小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 经典英文小说 » The Yoke Of The Thorah » Chapter 19
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
Chapter 19
FIRST of all, weakened in body and mind by an epileptic stroke; then scared literally out of his wits, terrified into a mental and emotional stupor, by the belief that that which we know to have been an epileptic stroke was a visitation from an angry God; a victim, rather than a villain; the creature of disease and superstition, of heredity and education; Elias Bacharach had deserted and forgotten the woman whom he loved, and had allowed himself to be seduced into a marriage with a woman whom he did not love. That a reawakening, accompanied by all the horrors of despair and remorse, should come sooner or later, was, of course, inevitable. It did not come, however, till some nine months after his separation from Christine Redwood, which was some nine months too late.

I have in my possession a quantity of manuscript, in Elias’s crabbed handwriting, which gives a deep and clear, though fragmentary, insight into the life he led after his marriage. It is in the form of a long, turbulent, and often hysterical letter, addressed by him, under circumstances which will in due time be explained, to Christine—a letter, however, which was never sent—and it bears date February, 1885. I have already made one or two quotations from it. I shall avail myself freely of it in the present chapter.

About the relations between himself and Tillie, Elias writes, “there is not much to be said. Our relations were perfectly amicable, but perfectly superficial. Man and wife in name, in reality we were simply good friends; scarcely that, indeed; scarcely more than friendly acquaintances. She was invariably bright, cheerful, amiable, unselfish. I tried to do my duty by her, as I conceived it; to be always kind to her, and to seize every opportunity that I saw to afford her pleasure, or to spare her annoyance. I dare say this was not enough. I dare say she deserved better of me than she got; that I ought to have striven to be her husband in a more genuine and vital sense of the word. But I did not; and if, in this way, I sinned against her, it was at least an unintentional sin, a sin of omission, and one which she remained unaware of. I was egotistical and self-centered, as it is my nature to be. She was not at all exacting. If I would listen to her when she talked, and admire her dresses, and enjoy her playing, and take her to the theater or to parties, she was quite contented. She neither asked, nor appeared to expect, any thing further. So that, though we saw each other every day, and were together a good deal of the time, we were as far as possible from being intimate. Our real, innermost selves never approached each other. In fact, she and my uncle were much more intimate than she and I. He was always having her to sit with him in his study, where he would talk to her of the subjects that interested him, or get her to read aloud to him, or to act as his amanuensis, and write under his dictation. She thought my uncle was a ‘perfectly adorable old man’; and he called her ‘the light of his declining years.’

“I, meanwhile, lived my own life, such as it was, in silence. But it was not much of a life. It was not especially enjoyable, and it was altogether valueless. I produced nothing, accomplished nothing, was of no earthly use or benefit to anybody in the world—except a sort of convenient appendage to my wife. My favorite occupation—the only one that I cared any thing about—consisted in getting away by myself, and reading. My studio was my castle. Once inside it, with the door closed behind me, I was sure of not being disturbed. I, had forsworn my painting, as I fancied, for good and all. I had got utterly discouraged about it, had lost all zest in it, had vowed never to return to it. But up here in my studio I had a lot of books; and here for hours I would sit at the window, reading. My appetite for reading had recently become voracious, insatiable. I can’t convey to you an idea of how dependent I was upon my books. They were the world in which I lived, moved, had my being. Away from them, I kept thinking about them, longing to get back to them. Not that I derived so much pleasure from them, but simply that I was unhappy unless I had them. They were to me, I suppose, in my dead-and-alive condition, something like what his drug is to an opium-eater—not so harmful, of course, but just as indispensable: a stimulant, which I could not do without. What the books were, doesn’t matter. All sorts, from the latest sensational novel, or wildest exposition of spiritualism, up to Milton and the Bible. Yet, perhaps, I ought to give you the names of some of these books, for some of them produced a very deep and vivid impression upon me, and no doubt contributed more or less to my subsequent state of mind—helped, I mean, to bring it on. Well, I reread Wilhelm Meister; and I read for the first time Rousseau’s Confessions, de Musset’s La Confession d’un Enfant du Siècle, and Browning’s Inn Album and The Ring and the Book, besides many of his shorter poems. I mention these five particularly, because they were the ones that had really strong effects. They stirred me; pierced to my heart, and hurt me; where other books merely interested or amused me. What I mean is, they appealed to my emotions, where other books merely appealed to my intelligence. Especially Browning. When I read Browning, the exhilaration was almost physical. It was like breathing some vivifying atmosphere, like drinking some powerful elixir. It made me glow and tingle through and through. It was as though the very inmost quick of my spirit had been touched, and made to throb and thrill. I had never supposed, I would never have believed, that any book could possibly have exerted such a profound and irresistible influence over the reader. My sensation was like an acute pain, that yet somehow verged toward—not pleasure—something deeper and better than pleasure. No music, not even Beethoven’s or Wagner’s, ever moved me, ever carried me away, as these poems of Browning’s did. They literally transfixed me, magnetized me, like the spell of a magician. The reason was, of course, partly because the poetry is in itself so great; so intense, so penetrating, so vibrant with the living truth, so warm with human blood and passion; and I don’t believe that any man could read it understandingly without being affected by it very much as I was. But the reason was also partly personal. In The Ring and the Book I found expressed, in clear, straightforward language, all those deep, strenuous emotions which I myself had experienced in my love of you, which had always groped and struggled for expression, but which to me had always been inexpressible—yearnings which I had felt with all their force and ardor, which I had labored hard to speak, but which I had never been able to speak, any more than as if I had been dumb; which, pent up in my heart, and straining for an outlet, had sought one by means of broken syllables, glances, caresses. In The Ring and the Book I found them expressed; found my own unutterable secrets uttered. Oh, if only when you and I were together I had had The Ring and the Book to read aloud to you from! Then, perhaps, I could have made you feel how deeply, utterly, I loved you. In the Inn Album, too, another chapter of my own story was told, more of my own secrets were laid bare. The material conditions, the circumstances, the accidentals, to be sure, were totally different; but the essentials seemed to me the same. A man had irretrievably wronged a woman—a noble, beautiful woman, who loved him and trusted him. A lover had acted basely toward his sweetheart. And there, also, I found an expression for my remorse and my despair. But now I am anticipating. For the present these thoughts had not come to me—the thought of you, and of what had been between you and me, and of how I had wronged you. I mean to say, they had come to me after a fashion; now and then, spasmodically, by fits and starts; but they had not pierced more than skin-deep, and they had not taken fast hold. They had come and gone. Later on, they came and staid—like coals burning in my heart. For the present, I did a great deal of reading and scarcely any thinking. Sometimes, it is true, instead of reading, I would sit still, looking out of the window, and carrying on a certain mental process which might perhaps have been called thinking: but it was the sort of thinking known as mooning. I mean it was vague, listless, purposeless; it had no vigor, no point; and it bore no result. You, and our love, and the misery I had caused you, were the subjects of it, yes; but it was like thinking in a fog. It had not grown intense and clear. It had not crystallized. It awoke in my breast a sort of sluggish, languid melancholy, instead of the pain that I ought to have felt, and by and by did feel—and feel now, and so long as I live shall feel. Whatever there is in me that is not wholly bad and callous, what I suppose would be called my better nature, was just preparing to wake up; and these were the dull, premonitory throes. I was just beginning to come to myself, out of a long lethargy. My remorse was just beginning to kindle. It had not yet sprung into the white-hot continuous fire that it has since become.”

