aristocratic community of the town had any idea of the peril of its saint. I was accepted as her companion on her visits to the poor and the sick. In the beginning I consulted her much upon my soul. I confessed to her many of my sins, and none of them seemed to impress her much. They might well have appeared familiar to her. I think that she really gave me good advice, and that if I had meant to reform I should have done well to follow it. She had the same earnest and sweet manner, and seemed to like me, but in our amorous pas-de-deux she was slow of movement. I, on my side, was patient. I had to keep my young friend Waldemar in view, and I knew that I had a pleasant surprise for her at the end of the dance.
“One thing was strange to me in that house. I have been brought up a Lutheran, and taken to church on Christmas Day by my good grandmother. I have heard many sermons, and I know the difference between saintliness and sin as well as old Pastor Methodius himself, even if we disagreed a little as to our personal tastes in the matter. But upon my honor as a guardsman, with her it was difficult to know which was which. She preached theology with as much voluptuousness as if the table of the Lord was the one real treat to a gourmet, and when we talked about love she would make it look like a pastime in a kindergarten. This I did not like. I had a nurse who believed in witches, and at times, in Rosalba’s society, I remembered the dark tales of old Maja-Lisa. Even so, such a holy witch and wanton saint I had not come across before.
“In the end, however, I obtained from Rosalba the promise of a rendezvous in her house late on a Friday afternoon. On that day all the people were going to the funeral of a maréchal’s widow, who had been a hundred years old. This was late in June. By then I was bored with her dallying, and I thought, It is to be on Friday, or I will never make love to a woman again.
“All this, I can tell you, might have ended up in a different way, had not something else happened in Saumur. But it came to pass that a very rich old Jewish gentleman—in the style of the Jew of your tale, Fritz—stopped there for a week on his way from Spain. He had everything of the best. His coach, his servants, and his diamonds were much talked of. But what struck our riding school to the heart was a pair of Andalusian horses which he brought with him. They were, particularly the one of them, the finest that had been seen in France. Even at my regiment in Sweden there were hardly any like that. Moreover they had been trained in the royal manège at Madrid, and it was a shame that they should be in the hands of a Jew, and a civilian.
“Because of these horses I neglected Madame Rosalba for a few days, so much talk was there about them. Few of us would have been rich enough to buy them, and still we thought it a point of honor with us that they should not leave Saumur. In the end Baron Clootz, who was a millionaire and a young nobleman of much wit, one evening after dinner made a proposition to five of us who had been for a long time his closest friends and associates. He promised that he would buy the horse of the Jew, and put it up as the prize in a competition in which we were to show what we were worth. The rule of this competition was that we were to ride, within one day, three French miles, drink three bottles of the wine of the district, and make love to three ladies in the course. In what order we would take the events it was for our own judgment to decide, but the Jew’s horse was to belong to that one of us who arrived first at Baron Clootz’s house after having fulfilled the conditions.
“His proposition was a great success, and I was already in my mind arranging the consecutive order of the items, and going through my circle of acquaintances amongst the pretty women of the district, when I found that the day chosen for the contest was the day of my rendezvous with Madame Rosalba. The day had been chosen for both purposes from the same reason: because the élite of the town would be occupied, and not able to poke their noses into our affairs.
“I had, however, confidence in myself, and as I walked away arm in arm with young Waldemar I thought it a good joke. He was still worshiping Rosalba from the footstep of her pedestal, so much so as to want to change his religion for her sake, even, I believe, and become a monk. I often had to listen to his panegyrics upon her. Still after some argument we had persuaded him to come into our contest. I think that he meant to show himself to Rosalba on the Spanish horse, for he was a tolerably good horseman.
“I was, without vanity, punctual at my rendezvous at the white château of Rosalba on that Friday afternoon. By her own maid—for there was not another soul in the house; they had all gone to the funeral—I was taken to her boudoir in the tower, and at the top of a long stone stair. The shutters were closed, the room was half dark, and, when you came from outside, as cool as a church. There were a great many white lilies, so that the air was heavy with their scent. Upon a table were glasses, and a bottle of the best wine that I have ever tasted, a dry Château Yquem. This made my third bottle of the day.
“Rosalba also was there. She was as ever very plainly attired, but she had shaken herself, with one shake, into very great beauty.
“If what happened to me in this tower seems somehow wild and fantastical, and more like a fairy tale or a ghost story than a romance, the fault is not mine. It is true that the day was hot; a thunderstorm followed it in the night; and that as I came in from the white road, heavy in my riding boots, I was not too sure of my head. I may even have been more in love with her than I myself knew, for everything seemed to me to turn on her, and my bottles and my wildly galloped races to be only the reasonably fit initiatory ceremonies to this great moment of love-making. But I remember well all that happened.
“I had not much time to give away. Light-headed as I was, with the room swinging up and down before my eyes, my words came easily to me, and I had her in my arms pretty soon, her clothes disheveled. She was like a lily in a thunderstorm herself, white and swaying, her face wet. But she held me back with her outstretched arms. ‘Listen for one moment,’ she said. ‘Here we are all alone. There is no one in the house but we and my maid who brought you here, that pretty girl. Are you not afraid?
“ ‘Arvid,’ she said, ‘have you ever heard the story of Don Giovanni?’ She looked at me so intently that I had to answer that I had even heard that opera about him. ‘Do you remember, then,’ she said, ‘the scene in which the statue of the Commandante comes for him? Such a statue there is on the tomb of the General Zumala, in Spain.’ I said, ‘Oh, let it keep him down in it, then.’
“ ‘Wait,’ said Rosalba. ‘Rosalba belonged to General Zumala Carregui. When she betrays him, poor Rosalba must disappear. But then, an opera must have a fifth act to it sooner or later. And you, my star of the north, are to be the hero of it. You have your honor in the matter, as if you were a woman. You would have no mercy on St. Mary of Magdala. Rosalba was such a shining bubble, and when you break her, a little bit of wet will be all that you get out of it. But it was time that she went. The people, and her creator even, were becoming too fond of her. You give her her great tragic end. No other man in the world, I think, could have done that so well. You are well worthy of coming in.’
“ ‘Let me come in, then,’ I gasped.
“ ‘You have no pity on poor Rosalba at all?’ she asked. ‘That she should lose her last refuge, and be haunted and doomed forever—that means nothing to you?’
“ ‘You yourself have no pity on me,’ I cried.
“ ‘Ah, how much you are mistaken,’ she exclaimed. ‘For you, Arvid, I am worried, I am terribly sorry. An awful future awaits you—waste, a desert—oh, tortures! If I could help you, I would; but that is impossible to me. The thought of Rosalba will never be any good to you; her example cannot help you. The thought of this hour might, afterward, do you some good, but even that is not certain. Oh, my lover, if to save you I made you a present of a lovely horse, all saddled within my stable, fiery enough to carry you away in a gallop from this terrible fall and the perdition of us both, and if I sent my maid, that pretty girl who showed you up here, with you to find him, would you not go?
“ ‘For soon,’ she said, drawing herself up to her full height, her hand still on my breast, as mine in hers, and speaking in the manner of a sibyl, ‘it may be too late, and we shall hear the fatal step on the stair, marble upon marble.’
“In our agitation her dark hair, which used to hang down in ringlets on both sides of her face, was flung back, and I saw that she had indeed the brand of the witch upon her. From her left ear to her collar bone a deep scar ran, like a little white snake–”
At these words of the Baron, Pilot cried out: “What! What are you saying?”
“I said,” said the Baron patiently, pleased with the impression made by his tale, “that from her left ear to the collar bone ran a scar, like a snake.”
“I heard it,” cried Pilot. “Why are you repeating my words? The milliner of Lucerne, Madame Lola, had on her neck just such a scar, and I have this hour described it to you.”
“You have not said one word of it,” said the Baron.
“Have I not?” cried Pilot to me.
I said nothing at all. I thought: I am dreaming. By now I am quite sure that I am dreaming. This hotel, Pilot, and the Swedish Baron are all parts of a dream. Good God, what a nightmare! I have at last lost my reason for good and all, and the next thing that will happen will be that Olalla will walk in through that door, swiftly, as she always comes in dreams. With that thought I kept my eyes on the door.
From time to time, while we had been talking, new guests had come in from the outside, to sit down or to walk through the room to the inner apartments of the hotel. Now a lady and her maid came in, and passed us quickly and quietly. The lady wore a black cloak, which disguised her face and figure. The maid had her hair wrapped around her head in the Swiss way, and carried the shawls. Both looked so demure that not even the Baron gave them more than one glance. It was not till they were already gone that Pilot, suddenly stopping in his heated debate with the Baron, stood up like a statue, staring in their direction. When we asked him, laughing—for we had drunk enough to think one another ridiculous—what was the matter with him, he turned his big face toward us. “That,” he cried, deeply moved, and even more so by the sound of his own voice, “was she. That was Madame Lola of Lucerne.”
The lightning of madness had struck, then, but it had hit Pilot and not me. Still no one could tell what would happen next; and indeed at his words it seemed to me that there had been something familiar about the lady. Pilot began to pull his hair. “Come, my boy,” I said, taking hold of his arm. “It is not necessary to be mad. We will go together and ask the porter, who will know her, if this lady be not the midwife of Andermatt, who will be found to have nothing whatever in common with the Maid of Orléans.” Still laughing, I dragged him to the porter’s loge and began to question the bald old Swiss about the newcomers. The porter was at first busy counting up various pieces of elegant luggage, and did not pay much attention to us.
“Come,” I said to him, “here is a handsome reward for a little favor. Is that lady, in the black juste-au-corps, a revolutionist, who inspired the murder of the Bishop of St. Gallen’s curate? Or is she a mystic who has dedicated her life to the memory of General Zumala Carregui? Or is she a prostitute of Rome?” The old man dropped his pencil and stared at me.
“God help me, Sir, of what are you talking?” he exclaimed. “The lady who has just gone through the dining room, and who is occupying our number nine, is no other than the wife of Herr Councilor Heerbrand, of Altdorf. The Councilor is the greatest man of the town, and was a widower with a large family. The present Frau Councilor Heerbrand is the widow of an Italian wine-grower, and owns a property in Tuscany, which obliges her to travel back and forth in this way. At Altdorf, where my own three granddaughters are in service, she is highly respected. She gives tone to all the town, and is known as a very fine card player.”
“Well, Pilot,” I said, as I guided him back, for he was so stupefied that he would have stood where he was left had I let go my hold, “this is a prosaic solution to our enigma. We may sleep calmly tonight in rooms eight and ten with the Frau Councilor in the bed next to the other side of the wall.”
I did not look much where I was going, and knocked into a person who, with a little stick in his hand, was walking slowly through the dining room, in our own direction. As I apologized he lifted his tall hat a little to me, and I saw that it was the old Jew of Rome, Marcus Cocoza. At the same second he went on, and passed through the same door as had the lady.
“After my first moment of sheer terror at looking into his pale face and deep dark eyes I was seized with a fury which shook me from head to foot. I am slow to get angry, as you know, Mira, and was so even as a young man. When I really become so, it is a great relief to me. I had been depressed, disappointed, and made a fool of, and inactive for a very long time, and my despair had reached its climax in my meeting with the two friends at the hotel. Now, I thought, if all things in the world were really against me, and all of them equally damnable, the moment had come for a fight. At least that was how I felt it at the time. Later on I reflected that it was nothing in myself which worked the change, but just the nearness of the woman. She had passed within six feet of me, and had liberated my heart by the waft of her petticoat, and I had once more the winds of life in my sails, and its currents under my keel.
I looked at my two companions and saw that they had both recognized the Jew. In their amazement they looked like two lay figures. Whatever magic I had encountered was encircling them as well as me, or else they were themselves creatures of my imagination. It mattered little to me. I was determined by now to drive fate into a corner. I took out my card, wrote on it the name of the old Jew, and a regular challenge in the best style, asking him to see me at once, and sent the waiter of the hotel to his room with it. I was not a little frightened of the old man whom Ollala had called her shadow. I truly believed that he belonged to the devil, but I had to see him. But the waiter returned to say that it was out of the question. The old gentleman had gone to bed, had had a hot drink brought him by his valet, and now had locked his door and would not be disturbed. I told the man that it was a matter of great importance, but he declined to do anything for me. He knew their guest, who went in his own splendid coach with his own servants, and was a man of unfathomable wealth.
“Has he traveled this way,” I asked the waiter, “in the company of Madame Heerbrand?”
“No, never,” declared the poor fellow, scared, I think, by my looks. He did not think that the lady and the gentleman knew each other at all, he said.
It was a loathsome thought to me that I should have to wait all night before I could do anything in the matter. Still, it could not be helped, and I therefore dragged a chair to the fireplace and stirred up the fire, not daring to go to sleep. I was afraid that the woman might leave the hotel early, so I called the waiter back, gave him money, and enjoined him to let me know when the lady of number nine should be about to leave the hotel in the morning.
“But, Sir,” said the young man, “the lady has gone.”
“Gone?” I cried, with Pilot and the Baron repeating my exclamation like a double echo. Yes, she had gone. No sooner had she left the room by one door than she had come back to the porter’s loge by another, in great distress, and had ordered a coach at once to take her to the monastery even tonight. She had, she told the porter, found a letter for her at the hotel, informing her that her sister lay dying in Italy. It was a matter of life and death to her to get on.
“But is it possible,” I asked, “to go up that road tonight, and in this storm?” The waiter agreed that it would be difficult, but she had insisted, offered to double and triple the fare, and had wrung her hands in such grief that she had moved the heart of the coachman. Besides, it was not easy to disobey Frau Heerbrand. She was no ordinary lady. She had gone. We must ourselves have heard the wheels of her coach. That was true. We had indeed just heard wheels.
There we stood, like three hounds around a fox hole.
I did not doubt but that it was the sight of the old Jew which had driven away the woman. He was, indeed, a conjurer and a devil, the djinn who had somehow got the fair lady into his power. For a moment it threw me into the most terrible distress that I could not get at him and kill him. But it would cause too much stir, and they would prevent it. Now there was nothing to do but to follow her and protect her against him. At this idea my heart flew up like a lark.
We had some trouble in getting a coach, but this in the end was overcome by the Baron, who showed much energy and efficiency in the matter. I understood that my two companions, who were unaware of any personal interest of mine in the matter, felt surprised at my zeal. The Baron, holding me to be very drunk, was still not averse to one more spectator for his exploits. Pilot took my eagerness as a proof of my friendship for him. He even, although he seemed the whole time to have been struck dumb, tried to give words to his gratitude. “Go to hell, Pilot,” I said to him. He thereupon contented himself with pressing my hand.
At last, at great cost, a coach was produced, and the ‘three of us set off together for the monastery.
The wind was terrible, and the snow was thick on the road. Our coach, in consequence, went very irregularly in bumps and starts, and at times stood quite still. We sat inside it, each in his corner. From the time when we got into the stifling atmosphere of the closed carriage, behind the panes which were swiftly blinded by the snow beating in upon them, we did not talk together. Each of us would, I am sure, willingly have had his two fellow passengers perish on the journey. I myself, however, was soon so entirely swallowed up by the idea of seeing Olalla again that the outside world sank away and disappeared for me. We were going upwards all the time. We might, for all I knew, be driving into heaven. My heaven, had I been free to choose it then, must also have been turbulent, filled with wild galloping air.
As we drove on, the road became steeper and the snow more fierce. Our coachman and groom were unable to see six feet in front of them. Suddenly the coach gave a particularly bad jump, and stopped altogether. The coachman, descending from his box, tore open the carriage door to a great gust of wind and snow, and, himself all covered with snow, roared in, infuriated, that it was impossible to get out of the drift in which the coach was stuck.
We held a short consultation inside, which meant nothing to any of us, as no one would give up the journey. We tumbled out, buttoning our coats and turning up the collars, and, doubling over like old men, we took up the pursuit.
It had stopped snowing. The sky was almost clear. The moon, running along behind thin clouds, showed us the way. But the wind was terrible here. I remembered, just as I got out of the coach, a fairy tale, which I had been told as a child, in which an old witch keeps all the winds of heaven imprisoned in a sack. This pass, I thought, must be the sack. The locked-up winds were raging wildly in it, jumping down straight, like fighting dogs chained by their collars. Sometimes they seemed to beat down vertically upon our heads, again they rose from the ground, whirling the snow sky-high. In the carriage it had been cold, but here, as we were already high up in the mountains, the air felt as frigid as if someone had emptied a bucket of iced water over our heads. We could hardly breathe in it. But all this wildness of the elements did me good. In such a world and night I should find her, and she would need me.
The figures of my fellow travelers, even at arm’s length dim and vague like shadows on the snowy road, were insignificant to me. This search I felt to be mine alone, and soon I was a good bit in front of them. Pilot dropped out of sight. The Baron kept fairly close to me, but did not reach me.
Suddenly, after perhaps an hour’s walk, as the road turned around a rock, a large square object, slanting on the edge of the track, loomed like a large tower in front of me. It was Olalla’s carriage. It was standing there, stuck like our own and half upset, and there were neither horses nor coachman with it. I jerked open the door, and a woman inside gave a terrible shriek. It was the maid whom I had seen in the hotel. She was crouching on the carriage floor with shawls pulled over her. She was alone, and when she saw that I did not mean to kill or rob her, she cried to me that the coachman had unhitched the horses to get them into a shelter, after he had had to give up, like our own coachman, the hope of getting any farther. But where, I cried back to her, was her mistress? She had, the maid told me, gone ahead on foot. The girl was horribly scared, and in describing her lady’s flight and danger she sobbed and cried, and could hardly get her words out. I tore myself loose from her, for she did not want to let me go, and banged the door upon her. What terror, what danger, I thought, had there been in that coach to drive a woman out of it, alone, in the dead of the night and amongst wild mountains? What could it be that threatened her at the hands of the old Jew of Amsterdam?
I had stopped beside the coach for a quarter of an hour, perhaps, and this had enabled the Baron to catch up with me. The two lanterns on the coach were still burning, and as he came up behind me and spoke to me it was curious to see, in the moon-cold night, his face appear, flaming scarlet in the light of them. In the shelter of the coach we exchanged a few words. We started again, going for a while side by side.
At a place where the road got steeper, through the mist of the loose whirling snow which was driven along the ground like the smoke from a cannon, I caught sight of a dark shadow in front of me, not a hundred yards away, which might be a human figure. At first it seemed to disappear and to appear again, and it was difficult in the night and in the storm to keep your eyes fixed upon it. But after a time, although I got no nearer, my eyes became used to their task, and I could follow her steadily. She walked, on this steep and heavy road, as quickly as I myself did, and my old fancy about her, that she could fly if she would, came back. The wind whirled her clothes about. Sometimes it filled them and stretched them out, so that she looked like an angry owl on a branch, her wings spread out. At other times it screwed them up all around her, so that on her long legs she was like a crane when it runs along the ground to catch the wind and get on the wing.