In another place he says: “As I write to you now, what I am trying hard to do, is to get at close quarters with the real, bare truth; to look straight and steadily at it; and to tell you, as clearly and as calmly as I can, what I see. But the truth is so deep and subtle, though so unmistakable; and I am so unused to writing; and it is so hard for me to keep down my feelings, that I can’t seem to find the right words. After I have written a sentence, when I come to read it over, it seems almost as though I might as well not have written at all. What I write does not express half clearly, or fully, or forcibly enough what is in my mind. So I can’t help fearing that you may not understand. Yet my desire that you shall understand is so strong, I am so serious, so much in earnest, I can hardly believe it possible that my words can entirely fail to show you what I mean. If they should do so, if in this letter I do fail to make you understand, then I will say this: the only purpose that I have left in life will be defeated. That is the only object that I care to live for: to make you understand. Oh, I beg of you, try to understand. I have no right to ask you to do any thing, to expect any kindness, any common mercy even, from you: and yet I do ask, I implore you to read this letter through, and to try to understand what I am trying to express. Not a single line is written which I do not feel in the bottom of my heart. I am striving honestly, with all my might, to strip my soul naked before you. And when what I write seems feeble or obscure, please endeavor to pierce through to the meaning and the feeling of it. You have a kind and pitiful heart; and if a human being, no matter how low or base, called out to you in great pain to stoop and do a little thing—a little, easy thing—to soothe and relieve him, I know you would do it. Well, that is the way I call out to you now, and beg you to read and try to understand my letter. As I write, I feel like a dumb man, his heart big and sore with something that presses desperately to be spoken, laboring to speak. Well, what I want to make you understand is this. Very slowly and gradually, by imperceptible degrees, a great change was coming over me, was being wrought in me. This change was really nothing but a return to health, mental and moral health. Ever since that night on which we were to have been married, I had been mentally and morally sick—in an unhealthy, unnatural state. My moral nature, and many of my mental faculties, had lain torpid and inactive, as if deadened—had not performed their functions. Well, health was now slowly returning to them, health and vitality. The depths of my spirit—it is a canting phrase, but it expresses exactly what I mean—the depths of my spirit, which had long lain stagnant, were being stirred. I had always comprehended, as a mere intellectual proposition, how much you must have suffered. It was obvious. Dull and half stupefied as I was, I could not help comprehending that. It was like two-and-two-make-four. But the comprehension had got no further than my brain. It had not touched my heart, and made it shudder with horror, and burn with remorse, for my own baseness, and for the agony that I had inflicted upon you, as it has done since. I had comprehended, but I had not felt it. My love of you had been struck dead; and my imagination—or whatever the faculty is, which causes us to sympathize with another’s pain—was failing to act. So I had gone about the daily affairs of my life, in no wise troubled or affected by the fact, which I was perfectly aware of, that you, at the same time, in solitude, were suffering the worst sorrow possible in the world—yes, absolutely the worst; I know it. I had gone about, and got what apology for enjoyment, what vulgar amusement, I could, out of life; had eaten, drunken, talked, laughed, read, smoked, paid calls, listened to music, all precisely as though you did not exist, never had existed; and finally I had become engaged and married; and all the while I knew what hopeless, speechless anguish you were enduring, thanks to me; I knew it, but did not care. Now and then I would think of it; but so dead was my heart, the thought never aroused a single throe of pain in it. I thought of it on the night of my wedding. In the midst of the dancing, in the midst of the loud, romping merriment, I thought: ‘What is she doing at this moment?’ But it was nothing like sympathy or self-reproach, that prompted me. It was a sense of the curious incongruity. I shrugged my shoulders, said to myself that I could not help it, and went on dancing. This will show you how low I had sunken, how callous I had become; and you may imagine how I despise myself, how I hate and abhor myself, as I recall it now. Oh, my God! my God!—Christine, for God’s sake, when you read this, don’t harden against me, because of it, and refuse to read any more. Don’t stop reading. For God’s sake, in mercy to me, go on reading to the end. Don’t close your ears against me, and refuse to listen. The only alleviation of my torments that I have, is the hope that you will read this letter through, and understand how I have repented.... Well, as I say, this state of being was now slowly, gradually, changing. Not a day passed now but I would think of you, and of every thing that had been between you and me, from the beginning to the end; and now these thoughts did arouse pains in my heart—vague pains, that I did not understand—dull pains, such as one feels in sleep, or while under the influence of an opiate—but still, certainly, pain. As I said before, I was only just beginning to come to myself. My realization of what I had done, of what you had suffered, of what I had made you suffer, had not yet crystallized. My love had not yet waked up. My remorse had not yet got really afire. But all of a sudden, one day, the complete change came. The change was precipitated.