At the sight of her I felt the Baron’s nearness intolerable. If I had chased Olalla for six months, to run her down in this mountain pass, I must have her alone to myself. It would be of no use to try to explain this to him. I stopped, and as he stopped with me, I seized him by the front of his cloak and threw him back. He was tired by our climb. He was breathing heavily, and had stopped a couple of times. But he came to life at my grip and on seeing the expression of my face. Now he would by no means let me go on alone. His eyes and teeth glinted at me. We had a few minutes’ fight on the stony road, and he knocked off my hat, which rolled away. But, still gripping his clothes with my left hand, I struck him a strong blow in the face, which made him lose his balance. The road was slippery, and he fell and rolled backwards. As he fell he had taken hold of a muffler around my neck, and had nearly strangled me. Cursing the delay, I sprang on, hot and shaking from the effort.
Alone again, and certain now to catch Olalla in the end here in the high hills, I was filled both with great happiness and with that fear which had first taken hold of me beside the coach. Both drove me forth with equal strength. I thought again, as I ran along down here on the dark ground, like the moon up in the sky, that I was very likely mad. It was indeed a maddening situation, suitable for an extravaganza for the theaters of Rome. Here was I, out after a woman whom I loved, and she fleeing before me in the night as fast as her legs would take her, in the belief that I was that same old enemy of hers and mine who had first parted us, and whom I longed to kill. She did not turn her head a single time, and it would have been quite hopeless to shout to her against the wind. Also, we were, both of us, exerting ourselves to our utmost strength in the flight and pursuit; and even at that, going along, as we were, bent double like old people, we could cover only about two miles to the hour. But the strangest thing of all, and the one which worried me most, was how she could possibly take me to be the old Jew. In the streets of Rome and in the room of Andermatt he had been walking very slowly on a stick. I was a young man and a good athlete, and yet she could mistake me for him. He must be, in reality, a devil, or he must have it in his power to dispatch devils on his errands. I began to feel myself as his messenger, sent on by him. Was I, perhaps, without knowing it, already in his power, and was I, against my will, the familiar of the old wizard of Amsterdam?
While all this had been running through my head I had been gaining on her. And then, spurred on by her nearness, quite mad to catch and hold her, I made a few last long leaps. Suddenly her long cloak, swept backwards, blew against my face, and in the next moment I was at her side, I leaped past her, and, spinning around, stopped her. She ran on straight into my arms and would have fallen had I not caught her. In a moment we were under the wild winter moon, in a tight embrace. Pressed to each other by the elements themselves, we both panted for breath.
Do you know, Mira, it is a great thing, the foolishness of human beings. I had run for my life, sure that the moment I caught her up, my happiness of Rome should be caught again. I do not remember now what I had meant to do—to lift her up, make love to her there, or kill her, perhaps, so that she should not make me unhappy again. I did have one moment of it, too, just as I held her in my arms and felt her breath on my face, and her long-missed form on my own body. That was a very short time to have, surely. Her bonnet, like my hat, had blown off and away. Her upturned face, white as bone, with its big eyes like two pools, was quite close to me. I saw now that she was terrified of me. It was not from the Jew that she had run—it was from me.
Many years later, on crossing the Mediterranean in a storm, I looked, for one moment, into the face of a falcon which had tried many times in vain to hook itself to the rigging of my ship, before it was blown off and down into the sea for good. That was again the face of Olalla in the mountain pass. That bird, too, was wild and mad with fear, broken by overstrain, without hope.
I suppose that I stared at her, just as terrified as she was herself, when I understood, and cried her name into her face two or three times. She herself had no breath left to speak, and I do not know if she heard me.
Now that I was sheltering her from the wind her long dark hair and dark clothes sank down all around her. She seemed to change her form, and to be transformed into a pillar in my arms. After we had stood there for a little while I said to her: “Why do you run away from me?” She looked at me. “Who are you?” she said at last. I held her closer to me and kissed her twice. Her face was quite cold and fresh. She stood still and let me kiss her. It might as well have been the snowflakes and the wild air pressing themselves upon her lips as my face and mouth. “Olalla,” I said, “I have sought you all over this world my whole life. Can we not be together here now?”
“I am all alone here,” she said after a little time. “You frightened me. Who are you?”
By this time I had been chased all around the compass, and thought that it might be enough just for the present. So I stood still to think the situation over. I could not leave her alone in the night and wind. I released her a little, still supporting her with my right arm.
“Madame,” I said, “I am an Englishman, traveling in these cursed mountains. My name is Lincoln Forsner. It is not right that a lady should be out alone on this bad road, at this time of the night. If you will therefore allow me to escort you to the monastery I shall feel much honored.”
This she thought over, and she seemed to lean with a good grace on my arm. But she said: “I cannot possibly walk any farther.”
It was clear that she could not. If I had not held her she would have fallen. What were we to do? She herself looked all around her, and up at the moon. When she had regained her balance a little, she said: “Let me rest a little. Let us sit down here and rest ourselves; then I can go with you to the monastery.”
I looked around for a place of shelter, and saw one that was not too bad, close to where we stood, under a great rock which projected over the road. The snow had been whirled in there, but into the hook of it the wind could not quite get. It was perhaps ten yards away. I led or carried her to that place. I took off my cloak, and the muffler with which the Baron had come near to strangling me, and made her as comfortable as I could. The night grew clearer at the same time. The whole great landscape was quite white and bright, except when from time to time a cloud passed over the moon. I sat beside her, and hoped that we might be left in peace for a little, up here.
Olalla sat close to me, her shoulder even touching mine, calm and perfectly friendly. I felt again the same thing about her that I have talked of before: that pain and suffering did not affect her, but that all things were in some way the same to her. She sat in the cold, waste, mountain pass as a little girl would sit in a flower meadow, her skirt filled with the flowers she had picked.
After a time I said to her: “What brings you up in these mountains, Madame? I am traveling myself in search of something, but I have no luck. I wanted, also, to assist you, and am sorry that I frightened you, because it makes it more difficult for me to be of any help.”
“Yes,” she said, after a silence, “it is not easy to live, for any of you. That was so, too, with Madame Nanine. She wanted to keep her girls well disciplined, and at the same time she did not like to crush our spirits, for then we should have been no good to the house.”
“Madame Nanine was the woman who ran the house in Rome of which I have spoken. This she said to me in a friendly way, as if to show me a courtesy. She evidently thought that since I had been kind enough to admit that she was a perfect stranger to me, she would make me a return by admitting that we had known each other long ago.
I said to her: “It is only here that it is so cold. Tomorrow, when you descend the pass, you will meet the spring winds. In Italy it is spring now, and in Rome, I think, the swallows are back.”
“Is it spring there?” she said. “No, not yet. But it will be soon, and that will be very pleasant to you, who are so young.”
“Do you know, Mira,” Lincoln said, interrupting himself in his tale, “that this is the first time that I have thought at all of that hour up there? I only remember it now step by step, so to say, as I tell you of it. I do not know why I have not thought of it before. Does this moon remember it perhaps? She was there, too.”
“Madame,” I said to her, “if we were now in my own country I should prepare for you a drink, when we arrive at a house, which would revive you—yes, and ginger should be hot in the mouth, too.” I described to her our strong spirits and how one comes home on a winter day, with fingers and toes frozen, and drinks them in front of the fire. We came to talk about drinks and food, and of how we should manage if we were left up here forever. It was pleasant that here one could speak and be heard without shouting. Altogether, this cave under the rock was very much like a house to her and me, such as we had never before owned between us. It seemed to me that everything would fit in well here, that even ray father, could I have conjured forth his ghost, would have joined us with pleasure and pride. She did not say much, but laughed a little at me Neither did I speak all the time. We sat there, I believe, for three-quarters of an hour or so. I knew that it would be dangerous to go to sleep.
Just then I caught sight of a light on the road, and of two doleful figures advancing in it, pausing from time to time. It was Pilot, dead tired and sore from his climb, with the Baron leaning on his arm and limping along the heavy road in the moonlight. I learned afterward that the Swede had sprained his ankle in his fall, and that Pilot, coming up behind him, had helped him up and assisted him. The Baron had sent the other back to take off the one lantern which was then still burning on Olalla’s coach. This they carried with them, with much trouble, and they were both benumbed with the cold.
My bad luck had it that they stopped to gather up strength to go on with their journey, and put down their lantern on the ground just beside our refuge. Pilot did not see us; he never saw anything of the world around him. But the Baron, even limping, his face white with pain, was watchful and quick of eye as a lynx. He turned around, pulling Pilot with him. I had got up at the sight of them. I thought that it might perhaps be as well that they had come; they might help me to bring Olalla to the house.
I do not think that the Baron wanted to fight me once more, but he was in a rage against me. It was probably always difficult to get him out in a fight with anyone as strong as himself. But here he felt, I think, that he had got Pilot with him. He must have described our encounter to him, and made me out a madman or dead drunk.
“Hullo,” he cried, “the chase is up and the Englishman has won. He has improved the occasion at once, and that at ten degrees of frost. We ought not to have told him of so many attractions. He has seen only the women of his own country till now, and we drove him mad straight away. Let us have a look at the lady now ourselves, Fritz.”
They looked like two big birds of ill omen as they came upon us. Pilot had turned the lantern around, so that the light fell upon Olalla. She had got up, and stood by my side, but she did not lean upon me at all now.
The Baron stared at her. So did Pilot. “So it is you, indeed, my sainted Rosalba,” said the former, “pausing a moment on your way to heaven. I wish you luck in the more pleasant career.”
I could see that at his words Olalla could with difficulty keep from laughing. In fact every time she looked at the Swede she was tempted to laugh. But she was very pale, and with every minute she grew paler.
Now Pilot, who had been holding the lantern, and had stood as if he was himself blinded by the light, made a step nearer to us and stared into her face. “Madame Lola,” he cried, “is it you?”
“No, that is not I,” said she. “You are making a mistake.”
This confused Pilot terribly. He pulled his hair. I believed that he would go mad then and there. “Do not deceive me, I beg you,” he said, “tell me who you are, then.”