“It was a Friday afternoon late in February, a year ago—dark, rainy, warmish. My wife had gone to the rehearsal at Steinway Hall. I had agreed to meet her in the lobby, at the end, and bring her home. All day long, that day, I had done nothing but mope. I had sat at my studio window looking out into the gray, wet park, or up into the heavy, inky clouds, and giving myself over to the blues—thinking that there was the world, full of interests and activities, the same world that I had used to find so pleasant, and in which I had hoped to work and to be of service, the same world quite unaltered; and that yet, somehow, unchanged as it appeared to be, it had changed totally for me, had lost all its flavor for me, all its attraction for me; the light, the spirit, had died out of it. I got no pleasure from it. I was of no use in it. I was so much inert, obstructive stuff and lumber. Then, why did I continue to exist? Neither useful nor happy, what excuse for being had I? Why should I not at once be annihilated and done away with? etc., etc. This was the strain that my mind had been running in all day long. Then, toward five o’clock, I put on my hat and walked around to Steinway Hall to wait for Tillie. It was singular, and even now I can not account for it by any ordinary theory, that, as I stood there in the lobby waiting, while the audience, mostly women, passed out, I was conscious of a strange trembling of the heart, such as one feels in anticipation of some momentous event, such as usually accompanies what we call a presentiment—a presentiment that something portentous for our good or for our evil is about to happen. I could not understand it at all. I could not imagine what it was caused by. And yet, notwithstanding, I could not subdue it. It went on from moment to moment getting more intense; troubling me, perplexing me. I concluded that it must be the wind-up and climax of my blues, just as a dull, dark day sometimes winds up and reaches its climax in a thunder-storm. I said to myself, ‘You have not felt any thing like this for nearly a year. This is the sort of thing you used to feel when you were in love—after you had rung Christine’s door-bell, while you were waiting and chafing for the door to be opened.’ Meantime the audience were pouring out past me, laughing, chatting, greeting their acquaintances, putting up their umbrellas; and I was keeping a look-out for my wife. When, all of a sudden, my heart, which had been trembling in the way I have described, all of a sudden it gave a great, terrible leap, and then stood stock still; and I could not breathe nor move, but was literally petrified, rooted to the spot, and felt a fearful pain begin to burn in my breast. For I saw—I saw you. Oh, my God! I saw you come out of the hall, and move slowly through the lobby, passing within almost a yard of me, so that I could have stretched out my hand and touched you, so that, if I had whispered your name, you would have heard me, and saw you go down the stairs and disappear in the street. I stood there with wide, staring eyes and parted lips, like a man turned to stone. How shall I ever disentangle, and put before you in some sort of consecutive order, the great crowd of thoughts and emotions that suddenly, and all at the same time, broke loose in my heart and brain? In that brief interval—it could not have been more than a minute altogether—I lived through almost every thing that I have lived through since. It was all compressed into that minute. I shall try hard to give you some sort of an account of it, to make it as clear and as comprehensible as I can. But I know that, however hard I try, I shall only be able to give you a very meager and faint conception. If I could only see you, and speak to you—if for one moment I could kneel down at your feet, and touch your hand, and look into your face, and utter one long, deep sigh—oh, I should feel then as though I had in some degree expressed what was, and has been ever since, in my heart and mind. Sometimes, when I have listened to certain pieces of music, I have felt that in them was the expression for my unspeakable emotions. I have felt this about some of Chopin’s impromptus and nocturnes—that if I could somehow make you hear them, you would somehow understand. Do you know the Impromptu in C-sharp minor? That sometimes seems to express almost perfectly my grief and passion and remorse and hopeless longing. But—but to touch your hand, and look into your eyes, and sob at your feet—I would be willing to die at the end of one minute spent that way. But see—see how I am compelled to sit here, away from you, and realize that never, never, so long as I live, shall I be allowed to approach you, or speak to you. Can you imagine the agony it is, to yearn with your whole soul to speak one word to a woman; to have your whole soul and heart and mind burdened with something that burns like fire, and will never cease burning until you have emptied soul and heart and mind at her feet; and to know that she is scarcely a mile distant from you, in the same city with you; and yet to know that if she were dead she would not be further removed from you, it could not be more impossible for you ever to approach her, ever to speak with her? Can you imagine that? Oh, sometimes I can not believe it—believe that facts can be so inexorable. Sometimes it seems against nature that a man’s whole strength, whole life, can be concentrated in one single wish, and yet the fulfillment of that wish be absolutely beyond hope. It is too stupendous, too monstrous. Oh, to think! To think that at this very moment you, your own living self, are almost within reach of my voice! It would not take half an hour to bring me to your side. And once there, once in your actual presence—Oh, my God! This unceasing agony would be ended, this unutterable agony would be uttered. We two should be together once again—you and I. Oh, the joy, the joy, to sob out all our grief together, and soothe each other’s pain! And yet, if I were at the other extremity of the earth, or if you were dead, it could not be more impossible, I could not be more hopeless. Christine!