“That would not mean anything to you,” she said. “I do not know you at all.”
“I know that you are angry with me,” he cried, “for having told our story to other people. But I did not know what to do. Indeed, since I saw you last, I have not known what to do at all. I am unhappy, Madame Lola. Tell me who you are.”
By the light of the lantern I saw that Olalla’s clothes were stiff and shining with frozen snow, her shoes thickly covered with it. But still I did not drag her away, but stood on and listened.
Suddenly Pilot dropped on his knees, in the snow, before her. “Madame Lola,” he cried, “save me. You are the only person in the world who can do it. Those weeks of Lucerne were the only time of my life that I have been happy. And all the things which I was to do! I myself have forgotten what they were. Tell me who you are!”
The Baron snatched the lantern, which Pilot had dropped, and held it high. I think that he was upset at seeing his partner brought so low. “That Madame Rosalba,” he cried, “elle se moque des gens! I was told that from the first. But not for a long time of little Arvid Guildenstern. That holy lady has on her back a little brown mole. We can find out quickly enough about that, between us, to know who she is.”
Again I saw Olalla restrain herself from laughing at him. But she spoke to Pilot gently. “If I had ever known you,” she said to him, “I should have done you no harm. I should have tried to give you a little pleasure. But I do not know you. Now let me go.”
She turned to me, slowly, and looked at me, as if she were confident that I would be on her side. So I should have been, against all the world, ten minutes before, but it is extraordinary how quickly one is corrupted in bad company. When I heard these other people talking of their old acquaintance with her, I myself, who stood so much closer than the others, turned toward her, staring into her face. “Tell them,” I cried. “Tell them who you are!”
She gave me a great dark and radiant look, then turned her eyes off me and looked up at the moon. A long shiver ran through her body.
“We shall put an end to the mystery,” cried the Baron, “when we get hold of your old Jew. He seems to have held the paint-cup to all your disguises.”
“Of whom are you talking?” said Olalla, laughing a little, “there is no old Jew here.”
“But not far off,” said the Baron, “we shall all be together at the monastery.”
At this she stood quite still, like a statue. And this stillness of hers, toward the others, was intolerable to me. “I will chase these two away for you,” I said to her, “but this once tell me only the truth—Who are you?”
She did not turn, or look at me. But the next moment she did what I had always feared that she might do: she spread out her wings and flew away. Below the round white moon she made one great movement, throwing herself away from us all, and the wind caught her and spread out her clothes. I have said already that on her flight from me up the hill she had looked like some big bird which runs to catch the wind and get on the wing. Now again she behaved exactly like a black martin when you see it throw itself out from a slope or a roof to get off the ground and take flight. For one second she seemed to lift herself up with the wind, then, running straight across the road, with all her might she threw herself from the earth clear into the abyss, and disappeared from our sight.
I had had no time to try to stop her, and for a moment I meant to follow her. But standing on the brink of the precipice I saw that she had not fallen far, but onto a sort of projection about twenty feet down. She seemed in the dim light to be lying on her face, all covered by her large cloak.
I found Pilot weeping aloud at my side, and together the three of us worked for an hour or more to bring her up. We cut our cloaks by the light of the lantern, knotting the strips together. When we had finished we hung the lantern out over the edge of the road. Our task was made more difficult for us, first by the lantern suddenly going out, as the candle within it burnt down, and then by the snow, which started to fall again.
The first time that they lowered me down, I missed the terrace and kept hanging in the air. Finally I found my foothold on it, and touched her. She seemed quite without life. Her head fell back as I lifted it, like the head of a dead flower, but still her body was not quite cold. I tried to make fast the rope around her, but it would not do. As they dragged her up, her body beat against the rocks in a dreadful manner. I had to shout to the others and to lift her back into my arms. The terrace on which we stood was narrow and covered with thick snow. It was not easy to move about on it. The great gulf was below us, and once or twice I despaired of getting her up. I thought then of how it had been my question to her which had driven her into this great white full-moon death, in the end.
At last I managed to make a sort of noose in which to place my one foot, and to make fast her body to mine somehow, and I cried to the others to draw us up. This they did more quickly and easily than I had thought they could do it. As they loosened her from me, and I fell down flat, unable to hold myself up, I heard many voices around us, crying out that she was not dead.
When again I could lift my head I saw, without surprise, the old Jew of Rome, Amsterdam and Andermatt, with our party. It seemed to me natural that he should have come up with us. His coach was standing on the road, and his coachman and valet had helped to draw up Olalla and me. How he had ever managed to get his heavy carriage along in the night, on that road, I do not know; only to a Jew anything is possible.
They lifted Olalla into the carriage, and the Jew made me come in with her, as I was bleeding at the hands and knees. I sat there with him, holding her feet, and remembering how I had first met him in the street of Rome. I was very thirsty and cold, for I had been wet with sweat, and the night air went to my bones. At last we got to the large square stone building of the monastery, from a couple of windows of which light was shining out. People came out to meet us.
Here I had some hot wine to drink, and my hands washed. When I then inquired about Olalla, they showed me into a large room, where on a table two candles were burning.
Olalla was lying, as immovable as before, upon a stretcher which they had placed on the floor. I think that they had meant to carry her somewhere, but had given it up. They had only loosened her clothes. A large fur rug, which belonged to the Jew, was spread over her. Her head was slightly turned upon the pillow, and a dark shadow covered the one side of her face.
The old Jew sat on a chair near her, still in his furred cloak and with his tall hot on his head, his chin resting on the button of his walking stick. He did not take his dark eyes off her face, and hardly moved. I was surprised, on looking at a big clock in the room, to find that it was only three hours after midnight.
I sat down myself, for a long time without speaking. As then the clock struck, I made up my mind to speak to the Jew. If I had killed Olalla by my question, I might as well get an answer now, and he would know. I talked to him a little, and he answered me very civilly. I then told him all that I knew about her, and asked him, while we were waiting here, to tell me of her. For a time he did not seem to want to speak. Then in the end he spoke with much energy. Pilot and the Baron were in there too. Pilot came up from his chair at the other end of the room to look at her, and went back again. The Baron had fallen asleep in his chair. Later on, however, he woke up and joined us.
“I have indeed,” said the Jew, “known this woman at a time when all the world knew her and worshiped her by her real name. She was the opera singer, Pellegrina Leoni.”
At first these words meant nothing to me, so that there was a silence. But then my memory woke up, and recalled to me my childhood.
“Why,” I cried, “that is not possible. That great singer was the star of whom my father and mother used to rave. When they came back from Italy they would talk of nothing else. And I well remember their tears when she was hurt at the theater fire of Milan, and died. But all this must have been when I was ten years old, thirteen years ago.”
“No,” said the Jew. “Yes, she died. The great opera singer died. Thirteen years ago, as you rightly say. But the woman lived on, for these thirteen years.”
“Explain yourself,” I said to him.
“Explain myself?” he repeated. “Young Sir, you are asking much. You might say: ‘Disguise your meaning into such phrases as I am used to hear, which mean nothing.’ Pellegrina was, at the theater fire of Milan, badly hurt. From the injuries and the shock she lost her voice. She never sang a note again as long as she lived.”
It was clear to me, as he spoke, that this was the first time that he had ever given words to this story. I was so much impressed by his suffering and terror at his own words that I could find nothing to say, even though I wanted to hear more, for I found no explanation in his statement. But Pilot asked him: “Did she, then, not die?”
“Die, live. Live, die,” said the Jew. “She lived as much as any of you, or more.”
“Still,” Pilot said, “all the world believed her to be dead.”
“She made it believe that,” said the Jew. “We—she and I—took much trouble to make it believe so. I saw her grave filled. I erected a monument upon it.”
“Were you her lover?” the Baron asked.
“No,” said the old Jew with great pride and contempt. “No, I have seen her lovers running about, yapping around her, flattering and fighting. No. I was her friend. When at the gate of paradise the keeper shall ask me: ‘Who are you?’ I shall give that great angel no name, no position or deed of mine in the world to be recognized by, but I shall answer him: ‘I am the friend of Pellegrina Leoni.’ You, who killed her now, as you have told me, by asking her who she was—when in your time you are asked, on the other side of the grave, ‘Who are you?’—what will you have to answer? You will have, before the face of God, to give your names, as at the Hotel of Andermatt.”
Pilot, at these words, seemed ill at ease; he wanted to speak, but thought better of it.
“Now, young gentlemen,” said the old Jew, “leave me to tell this tale at my pleasure. Listen well, for there will be no such tale again.
“All my life I have been a very rich man. I inherited great fortunes from my father and mother, and from their people, who were all great traders. Also, for the first forty years of my life I was a very unhappy man, such as you yourselves are. I traveled much. I had always been fond of music. I was even a composer, and composed and arranged ballets, for which I had a liking. For twenty years I kept my own corps du ballet, to perform my works before me and my friends, or before me alone. I had a staff of thirty young girls, none more than seventeen, whom my own ballet master taught, and who used to dance naked before me.”
The Baron woke up to attention, and grinned kindly at the old man. “You were not bored,” he said.
“Why not?” asked the old Jew. “I was, on the contrary terribly bored, bored to death. I might very well then have died from boredom, had I not happened to hear, upon a small theater stage of Venice, Pellegrina Leoni, who was then sixteen years old. Then I understood the meaning of heaven and earth, of the stars, life and death, and eternity. She took you out to walk in a rose garden, filled with nightingales, and then, the moment she wanted to, she rose and lifted you with her, higher than the moon. Had you ever been frightened of anything, miserable creature that you were, she made you feel as safe, above the abyss, as in your own chair, Like a young shark in the sea, mastering the strong green waters by a strike of her fins, thus did she swim along within the depths and mysteries of the great world. Your heart would melt at the sound of her voice, till you thought: This is too much; the sweetness is killing me, and I cannot stand it. And then you found yourself on your knees, weeping over the unbelievable love and generosity of the Lord God, who had given you such a world as this. It was all a great miracle.”
I felt a great compassion for this old Jew, who had to pour out his heart to us. He had not talked of these things till now; and now that he had begun he could not stop himself. His long delicate nose threw a sad shadow upon the whitewashed wall.
“I had the honor, as I have said,” he went on, “to become her friend. I bought for her a villa near Milan. When she was not traveling, she stayed there, and had many friends around her, and sometimes also we were alone together, and then used to laugh much at the world, and to walk arm in arm in the gardens in the afternoons and evenings.
“She turned to me as a child to its mother. She gave me many pet names, and she used to take my fingers and play with them, telling me that I had the finest hands in the world, hands made to handle only diamonds. As we had first met in Venice, and as my name was Marcus, she used to call herself my lioness. That was what she was: a winged lioness. I alone, of all people, knew her.
“She had in her life two great, devouring passions, which meant everything to her proud heart.
“The first was her passion for the great soprano, Pellegrina Leoni. This was a zealous, a terribly jealous love, such as that of one of your priests for the miracle-working image of the Virgin, which he attends, or of a woman for her husband, who is a hero, or of a diamond-cutter for the purest diamond that has ever been found. In her relation to this idol she had no forbearance and no rest. She gave no mercy, and she asked for none. She worked in the service of Pellegrina Leoni like a slave under the whip, weeping, dying at times, when it was demanded of her.
“She was a devil to the other women of the opera, for she needs must have all the parts for Pellegrina. She was indignant because it was impossible for her to perform two rôles within the same opera. They called her Lucifera there. More than one time she boxed the ears of a rival on the stage. Both old and young singers were constantly in tears when acting with her. And for all this she had no cause whatever, she was so absolutely the star of all the heavens of music. It was not only, either, in regard to her voice that she was jealous of Pellegrina Leoni’s honor. She meant Pellegrina to be, likewise, the most beautiful, elegant, and fashionable of women, and in this connection she was fairly ridiculous in her vanity. On the stage she would wear none but real jewels, and the most magnificent attire. She would appear in the rôle of Agatha, a village maiden, all covered with diamonds and with a train three yards long. She drank nothing but water for fear of spoiling the complexion of Pellegrina. And were a prince or a cardinal or the pope himself to call on her before noon, she would meet him with her hair done up in curling pins, and her face covered with zinc cream, so that in the evening she might sweep the floor with all the other women, not only of the stage but of the parquet and boxes as well—and she had the most brilliant audiences of all the world. It was the fashion to adore Pellegrina Leoni. The greatest people of Italy, Austria, Russia, and Germany thronged to her salons. And she was pleased about it; she liked to see them all at Pellegrina’s feet. But she would be rude to the Czar of Russia himself, and risk a sojourn in Siberia, before she would give up her own repertoire or her regular hours of practice.
“And the other great passion, young gentlemen, of this great heart was her love for her audience. And that was not for the great people, the proud princes and magnates and the lovely ladies, all in jewels; not even for the famous composers, musicians, critics, and men of letters, but for her galleries. Those poor people of the back streets and market places, who would give up a meal or a pair of shoes, the wages of hard labor, to crowd high up in the hot house and hear Pellegrina sing, and who stamped the floor, shrieked and wept over her—she loved them beyond everything in the world. This second passion of hers was as mighty as the first, but it was as gentle as the love of God, or of your Virgin, for the world. You people of the North, you do not know the women of the South and the East when they love. When they embrace their children, and weep over their dead, they are like holy flames When, after the first performance of Medée, the people of the town outspanned the horses of my carriage, in which she was driving, to draw it themselves, she did not look at the Ducas who put their noble shoulders to the task. No, she wept a rain of warm tears, more precious than diamonds, she lifted a rainbow of sweet smiles, over the streetsweepers, the carriers, the fruitsellers and watermen of Milan. She would have died for them. I was with her in the carriage, and she held my hand. She was not herself the child of very poor people. She was a baker’s daughter, and her mother, the child of a Spanish farmer. I do not know where she had caught her passion for those lowest in the world. It was not exactly for them alone that she sang, for she wanted the applause of the great connoisseurs as well; but she wanted that for the sake of her galleries. She grieved for them when times were hard and they were suppressed. She would give them all her money and sell her clothes for them. It was curious that they never begged much of her, as if they had realized that she had given them the best she had to give when she sang to them. Had they asked her, they should have had all. Her gardens and her house were open to them, and she would sit with the children of the poor under the oleander trees of her terraces when she refused to receive great lords of England, who had crossed the sea to see her.
“In the relation between these two great passions of hers lay all her happiness. During the years of her triumphs it was perfect. Her voice and her art grew more wonderful every day. It was an incredible thing. I myself do not hold that she had, at the time of her fall, reached the fulfillment of her possibilities. The world rang with her name. She held in her little hand the philosopher’s stone of music, which turned everything that she touched into gold. You, Sir,” he said, turning to me, “have told me how, in far countries, people wept at the remembrance of that deep river of gold, of those tall cascades of diamonds, sapphires, and pigeon-blood rubies. And she was adored by the people. They felt that as long as Pellegrina was singing to them, on the stage, the earth had not been abandoned by the angels.
“This, then—that Pellegrina should sing like an angel to her galleries, to melt their hearts and make them shed tears of heavenly joy, and to make them forget all the hardships of their existence, and remember the lost paradise; that she should scatter her soul over them, like a swarm of stars, and that they, on their side, should worship Pellegrina as a Madonna of their own, and the manifestation upon earth of God in his heaven, and to them all that was lovely, great, elegant, and brilliant—in this was her happiness.
“Even when she played, as I have told you, the village maidens of the opera, all in brocades and plumes, it was not from personal vanity either. It was as much from a feeling of duty to her galleries, just as the priests of your churches will deck out the image of the Virgin in the most elegant clothes that they can find. Within the pictures of the Nativity themselves, where all are moved by the sight of the Mother and child of God in the stables, on straw, and with a crib for a cradle, the priest cannot bear to see the Virgin poorly dressed, but adorns her in silks, and hangs gold chains on her.
“I myself smiled at this passion of hers for the poor, for to me the common people have always smelled badly, and I have no conviction of their virtue. ‘Oh, must we all be cut to the same pattern,’ she asked me then, ‘and be sinners worshiping the divinities? Come, let me be what I am, Marcus, and choose to be. Let me be a divinity worshiping the sinners.’
“As to her lovers, I knew most of them, and they meant very little either to her or me. In fact, until she got used to them, they caused her more grief than pleasure.
“For she was ever in life, in spite of her excellent good sense, a Donna Quixotta de la Mancha. The phenomena of life were not great enough for her; they were not in proportion with her own heart. She was like a man who has been given an elephant gun and is asked to shoot little birds. Or like a great bird, an albatross, asked to hop and twitter with the little birds within an aviary. When she was hurt in her love affairs, it was not her vanity which was wounded. For outside of the stage she had none of it, and she knew well herself that the young men were not making love to the great soprano, but to the lovely woman of fashion, with eyes like two stars, and the grace of those gentle and wise gazelles of which a countryman of mine has written poems. On that account she took their shallowness and falsity lightly. But she was badly hurt and disappointed because the world was not a much greater place than it is, and because nothing more colossal, more like the dramas of the stage, took place in it, not even when she herself went into the show with all her might.
“She came back from these first love affairs of hers, when she was still a very young girl, even a little ashamed of herself. She would then, I think, have liked to become a man, and saw no sense in being a woman. For in all this splendor of woman’s beauty, the magnificence of bosom and limb, and radiance of eye, of lip, and flesh, she was like a lady who has put on her richest attire to meet the prince at a great ball, only to find that what she has been invited to is a homely gathering in honor of the police magistrate, at which everyday clothes are worn. Such ladies also feel a little ashamed, and drag their long trains and rivières of diamonds along with anger and bashfulness, feeling that they are likely, in this place, to put them to ridicule.
“I should think,” said the old Jew, “that many women, in their love affairs, must feel like that.
“In these hours of trouble she would turn to me, sure of my understanding. The world would have laughed at her, had it been at all possible for the vulgar and the unimaginative to recognize in one so beautiful and rich the traits of the knight of the woeful countenance. But I could not help laughing at her, as it was. I said to her: ‘To the world, and to your lovers as part of it, the whole doctrine of love, and in fact of all human intercourse, presents itself under the aspect of toxicology, the science of poisons and counterpoisons. They are all of them prepared for and adjusted to poisons. They are like little vipers or scorpions, proud of their bite, and proof against poison proportionate to their own virulence. To most of them love is a mutual distribution of poisons and counterpoisons, and in the course of a long career of love affairs they pride themselves on having become immune to all poisons, as natives of India are said to train themselves to become immune to the venom of all snakes. But you, Pellegrina, are no venomous snake, but a python. Very often, in your walk, you recall to me the dancing snakes which I was once shown by an Indian snake-charmer. But you have no poison whatever in you, and if you kill it is by the force of your embrace. This quality upsets your lovers, who are familiar with little vipers, and who have neither the strength to resist you, nor the wisdom to value the sort of death which they might obtain with you. And, in fact, the sight of you unfolding your great coils to revolve around, impress yourself upon, and finally crush a meadow mouse is enough to split one’s side with laughter.’ In this way I used to make her laugh, even through her tears.
“However, as she was so intelligent, and had been trained by my intelligence, it was she who learned from her lovers, and in the end these matters meant no more to her than to them. For this I owed the young men much thanks. For they had assisted her to achieve a lightness in such things which was not hers by birth. From the time that she had taken their lessons to heart, she reached perfection, on the stage, in the part of the young innocent girl in love.”