“But there! I am losing control of myself, crying out and raving in my despair. But what I have set myself to do, is to keep perfectly calm, and, by the aid of all my forces, to try to give you a clear statement of what I have been through. If I ever succeed in making you realize how thoroughly I have understood your pain, how completely I have appreciated the enormity of my own conduct, and how bitterly I have repented it, I shall be almost happy, and I shall have discharged a duty toward you—the only duty that I have a right any more to owe you.

“Well, now, I tell you that in that one minute—in the time that elapsed from the instant I first caught sight of you, down to the instant when you disappeared in the street below—in that minute, with intensity proportionate to the rapidity, I lived through nearly every thing that I have lived through since. All my vivid realization of how utterly base I myself had been, and of your unspeakable agony, caused by me, your despair, your humiliation; all my remorse, my yearning to atone for what could never be atoned for, to repair the irreparable wrong that I had done; all my sense of what I had wantonly flung away, and lost beyond recovery; all my despair; in a word, all my love—love that had lain stunned, as I supposed dead, but now suddenly had come to, never to let me rest any more: these, and much else that I shall not attempt to reduce to words, these were what sprang upon me all at once, shaking my soul to its foundations, and holding me rigid, horrified, in their grasp. Oh, help me to find an expression for what strains so hard to be spoken. I have just read over what I have written. It sounds vague, cold, formal. If I had left the paper blank, it would have done about as well. What I have written conveys only the weak echo of what I want to say, of what I feel. I stood there in the lobby of Steinway Hall; and I watched you pass under my eyes; and I saw how pale you were, how large and dark and sorrowful your eyes were; and suddenly I knew, I understood, how I, my very self, had made you suffer, you whom I loved, and how never, never, no matter how long I might live, could I in any way do any thing to soothe you, to comfort you, to make up to you for the suffering I had caused you; I knew and understood all this; and my heart went out to you, bounding and burning with a thousand fierce emotions, with an anguish of remorse and love—oh, my sweet, injured lady beautiful, frail Christine!—and now, now when I try to give you some faint idea of it, I am as helpless to do so, as if I were trying to scream out in a nightmare, and my voice failed me, and my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth. What if I had trampled down all conventional restraints, and then and there, in spite of the crowd, in spite of every thing, had rushed forward and stopped you, and thrown myself upon the ground before you, abasing myself at your feet, and just moaned out loud—letting it all burst forth in one good, deep, satisfying sob? My heart throbs hard at the thought. Yet, of course, I had no right to do it. If I had done it, I should only have relieved myself, at the cost of paining you—you whom, God knows, I have already pained enough.. . . Oh, well, I must try to do my best with pen and ink. Well, as I say, I stood there, breathing heavily, at last, after many months of death, at last alive, I stood there like that, when—when my wife came up, and took my arm, and demanded, startled by my appearance, what the matter was. My wife! And I had just seen you; and my soul was full of you, you whom I had wronged and lost! And here was my wife, taking my arm, speaking to me, emphasizing the antithesis. The past and the present! What I had given up, and what I had got in place of it! After my glimpse of you, the reality—Tillie! Oh, it was as though a starving man had just seen bread, smelled meat, and then, looking into his own hand, had found a stone there. She took my arm; and I turned her question as best I could; and I led her home. Conceive how, as I walked home from Steinway Hall this Friday afternoon, the ghost of a certain other Friday afternoon bore me company. One Friday afternoon, only a little more than a year earlier, in December, 1882, you had gone with me there, to hear the Damnation of Faust. Do you remember? You had sat at my side, close at my side. You had looked into my eyes, had touched my arm, had spoken to me. The sweetness of the rose that you wore in your bosom, had filled my nostrils. For one instant, one delirious instant, your breath, your very breath, had fallen upon my cheek! You had allowed me to wrap you in your cloak, when you felt a draught—in the fur circular you used to wear; I remember the faint perfume that always clung to it. We were so intimate, so confidential, you and I! You were happy. And I loved you; and I had the possibility of winning your love open before me. And now! God, to think that the possibility which that afternoon held safe in store for me, had been used and wasted! To think that by no remaining possibility it could ever be won back! Every thing was destroyed. I myself, by my own voluntary act, had destroyed every thing—even hope. Well, well, my wife and I walked home. My brain and my heart were burning. Chaos was let loose in them. I wanted to scream out, to beat my breast, to rend my garments. But I had, instead, to put on an indifferent face, exchange commonplaces with her, take her home; and, it being Sabbath by this time, had to join in the praying and the Scripture-reading, and all that. Of course, I was eager, wild, to get away, by myself. But I had to sit it out with the family—my wife, her mother, my uncle—till ten o’clock that night. I was pretty nearly beside myself. But at last I escaped, and got into my studio. There is no use my writing about that night, the night I passed alone up here in my studio—alone with you; for, so intense was my thought of you, you were all but palpable at my side. I had given you back, as I supposed, all your letters—every keepsake I had to connect me with the past. But this night, as the reward of much ransacking, I found in the drawer of my desk the very first note you had ever written me, the one in which you said you would go with me to the exhibition. Do you remember? How we walked up and down the galleries? And how you leaned upon my arm? And the little red bonnet that you wore? And how, afterward, we went to Delmonico’s? That little note, ever since, has been the most precious of all my possessions. Your own hand traced these letters! Your own breath fell upon this paper! What effect it had upon me that night, I shall not attempt to tell you. Think of this: it still kept a faint trace of its fragrance—of the sweet smell it had had, when you first sent it to me. That that should have remained, that immaterial, evanescent perfume! That that should have outlasted the rest! No; there is no use of my writing a line about that night. I should only be incoherent, if I tried. All I will say is this: if you had cared about revenge, and had witnessed my suffering that night, you would have been satisfied.”