“And this,” said Lincoln, interrupting the tale, “you will yourself know to be true, Mira. You remember the old immortal song of the young maiden who refuses all the gifts of the Sultan to be true to her lover, which begins: Ah Rupia, kama na Majasee. It is a very lovely song about true and pure love. Only a whore has ever sung it well, that I know of.”
He then returned to the story told by the old Jew:
“Thus did we live,” the old Jew went on, “in the white villa of Milan, until the day of her disaster.
“Young men, you remember your fathers weeping over this Tuesday. It happened during a performance of Don Giovanni, in the second act, where Donna Anna comes on the stage, with Ottavio’s letter in her hand, and begins the recitative: Crudele? Ah nò, mio bene! Troppo mi spiace allontanarti un ben che lungamente la nostr’ alma desia. Just as Pellegrina entered, two or three bits of flaming wood fell down from the ceiling in front of her. She had a brave heart; she just steadily went on, gazing up a little only, taking the high note as easily as she breathed. But a whole burning beam followed, and the entire theater rose up in a panic, the orchestra stopping in the middle of a measure. People rushed to the doors, and women fainted. Pellegrina took a step back and looked around until her eyes met mine, where I sat in the front row of the parquet. Yes, she looked for me in that moment of despair. And have I no cause to be proud? She was not at all frightened. She stood there quite calm, as if she meant to say: ‘Here we are to die together now, you and I, Marcus.’ But I, I was afraid. I dared not force my way up onto that flaming stage, where all the trees, and the houses of the streets, were cardboard only. At that same moment, as a great cloud of smoke wafted out from the one wing of the stage to the other, and the heat struck out like the breath of a great furnace, she was hidden from my eyes. I ran along with the crowd and got out somehow, and in the street, which was like a madhouse, the cold air met me again. My servant, who had been waiting for me in the hall, held me up. We were informed then that Pellegrina had been saved by the man who sang the part of Leporelle, and whom she had helped in his career. He had carried her with him all through the burning wing, and down the stairs, her hair and her clothes all aflame. The people, when they heard that she was saved, fell on their knees.
“I brought her to her house, and collected the doctors of Milan around her, and she lived. She had been struck by a falling beam, and had a deep burn, where the smoldering wood had hit her, from the ear to the collar bone. Otherwise her burns were not deep. She recovered from them quickly. But it was found that from the shock she had lost her voice. She would never sing one note again.
“When I think of her as she was this first week after her loss, it seems to me that she had in reality been burned up, and was lying on her side in the bed, immovable, black and charred like those bodies which they have dug up from the burned town of Pompeii. I sat with her for six days, and she did not speak a word. And it seemed to me the most cruel thing amongst them all that the grief of Pellegrina Leoni should be dumb.
“I did not speak to her, either. The carriages of all the world drove up and turned on the paved terrace outside her room, asking for news of her.
“I sat in the darkened room and thought of the case. This to her is, I thought, like what it would be to the priest to find the miracle-working image of the Virgin, which he has served, only a profane, an obscene, pagan idol, hollow and gnawed by rats. Like what it would be to the wife to find her heroic husband no hero, but a lunatic or a clown.
“No, I thought again, it is not like that. I knew the distress to which hers might be compared. The distress of the royal bride, who goes, with a kingdom for her dowry, adorned with the treasures of her father’s house, her young bridegroom, a king’s son, waiting for her, the city decorated for her welcome, and ringing with cymbals and songs of maidens and youths, and who is ravished by robbers on her way. Yes, it was like that, I thought.
“None of the great people arriving from all parts of the world to inquire about her ever obtained access to her house. From that fact grew the rumor that she lay dying. What would they have said had she let them come in, I wondered. That she was still young and beautiful, and beloved by them all?
“What would those people, I thought, have said to the ravished royal virgin to comfort her? That she was young and lovely still, and that her bridegroom would cherish her? They might have told her that she had no fault, and had done nothing wrong: ‘There is no sin in her worthy of death, for he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her.’ But the consolations of the vulgar are bitter in the royal ear. Let physicians and confectioners and the servants in the great houses be judged by what they have done, and even by what they have meant to do; the great people themselves are judged by what they are. I have been told that lions, trapped and shut up in cages, grieve from shame more than from hunger.
“You must excuse me, gentlemen, if I am talking of things too wonderful for you, things which you understand not. For where do your women keep their honor, in these modern times? Do they know the word even, when they hear it?
“That I did not speak one word of comfort to her, and that no word in the world could have comforted me myself, this made my presence bearable to Pellegrina during this week of ours.
“She grieved for her great name, and the applause of the courts, and for the homage of princes, as that ravished royal virgin would have wept over her splendor, her bridal crown, and the balls and pageants of the wedding festivities. But at the thought of her galleries she wept such tears as the bride would have wept for her royal bridegroom. For how were they to bear the loss of Pellegrina Leoni? Were they, from now, to live on, day after day, going to their hard work, oppressed and wronged by their masters and the authorities, ill paid, and the heavens never open to them again? And no Madonna in the skies to smile on them? Their one star had fallen; they were left in the dark of the night—the galleries which had laughed and wept with her.
“During that week I learned what a difference there may be, in the length of twenty-four hours, between one month and the next. Here at our house time used to fly lightly, like a May breeze, like butterflies, like a summer shower and rainbow. Now the day was long as a year; the night, as ten years.
“After that first week, Pellegrina asked me to give her some strong poison, with which to shorten her time for good. I had been in the habit, as a young man, of carrying such stuff with me, in case life should become unbearable to me. I was at this time living in Milan, and I used to drive out to her house every day. I handed her the poison at noon on a Wednesday, and she asked me to come back the next afternoon.
“When I came, I found her still very ill. She told me that she had taken the full dose of opium, which I had given her, but that it had had no effect. She could not die. This, although she believed it herself, I know was not the truth. What I had given her could not have failed to kill any human being. She may have taken enough to be ill, perhaps unconscious, and she thought that she had taken it all. Still, this makes no difference. The truth was that, as she had said, she could not die. In one way or another she had too much life in her.
“Afterward I thought that had I at the time killed myself, she might have had the strength to follow me. From what she had said to me from time to time I have it that she had always dreaded death, as a thing too foreign to her nature, and that it had been a comfort to her to think that I, being so much older than she, would be likely to die before she did, and to prepare the way for her, or to receive her in the other world, did such a world exist. That was one of the reasons why she preferred me to younger and stronger men. But at the time I did not think of that.
“All the same, my powders had worked a change in her. She had done with death. Dead tired, she had risen, in a way, from the dead. On that afternoon, for the first time, she wanted me to talk to her.
“I told her then how, after the long hours of the previous night, just before daybreak, a nightingale had taken to singing, wildly, exuberantly, as if she meant to overtake time, outside my window, and how, listening, I had thought of a ballet which was to take its theme from all the things that had befallen us. Pellegrina listened to this attentively, and in the course of the next day came back to the idea of my ballet, and asked me about the scenario and tunes of it. I told her that I meant it to be called Philomela, and explained to her how the scenes and dances were to follow one another. While we were talking about it she took my hand and played with my fingers. This was the first time since her fall that she had touched any human being.
“A couple of days later she sent for me very early in the morning, before sunrise. I was surprised to find her in the pergola outside her house, up and dressed in a negligee.
“It was a beautiful morning. The acacias and the grass of the garden spread a delicate, fresh, and lovely scent in the clear, somber blue air.
“She looked as she had before her misfortune. Her flower-like face was white in the dim light. But when she began to speak to me her voice was very low, as if she were afraid of waking somebody.
“ ‘I have sent for you so early, Marcus,’ she said, so that we should have all the day to talk together, if it be necessary.’ She took my arm and made me walk up and down with her. As we came to the end of the pergola she stopped and looked, before turning, out over the landscape. The air was very fresh. ‘I have much to say to you,’ she said. But she did not go on. Only as we came back once more to the same spot, she said the same thing again: ‘I have much to say to you, Marcus.’
“At last we sat down on a seat in the pergola. She did not release my arm, so we sat there side by side, as in a carriage.
“ ‘You think, Marcus,’ she said, ‘that I have not thought of anything all these days, but you are mistaken. Only it is not easy to tell you of it, for these little thoughts of mine, I have fetched them from far, far away. Be patient, we have all the day.
“ ‘You see, Marcus,’ she went on, still speaking very softly, ‘I have come to see, now, that I have been very selfish. I have always thought of Pellegrina, Pellegrina. What has happened to her, that has seemed to me terribly important, the most important thing in all the world. The people who loved Pellegrina, those only, I thought, were the kind, good people of the world, and it seemed to me that the only sensible thing that any wise person could do was to go and hear Pellegrina Leoni sing.’ Again she sat silent, pressing my arm a little.
“ ‘Even this disaster of mine,’ she said suddenly, ‘had it happened to someone else—say now, Marcus, to a soprano of China, of the Imperial Opera of China, a hundred years ago—we might have heard of it, and not have thought much about it, or wept many tears over it. Still, it would have been as sad and as terrible. But because it happened to Pellegrina, it seemed to us too cruel to bear. This, my Marcus, it need not be, and it shall not be so for us again.
“ ‘Wait,’ she said. ‘I shall explain everything better to you. “ ‘Pellegrina is dead,’ she said. ‘Was she not a great singer, a star? You remember the song:
“ ‘A light of glory is put out,
High from the sky a star has fallen.…
“ ‘It was so with her; her death was a great sorrow to the world. Oh, sad, sad. You must now help me to tell the world of her death; you must make the grave of Pellegrina, and have a monument erected upon it. Do not put up a very splendid statue, such as we should have chosen had I died and never lost my voice, but still a marble plate, to give the name and the dates of her birth and her death. Put a short inscription upon it as well. Put this, Marcus: By the grace of God. Yes, By the grace of God, Marcus.’
“ ‘Pellegrina is dead,’ she said once more. ‘Nobody, nobody must ever be Pellegrina again. To have her once more upon the stage of life, of this hard world, and to have such awful things happen to her as do happen to people on the earth—no, that must not be thought of. No human being could stand the thought. Now, you will promise me that, first of all?’ she asked me.
“I said that I would do as she wished.
“She rose again, and went to the end of the pergola. It was getting lighter now; the last pale stars had gone; all the world around us was wet with dew, and the grass, which had been dark until now, was shining like silver with it. There was a great clarity in the air, as if the sky were lifting itself high above the earth. Pellegrina stood close to me. Her clothes were moist with dew. She played with her long dark tresses, drawing one of them along between her lips, and she shivered a little in the morning air. From this end of the pergola the ground sloped down; a great landscape lay far beneath us; now we could distinguish the roads, the fields, and the trees within it. Below us, on the road, we saw some workmen and women going out into the fields.
“ ‘Look,’ she said. ‘I have waited for them, to explain things to you. It is easier for you to understand when you can see. See, there is a woman going out to her work in the fields. Perhaps she is a peasant’s wife; perhaps her name is Maria. She is happy this morning, because her husband is good to her and has given her a coral necklace. Or perhaps she is unhappy, because he worries her with his jealousy. Well, what do we think of that, Marcus, you and I? A woman named Maria is unhappy, we think. There will always be such women here and there around us, and we do not think very much of it. Look, there is another, going the other way. She is taking vegetables and fruit to Milan, on her donkey, and she is annoyed because that donkey is so old, and can walk only very slowly, so that she will be late at the market. Nor of that do we think much, Marcus. Oh, I will be that now. The time has come for me to be that: a woman called one name or another. And if she is unhappy we shall not think a great deal about it.’
“We stood there in silence, and I tried to follow her thoughts.
“ ‘And if,’ she said, ‘I come to think very much of what happens to that one woman, why I shall go away, at once, and be someone else: a woman who makes lace in the town, or who teaches children to read, or a lady traveling to Jerusalem to pray at the Holy Sepulcher. There are many that I can be. If they are happy or unhappy, or if they are fools or wise people, those women, I shall not think a great deal about that. Neither will you, if you hear about it. I will not be one person again, Marcus, I will be always many persons from now. Never again will I have my heart and my whole life bound up with one woman, to suffer so much. It is terrible to me to think of it even. That, you see, I have done long enough. I cannot be asked to do it any more. It is all over.’
“ ‘And you, Marcus,’ she said, ‘you have given me many things; now I shall give you this good advice. Be many people. Give up this game of being one and of being always Marcus Cocoza. You have worried too much about Marcus Cocoza, so that you have been really his slave and his prisoner. You have not done anything without first considering how it would affect Marcus Cocoza’s happiness and prestige. You were always much afraid that Marcus might do a stupid thing, or be bored. What would it really have mattered? All over the world people are doing stupid things, and many people are bored, and we have always known about it. Give up being Marcus Cocoza now; then what difference does it make to the world if one more person, one old Jew, does a stupid thing, or is bored for a day or two? I should like you to be easy, your little heart to be light again. You must, from now, be more than one, many people, as many as you can think of. I feel, Marcus—I am sure—that all people in the world ought to be, each of them, more than one, and they would all, yes, all of them, be more easy at heart. They would have a little fun. Is it not strange that no philosopher has thought of this, and that I should hit upon it?’
“I thought over what she said, and wondered whether it would be likely to do me any good. But I knew that it would not be possible for me to follow this advice of hers while she was still alive. Were she dead I might find refuge in her whim. The moon must follow the earth, but if the earth were to split and evaporate, it might perhaps swing itself free of its dependency, and be, in an unfettered flight in the ether, for a short time the moon of Jupiter, and for another, that of Venus. I do not know enough about astronomy to tell. I leave it to you, who may have more insight into the science.
“ ‘What a lovely morning,’ said Pellegrina. ‘One thinks that it is dark still, but really the air is as filled with light as a glassful of wine. How wet everything is. But soon all the world will be dry again, and it will be hot on the roads. It does not matter to us. We shall be here together all day.’
“ ‘And what do you want me to do?’ I asked her.
“She sat for a very long time in deep silence.
“ ‘Yes, Marcus,’ she said, ‘we must part. Tonight I am going away.’
“ ‘Shall we not meet again?’ I asked.
“She put her finger on her lips. ‘You must never speak to me,’ she said, ‘if we ever happen to meet. You once knew Pellegrina, you know.’
“ ‘Let me,’ I said, ‘follow you, and be near you, so that you can send for me if ever you want a friend to help you.’
“ ‘Yes, do that,’ she said. ‘Be near me, Marcus, so that if ever anyone should mistake me for Pellegrina Leoni, I can get hold of you, and you can help me to get away. Be never far off, so that you can always keep the name of Pellegrina away from me. But speak to me you must never, Marcus. I could not hear your voice without remembering the divine voice of Pellegrina, and her great triumphs, and this house, where we stand now, and the garden.’ She looked around at the house as if it were a thing which no longer existed.
“ ‘Oh, the currents of life are cold, Pellegrina,’ I said.
“She laughed a little in the morning air, then became again very still. The swallows are cruising about now,’ she said. ‘What,’ she said after a moment, ‘do you think of this paradise that they talk about? Is it anywhere, really? There we two shall walk again into this house, and the paradise-winds shall lift the curtains a little. There it is spring, and the swallows are back, and everything is forgiven.’
“She went away,” said the old Jew, “as she had said, upon the evening of that day.
“I have never spoken to her since,” he said, “but she has written to me from time to time, to make me help her when she wanted to get away and to change from one thing into another. In Rome, if you had not”—he turned to me—“told her that your father was an enthusiast for the Italian opera, she would have gone with you to England. But only for a year or two. She would have left you again. She would never let herself become tied up in any of her rôles.”
Thus the old man finished his tale. He looked around at us, then quieted down again, rested his chin upon the golden button of his walking stick, and sank into deep thought, always watching the face of the dying woman on the stretcher.
We three, who had been listening to him, sat on in silence, feeling, I should say, a little sheepish, all of us.
Lincoln himself, here, fell into a reverie, and for some time said nothing.
And I ought to tell you here, now, Mira, that afterward in life my friend Pilot took the advice of Pellegrina Leoni.
It is like this: I do not now quite remember whether, many years later, I met, at the Cape of Good Hope, an elderly German clergyman, by the name of Pastor Rosenquist, who, while we were discussing the strangeness of human nature, recounted to me this tale of my friend, or whether I amused myself, many years later, by imagining that I had met, at the Cape of Good Hope, a German clergyman who told me all this about him.
But there it is, in any case. Pilot followed her advice, and took to being more than one person. From time to time he withdrew from the hard and hopeless task of being Friederich Hohenemser and took on the existence of a small landowner in a far district, by the name of Fridolin Emser. He surrounded this second existence of his with the greatest secrecy, and let nobody know what he was doing. He felt, when he got away, as if he were running for his life, and he cuddled up in Fridolin’s little house, outside a village, like an animal safe in his den. Had anyone become suspicious of him and followed up the track which he took such pains to cover, to find out what, in the end, he did in his concealment, he would have found that Pilot as Emser did absolutely nothing. He looked after his little place with care, collected day by day a little money for Fridolin, and sat of an evening in the arbor of his garden, beneath a blackbird in a cage, smoking his long pipe; or sometimes he would go and drink beer in the inn, and discuss politics with friendly people. Here he was happy. For since he himself, from the beginning, knew Fridolin to be nonexistent, he was never worried by efforts to make him exist. The one thing which troubled him was that he dared not remain too long in his holiday existence for fear that it might put on too much weight, and tilt him over. He had to return to the country place of the Hohenemsers. But even Friederich Hohenemser was happier after he had begun to follow the plan of Pellegrina, for a secret in his life was an asset to him as well as to Fridolin.
I do not know if, in any of his existences, he married. The marriage of Friederich Hohenemser would have been bound to be miserably unhappy, and I would have pitied the woman who had to drag him along with her in it; but Fridolin might well have married and given his wife a peaceful and pleasant time. For he would not have been occupied all the time in proving to her that he really existed, which is the curse of many wives, but might have quietly enjoyed seeing her existing. I do not know why it should be so, but whenever I think of Pilot now, I picture him under an umbrella—he who was so exposed, once, to all weathers. Beneath this shelter the sun shall not smite him by day, nor the moon by night.
Shaking himself out of these reflections, Lincoln resumed his account of the old Jew’s tale:
Suddenly a violent change came over the face of the old Jew. It was as if we, to whom he had just lately recounted the story of his life, had all at once been annihilated. Lowering his stick, he bent forward, his whole being concentrated on Pellegrina’s face.
She stirred upon her couch. Her bosom heaved, and she moved her head slightly on the pillow. A tremor ran over her face; after a minute her brows lifted a little, and the fringes of her dark eyelids quivered, like the wings of a butterfly that sits on a flower. We had all got up. Again I looked at the Jew. It was obvious that he was terrified lest she should see him, in case she opened her eyes. He shrank back and took shelter behind me. The next second she slowly looked up. Her eyes seemed supernaturally large and somber.
In spite of the Jew’s move to hide himself, her gaze fell straight upon him. He stood quite still under it, deadly pale as if he feared an outburst of abhorrence. But none came. She looked at him attentively, neither smiling nor frowning. At this I heard him drawing in his breath twice, deeply, in a sort of suspense. Then he timidly approached a little.