Still elsewhere, he goes on as follows: “Christine, what I want to say to you is very simple. I don’t understand why I should have so much difficulty in saying it, why every attempt I make at saying it should be such a wretched failure. I suppose it is because, when I bring my mind to bear upon it, when I look it squarely in the face, it appalls me so, I get so excited, my feelings get so wrought up, that I lose the self-command which a man must retain, in order to express himself clearly and fully with his pen. It is as if, instead of saying what I have to say, fluently and directly, I were to falter, and stammer, and gasp forth inarticulate, unmeaning sounds. If only the impossible were not impossible; if only the hopeless were not hopeless; if for one minute I could stand in your presence; alone with you, and look into your eyes, and touch your hand, and speak one word to you—just call you by your name, Christine!—or, no, not even do that, not even speak, but simply stand there silent, and look at you: then, I feel sure that somehow you would understand, and then I could find something like peace. You would understand by instinct, by intuition, what my mind and heart are full of. If such a meeting might only come to pass! But I do not delude myself. I know that it never can come to pass—never, not if we go on living in the same city for fifty years. Constant and intense as my longing to see you is, fiercely as my heart beats at the thought of meeting you, I know that I might as well long to see, think of meeting, one who is dead. I am a married man, and have no right to seek to see you. But even if I were not a married man, you, whose scorn and hatred of me must be bottomless, you would spurn me, you would refuse, shuddering, to look at me, or to listen to me. I know it. Even if you ever, in your holy goodness and mercy, can forgive me in some degree for what I have done, I know you never can forgive me enough to let me approach you, to let me speak to you by word of mouth. The mere idea of meeting me, I suppose, must always be full of horror for you. I can never atone for the wrong I have done you. I can never even tell you of my remorse, and beseech your forgiveness, except by writing. So I write, begging you, in charity, to read and to try and get my meaning. If it were not for the hope that you will read this letter through, I believe my agony would drive me mad. This hope is the only thing that mitigates it, and makes it bearable.

“Well, then, here is the simple truth, told as simply as, by my utmost effort, I can tell it. For a period of some months, I had been in a condition which you must let me compare roughly to somnambulism—a sort of daze, a dull, half-waking trance. While in that condition, a great number of my mental and moral faculties had lain absolutely dormant—just as much so, as if I had not possessed them. From that unconscious fit into which I fell on the night of our wedding, I had never perfectly recovered. My body had recovered, yes, and a part of my mind—the every-day, working part. But the rest of my mind, the better part of it, had never emerged from the coma which it sank into then. And during this period, I want to say, I do not think I was, in the ordinary sense, responsible for what I did. I was mentally responsible: that is, I knew what I was doing, and I chose to do it. But I was not exactly morally responsible, because morally I was blind. My moral sense—my heart and conscience, I mean, were in a state of suspended animation; and I acted without their guidance. I don’t say this with a view to excusing myself. I say it, because I honestly believe that it is true, and because, to some extent, it accounts for my otherwise unaccountable way of acting. Well, let me call it somnambulism. Then, on that Friday afternoon, when I so unexpectedly caught sight of you in the lobby of Steinway Hall, there, at that instant, all of a sudden, I woke up; I came to my senses, in heart and mind was my complete self again. And awaking in this way, getting my moral eyes opened, my moral faculties into running order, I then for the first time, saw, realized, understood, what, while in that irresponsible, somnambulistic state, I had done. Dumfoundered, aghast, I saw the ruin I had wrought—ruin of your life, your world, and of mine—total, hopeless ruin. I have read of a man who dearly loved his wife, and who, one night, in his sleep, got up and murdered her. When he awoke next morning, and found her lying dead beside him, and made the horrible discovery that he himself had done it—well, he must have felt a little as I felt after I had seen you that day at Steinway Hall. And the worst of it—the aspect of it which was most unbearable, most infuriating—was this knowledge, that loomed up before me, as big and as unalterable as a mountain of granite: the knowledge that what I had done could never be undone; that the desolation to which I had reduced our world, could never be repaired; that, no matter how bitter my remorse was, no matter how poignant my regret, I could never atone for the wrong I had committed, never could win back again the treasure I had thrown away. It was a mountain of granite, I say, against which, frantically, with all my puny strength, I dashed myself; thereby making no impression, but falling back, bruised, stunned, disheartened. My knowledge now of your suffering, my knowledge of how I had made you suffer, and that, though my whole life yearned toward you with tenderness, love, contrition, unutterable, I never in all my life could do the slightest, smallest thing toward making amends to you, toward soothing the pain, healing the wounds, that I had inflicted upon you—upon you, my pale, sweet lady—oh, I ask you to imagine how heavily that knowledge weighed upon my spirit, how sharp its clutch was, how it would never let me rest, never allow me a moment of forgetfulness, but clung constantly and grimly, a monster with which it would be futile for me to hope to struggle. That last meeting between us, when you came here to my studio, to this very room, to the room I am writing in now, and I here, in my uncle’s presence, threw you down and trampled upon you, and allowed him to lead you away, crushed and bleeding—that last meeting, when I still had it in my power to spare you all that shame and sorrow, to take you in my arms, and quiet all your pain, and kiss away all your fear, and to keep you—keep you for myself—oh, you may imagine how my memory of that meeting, my realization of how I had hurt and humiliated you, my recognition of the wasted possibilities it had held, would not out of my heart, but abode there all the time, eating into it like acid. The walls and ceiling of the room, which had been witnesses of that last meeting, seemed eternally to be crying it out at me. When I looked at the floor, it was as if I saw a blood-stain there where you had stood. Oh, to think that there for one long minute you did really stand, you yourself, within arm’s-reach of me; and I might have put out my hand, and touched you, and taken hold of you, and kept you to me forever, but did not! To think that I let you go; and you went; and I did not call you back! Oh, God, if I had only come to my senses soon enough to have called you back! But no, no; you went; and there was an end of it all. Love, happiness, hope, all went out with you. I drove you out. I drove them out. Christine, for every single pain that I inflicted upon you at that meeting, I ask you to believe, I have never ceased to pay with the acutest anguish that I am capable of feeling. That spot on my floor where you stood—ah, God, how many thousand times have I kissed it since! Ah, God, if there were only some power in earth or heaven that could bring you back there, make you stand there, again, for just one minute more! And it was I—I, whose soul goes out to you with an immensity of love that I can not find words for—— I, who would give all the rest of my life for the privilege of caressing and comforting you for a single instant—I, whose place it was to shield you and protect you—I myself, who drove you awray from here, heart-broken, never to return. Oh, my beautiful, pale darling! Christine, lost, lost forever! Here am I, my heart bursting with the desire to be, in some way, of some sort of service to you; and there are you, needing perhaps some little service: and yet if we were upon different planets, it could not be more impossible for me ever to lift my finger in your aid! Oh, I say, it is infuriating. It is too much. Oh, if I could tear open my breast, and let you look in, and see!—see the love, the remorse, the despair, that are stirring in perpetual fever there.. . . Oh, the misery I caused you! The long, hateful days that you had to drag through afterward, while I was amusing myself, dining out, learning to dance, getting engaged and married! Far and wide, as far as your eye could see, the world, which had been a fair and fragrant garden in your sight, had crumbled suddenly to a bleak waste of dust and ashes. The hand that you loved had dealt you a blow worse than a death-blow. You had entrusted your happiness to me, and I had betrayed my trust; had taken it, and deliberately dashed it to the ground, and shattered it beyond possibility of mending. My frail, beautiful lady. Yes, if I had stabbed you with a knife, I should not have been so brutal, so base, so cruel; your pain would not have been so great; I should have less to reproach myself with to-day. Yes, I know it.”