She tried to speak two or three times, without getting a sound out, and again closed her eyes. But once more she opened them, looking again straight at him. When she spoke it was in her ordinary low voice, a little slowly, but without any effort.
“Good evening, Marcus,” she said.
I heard him strain his throat to speak, but he said nothing.
“You are late,” she said, as if a little vexed.
“I have been delayed,” said he, and I was surprised at his voice, so perfectly calm and pleasant was it, and nobly sonorous.
“How am I looking?” asked Pellegrina.
“You are looking well,” he answered her.
At the moment when she had spoken to him, the face of the old Jew had undergone a strange and striking change. I have spoken before of his unusual pallor. While he was telling us his tale he had grown white, as if there were no blood in him. Now, as she spoke and he answered her, a deep, delicate blush, like that of a young boy, of a maiden surprised in her bath, spread all over his face.
“It was good that you came,” she said. “I am a little nervous tonight.”
“No, you have no reason to be,” he reassured her. “It has gone very well up till now.”
“Do you really mean that,” she asked, scrutinizing his face. “You do not criticize? Nothing could have been improved? I have done well, and you are pleased with it all?”
“Yes,” he answered, “I do not criticize; nothing could be improved. You have done well, and I am well content with the whole thing.”
She was silent for perhaps two or three minutes. Then her dark eyes slid from his face to ours. “Who are these gentlemen?” she asked him.
“These,” he said, “are three foreign young gentlemen, who have traveled a long way to have the honor of being introduced to you.”
“Introduce them, then,” she said. “But I am afraid that you must be quick about it. I do not think that the entr’act can last much longer.”
The Jew, advancing toward us, took us by the hand, one by one, and led us nearer to the stretcher. “My noble young Sirs,” he said, “from beautiful, distant countries, I am pleased to have obtained for you an unforgettable moment in your lives. I introduce you herewith to Donna Pellegrina Leoni, the greatest singer in the world.”
With this he gave her our names, which for each of us he remembered quite correctly.
She looked at us kindly. “I am very glad to see you here tonight,” she said. “I shall sing to you now, and, I hope, to your satisfaction.” We kissed her hand with deep bows, all three. I remembered the caresses which I had demanded of that noble hand. But immediately after she turned again to the Jew.
“Nay, but I am really a little nervous tonight,” she said. “What scene is it, Marcus?”
“My little star,” said he, “be not nervous at all. It is sure to go well with you tonight. It is the second act of Don Giovanni; it is the letter air. It begins now with your recitative, Crudele? Ah nò, mio bene! Troppo mi spiace allontanarti un ben che lungamente la nostr’ alma desia.”
She drew a deep sigh and repeated his words: “Crudele? Ah nò, mio bene! Troppo mi spiace allontanarti un ben che lungamente la nostr’ alma desia.”
As she spoke these words of the old opera a wave of deep dark color, like that of a bride, like that in the face of the old Jew, washed over her white and bruised face. It spread from her bosom to the roots of her hair. The three of us who were lookers-on were, I believe, pale faced; but those who, looking at each other, glowed in a mute, increasing ecstasy.
Suddenly her face broke, as the night-old ice on a pool was broken up when, as a boy, I threw a stone into it. It became like a constellation of stars, quivering in the universe. A rain of tears sprang from her eyes and bathed it all. Her whole body vibrated under her passion like the string of an instrument.
“Oh,” she cried, “look, look here! It is Pellegrina Leoni—it is she, it is she herself again—she is back. Pellegrina, the greatest singer, poor Pellegrina, she is on the stage again. To the honor of God, as before. Oh, she is here, it is she—Pellegrina, Pellegrina herself!”
It was unbelievable that, half dead as she was, she could house this storm of woe and triumph. It was, of course, her swan song.
“Come unto her, now, all, again,” she said. “Come back, my children, my friends. It is I—I forever, now.” She wept with a rapture of relief, as if she had in her a river of tears, held back long.
The old Jew was in a terrible state of pain and strain. He also swayed for a moment where he stood. His eyelids swelled and heavy tears pressed themselves out under them and ran down his face. But he kept standing, and dared not give way to his emotion, although tried to his utmost. I believe that he held out against it so strongly for fear that he might otherwise, very weak as he was, die before her, and thus fail her in her last moments.
Of a sudden he took up his little walking stick and struck three short strokes on the side of the stretcher.
“Donna Pellegrina Leoni,” he cried in a clear voice. “En scène pour le deux!”
Like a soldier to the call, or a war horse to the blast of the trumpet, she collected herself at his words. Within the next minute she became quiet in a gallant and deadly calm. She gave him a glance from her enormous dark eyes. In one mighty movement, like that of a billow rising and sinking, she lifted the middle of her body. A strange sound, like the distant roar of a great animal, came from her breast. Slowly the flames in her face sank, and an ashen gray covered it instead. Her body fell back, stretched itself out and lay quite still, and she was dead.
The Jew pressed his tall hat on his head, “lisgadal rejiiskadisch schemel robo,” he said.
We stood for a little while. Afterward we went into the refectory to sit there. Later, when it was nearly morning, it was announced to us that our two coaches had at last arrived. I went out to give orders to the coachmen. We wanted to go on as soon as it was quite light. That would be best, I thought, although I did not know at all where to go.
As I passed the long room the candles were still burning, but the daylight came in through the windows. The two were there: Pellegrina on her stretcher and the old Jew by her side, his chin resting on his stick. It seemed to me that I ought not to part from him yet. I went up to him.
“Then, Mr. Cocoza,” I said, “you are this time burying, not the great artist, whose grave you made many years ago, but the woman, whose friend you were.”
The old man looked up at me. “Vous êtes trop bon, Monsieur,” he said, which means: You are too good, Sir.
“This,” Lincoln said, “is my tale, Mira.”
Mira drew in his breath, blew it out again slowly, and whistled.
“I have thought,” said Lincoln, “What would have happened to this woman if she had not died then? She might have been with us here tonight. She was good company and would have fitted in well. She might have become a dancer of Mombasa, like Thusmu, that tawny-eyed old bat, the mistress of his father and grandfather, for whose arms Said is even now longing. Or she might have gone with us into the highlands, on an expedition for ivory or slaves, and have made up her mind to stay there with a war-like tribe of the highland natives, and have been honored by them as a great witch.
“In the end, I have thought, she might perhaps have decided to become a pretty little jackal, and have made herself a den on the plain, or upon the slope of a hill. I have imagined that so vividly that on a moonlight night I have believed that I heard her voice amongst the hills. And I have seen her, then, running about, playing with her own small graceful shadow, having a little ease of heart, a little fun.”
“Ah la la,” said Mira, who, in his quality of a story-teller, was an excellent and imaginative listener, “I have heard that little jackal too. I have heard her. She barks: ‘I am not one little jackal, not one; I am many little jackals.’ And pat! in a second she really is another, barking just behind you: ‘I am not one little jackal. Now I am another.’ Wait, Lincoln, till I have heard her once more. Then I shall make you a tale about her, to go with yours.”
“Well,” said Lincoln, “this is my tale. The lesson for Said.”
“I know all your tale,” said Mira. “I have heard it before. Now I believe that I made it myself.”
“The Sultan Sabour of Khorassan was a great hero, and not that only, but a man of God, who had visions and heard voices which instructed him in the will of the Lord. So he meant to teach this to all the world, with fire and sword. But alas, he was betrayed by a woman, a dancer, just at the zenith of his orbit; it is a long story. His great army was wiped out. The sand of the desert drank their blood; the vultures fed on it. The wails of the widows and orphans rose to heaven. His harem was scattered amongst his enemies. He himself was wounded, and only dragged away and saved by a slave. For the sake of his soldiers, then, he will not show himself or let himself be known in his beggar’s state. He has become, like your woman, many persons, and gives up, like her, to be one. Sometimes he is a water carrier, again a Khadi’s servant, again a fisherman by the sea, or a holy hermit. He is very wise. He knows many things and leaves deep footprints wherever he goes. He does all people whom he meets much good and some harm; he is a king still. But he will not remain the same for long. When he gains friends and women to love him, he flees the country from them, too much afraid of being again the Sultan Sabour, or any one person at all. Only his slave knows. This slave, I now remember, has had his nose cut off for Sabour’s sake.”
“Alas, Mira, life is full of disagreeables,” said Lincoln.
“Ah, as to me,” said Mira, “I am safe wherever I go. You yourself have it written down in your Holy Book that all things work together for good to them that love God.”
“Does that declaration of love,” asked Lincoln, “come from the heart? Or from the lips of an old court poet?”
“Nay, I speak from my heart,” said Mira. “I have been trying for a long time to understand God. Now I have made friends with him. To love him truly you must love change, and you must love a joke, these being the true inclinations of his own heart. Soon I shall take to loving a joke so well that I, who once turned the blood of all the world to ice, shall become a teller of funny tales, to make people laugh.”
“Then, according to the law of the Prophet,” said Lincoln, “you will be, with barbers and such people as kiss their wives in public, debarred from giving evidence before a court of law.”
“Yes, that is so,” Mira agreed. “I shall be debarred from giving evidence.”
“What says Said?” asked Lincoln.
Said, who had sat silent and motionless all the time, laughed a little. He looked toward land. In the moonlight a dim white strip showed, and there was a murmur, like to the vibrating of a string, in the air.
“Those,” said Said, “are the great breakers of Takaungu Creek. We shall be in Mombasa at dawn.”
“At dawn?” said Mira. “Then I will go to sleep for an hour or two.”
He crawled down on the deck, drew his cloak around him and over his head, and laid himself down to sleep, immovable as a corpse.
Lincoln sat for a little while, smoking a cigarette or two. Then he also lay down, turned himself over a couple of times, and went to sleep.