But, the reader may curiously ask, how about his theology? his belief that it had been the act of heaven? This question he touches upon only incidentally, and disposes of briefly: “In the light of my resuscitated love, the mere remembrance of that blasphemous delusion filled me with loathing for myself—made me shudder, and draw back, sickened. It was a monstrous lie. I can not bring myself to write about it.” And on another page, he says: “My superstition was the dragon, whose breath poisoned our joy, withered our world, burned out our hearts. The dragon was killed at last, but too late—after its ravages had been accomplished, after it had done its worst.”

I may seize this opportunity, also, to request that if Elias is not always so scrupulous about his syntax and rhetoric as one might wish, the reader will charitably pardon him, in view of the high degree of mental excitement under which he is manifestly laboring.

“Well,” he continues, “after this reawakening, what of my life? Externally my life went on precisely as before. I was married. I had married of my own free will. I knew that, however detestable my marriage might now have become to me, I was bound in all honor and decency not to do any thing that could make my wife unhappy. I had already done mischief enough in the world. I must not, if I could help it, do any more. I must keep my secret. Though all the forces of my body and soul were sucked up and concentrated in that one fierce secret, as they were, I must not let it appear. So, the relations between my wife and myself went on precisely as before; and I tried to be a good husband to her, and to give her what pleasure, and spare her what pain, I could. The same theaters, dinners, parties; the same talk about dresses, the same piano playing. Sometimes, even while, with as much nonchalance of manner as I could master, I was listening to her prattle, my secret would be burning so hot in my breast, it was a wonder to me that she did not guess it, or suspect it—that she did not feel it. Sometimes, even while I was directly speaking to her, answering some question that she had asked me, or what not, my heart was being wrung by such strong emotions, it seemed as though she could not help but divine them. It was hard work, keeping this constant guard over myself, wearing this mask. But, of course, I was in duty bound to wear it. The relief was immense when I could get away by myself, and let it drop off. Away by myself, I could, any how, be myself—lead my own life, without dissembling.

“My own life—what was it like? Well, outwardly it was a life of silence and inaction. My real life was an inward life—lived in my own heart. My heart was like a furnace. Shut up there, my love, my remorse, my despair at the past, my hopelessness of the future, a hundred nameless, restless, futile fears and longings, burned steadily all day long from day to day. Sometimes one emotion would be paramount, sometimes another. Sometimes memory would take possession of me; and, seated at my studio window, with my one relic of you clasped in my hand, I would go back, and live over again all that had passed between us, from the day when I first saw you, down to the day when, in this same room, I had put you from me. Do you remember that day—the day I first saw you? Do you remember our first speech together? And how awkward I was? and embarrassed? Do you remember the night of the party—New Year’s Eve— when the heel of your slipper broke off? And how jealous I was? And how angry you got with me? And how you scolded me? And then—in the carriage, going home? Do you remember your birthday? and mine? The silk handkerchief you embroidered for me with my initials? The concerts we used to go to together? and the little suppers afterward? The books we read together? Detmold? The Portrait of a Lady? The poems you were so fond of? The letters we used to write to each other, even when we were going to see each other the very same day?... Or, perhaps, instead of sitting still here at my studio window, I would leave the house, and go for a walk in the old places—the places that were associated with our love, and now for me were sorrowfully consecrated by it. I would walk up Eighth Avenue, over the ground that I had used to cover every time I went to see you; would cross the great circle at Fifty-ninth Street; would come within eye-shot of your door, look up at your window, recall the time when I had had right of entrance, wonder what you were doing now; would enter the park, and even seek out our pine-trees, and stay for a while there in their shadow—there, where—! Do you remember? You may imagine whether this was bitter-sweet. To go back to the time when you had been mine, wholly mine, and live over all the rapture of that time, in all its minute, intimate details; and then, with an infinite hunger for you gnawing in my heart, to return to the present, look into the future, and realize that I, by my own act, had let you go, had lost you forever! You may imagine with what woe and fury, deep and frantic, and yet dumb, I would recall and repeat to myself that verse of Rossetti’s poetry: ‘Could we be so now?’ And there was the truth, the relentless truth, for me to confront, and reconcile myself to, if I could: ‘Not if all beneath heaven’s pall lay dead but I and thou, could we be so now!’ The truth which, as I said, was like a mountain of granite, separating you and me. Oh, but at other times I could not believe that the truth was the truth. It was too cruel. It was incredible. It must be some hideous hallucination—some nightmare, that I should sooner or later wake up from. I could not believe that it was in the possible order of nature for a man and a woman to have loved each other as you and I had loved each other, and yet to have become so utterly lost to each other as it now seemed that we were; for two human lives to have been so perfectly fused together, blended together like two colors upon my palette, and yet afterward to have become so completely rent asunder. I could not believe it possible for my soul to yearn toward you and thirst for you constantly, as it did, and yet be debarred forever from any sort of communion with you. It seemed as though somehow, sometime, somewhere, we must come together—you and I once more!—and all our sorrow be swept away by the great joy of our reunion. Oh, Christine, if it might be so! If only it might be so! At these moments my imagination would break the bonds of reason and fly off in daydreams, long, delicious flights of fancy, visiting wondrous air castles where you and I dwelt together—only shortly to drop back upon the awful reality. The reality: I married, and all your love for me, your priceless love for me, by my fault, turned to horror and hatred. And yet, in spite of the reality, in the very teeth of it, I would think: ‘Well, what if my wife should die?’ As long as I am telling you the truth, I may as well tell you the whole truth, no matter how bad it may make you think I am. Yes, I would say: ‘What if my wife should die?’ And then I would repeat to myself what you had once said about that very same verse of Rossetti’s poetry: ‘I can’t understand why it should be so absolutely hopeless. If they really were all alone together, and she saw how dreadfully he had suffered, I don’t understand how she could help forgiving him and loving him again.’ And then, for an instant my heart would bound with something like hope. But only for an instant. As soon as my reason could make itself heard, I would acknowledge that I had sinned too much ever to expect forgiveness from you. No, it would be past human nature.... At still other times my uppermost feeling would be simply an intense desire to see you—not for any special purpose, not with a view to speaking to you—simply a craving for the sight of your face. I felt that if I could only look upon you for an instant, catch one brief glimpse of you, I should have something to remember and cherish, something for my heart to feed upon, which was feeding upon itself. It would be an agony.

“I knew that. The mere thought of it was that. But it would also be the nearest approach to a joy that I could expect. So, in the hope that I might see you, I would stand for hours on the corner of your street, in the snow, in the rain, in the hot sun or cold wind, watching the door of your house, waiting for you to pass in or out—very much as, in the old times, I would watch the door of a house where I knew that you were visiting, and wait to join you at your exit. (Do you remember? And how surprised you always used to be?) But I was always disappointed. I never once saw you. I would walk, also, in those quarters of the city where ladies throng to do their shopping; always searching for one face in the crowd, but never finding it. And I haunted regularly the rehearsals at Steinway Hall and at the Academy of Music, closely watching the audience as it passed out, always hoping that my experience of that afternoon in February might be repeated, invariably getting my labor for my pains. Where did you keep yourself? Oh, sometimes I felt that I positively could not live without a sight of you. I was starving for a sight of you. Only to see you for one little moment! Only to feed my heart with one brief glimpse of you! That did not seem such a greedy or unreasonable desire. It could do you no harm, provided I were careful not to be seen, as well as to see; and I meant to be careful about that. It could do no living creature harm; and to me—oh, to me it would be like a drop of water to a man consumed by thirst. Then my wish would become the father of my thought. I would say:

“‘Surely, if I go out now, and scour the city, visiting every spot that in any possibility she may visit—the shops, the park, Fourteenth Street, Twenty-third Street—surely, at some point our paths will cross each other, and I shall see her.’ Well, I would go out. I would give my thought a trial. I would walk the streets till I was fagged out and foot-sore. I would come back home, with a heart sick for hope deferred.... What fears tormented me all this time, you will surely be able to conceive for yourself. How could I know but that you might have died? One morning at the breakfast-table my uncle glanced up from his newspaper, and, looking very queerly at me, said, ‘Here, Elias, here’s news for you. An old friend of yours is dead.’ With a horrible, sick heart-leap, I thought: ‘Ah, she is dead.’ With as indifferent an air as I could put on, I asked, ‘Who?’ He handed me the paper, pointing to the death notices. It cost me all my strength to look; but I looked. Yes; there I saw your name, Redwood. With the courage of despair, I read the notice. ‘No; it was not you; it was your father. But how could I know—what assurance had I—that you had not died, too, without my chancing to learn of it? The thought that you might have, got to be a fixed idea in my brain. There was no way by which I could find out. I knew nobody to whom I could apply for information. But at last, one day, by accident, in looking through a newspaper, I again caught sight of your name, Redwood. Ah, how the sight of it made my temples throb! I read that you had been appointed a teacher in the Normal College. So, my doubts on the score of your death were set at rest. It may seem strange to you that I should care so much whether you live or die, since already you are as far and as hopelessly removed from me, as if you were dead; yet the thought that you may die is the blackest of all thoughts to me. I don’t know why it is, but I feel that so long as you remain in it, the world will not be quite a blank wilderness to me. There is still some warmth, some beauty, in the light of day, which would go out utterly if you were to die. So long as you live, I want to live. It seems as though there were something to live for; though I can’t tell what. But if you were to die—oh, God! if she were to die! I pray God to put an end to my life at once. Oh, don’t die, Christine. Oh, to think that if you were to die, I might not hear of it, and might go on living! To think that I can do nothing to make life worth living for you! Nothing to protect you from the danger of death! To think that if you were lying on a sick bed, and I knew it, I could do nothing to soothe you, to nurse you back to health! Oh, Christine! Oh, God grant that at least we may both live until I have finished this letter, and you have read it! I must not die, you must not die, until I have finished, and you have read, this letter.... Once in a great while, once in six or eight weeks, or even seldomer, I would dream about you. These dreams were the one luxury of my life, being, as they were, the one means of escape from my life; reversing, as they did, the real truth of my life. Every night, when I lay down to sleep, I would think to myself:

“‘Perhaps to-night I shall dream of her. She will come to me in my dream.’ These dreams always annihilated the recent past, and carried me back to our happy days. You were mine again, with me again. All was as it had been. My lost treasure was for a brief space restored to me. The great joy that I experienced in these dreams, I can not describe. It was boundless, unspeakable. Of course, to wake up in the morning, and realize that it had only been a dream, was hard. To wake up, and look around me, and see the walls of mv bedroom, the view from my window, and breathe the air, and listen to the sounds, of the morning, all quite unchanged, just as they had used to be in the old time; and then to think how completely all the rest was changed—changed beyond possibility of retrieval—you and your love lost to me forever—that was hard enough. It was like a famished man dreaming of food, and waking up to find a stone in his hand. And yet—and yet, so great was the rapture of them, while they lasted, my dreams were worth purchasing at almost any price; certainly, at the price of the pain of waking. To see you, to speak to you, to touch you; to be spoken to, and touched, by you; to hold your little, soft, warm hand in mine, to hear the music of your laughter, to breath the fragrance that the air caught from your presence, to gaze into the depths of your eyes, even though in a dream—it was better than nothing, wasn’t it? Better than never, dreaming or waking, to see you at all. So, as I say, every night I would hope to dream of you—notwithstanding the thought that perhaps I had no right to dream of you, that you perhaps would begrudge me the possession of you, even in my dreams; but, as I say, my hope was rewarded very seldom—not oftener than once in every six or eight weeks. This was strange, seeing that you absorbed my mind constantly, all day long, every day.

“I believe I called my life purposeless and hopeless; but it was not exactly this. One purpose and one hope, each forlorn enough, I clung to. They furnished the only light that I could see, as I looked forward into the future. The same hope and purpose that animate me now, as I write. I purposed and I hoped, sometime, by some means, to let you know—to let you know what I have been trying to let you know by all this writing; how thoroughly I had appreciated my own brutality and baseness, how intensely I had realized your suffering, and how my heart was devoured by remorse, despair, and love. This desire to let you know, was the one constant desire that never left me. It was like an extreme thirst, that would not let me rest till I had satisfied it. I could not understand it. Even now I do not understand it. What good could it do either you or me? No good to you, surely; for the most that you can possibly care about, in regard to me, is to be let alone, and allowed to forget me. And what good to me? Would it give you back to me? Would it allay my remorse? Not unless it could undo the past, and blot out the pain I had caused you. Would it rekindle your love? I might as well expect, by my touch, to raise the dead, as ever, by any means, to rekindle your love. Would it even win for me your forgiveness? I knew that it was not within the capacity of human nature, ever really, from the bottom of the heart, without a reservation, to forgive such wrong as I had done to you. This was what my reason said; and yet, despite all this, I felt—and still feel, and can not help feeling—that somehow I ought to let you know, that it was only right to let you know. I longed to let you know. That is the substance of it. I longed to let you know; and my longing defied my reason, just as hunger defies reason. If I could only let you know, it seemed as though both you and I should then be able to find something like peace and repose. My soul ached to unbosom itself before you; and all reasoning to the contrary notwithstanding, my instincts told me that you, as well as I myself, would be happier—at least, less unhappy—afterward. It was as though I had something big and heavy in my heart, that pressed to be got out; that would strain and rack my heart until it was got out; and that could only be got out by letting you know. I suppose this is always the way, when a man’s heart is full of conscious guilt. But how to let you know? Oh, my impulses answered at once. They said: ‘Seek her out. Kneel down before her. Look into her face. Touch her hand. Give it vent—let it all burst forth—in one good, long, satisfying sob! Then, she will understand. She will understand what is too deep, too passionate, for any speech. Her heart and yours will be at rest. This anguish will be relieved.’ Oh, how my temples throbbed, how my breath quickened, how my whole spirit thrilled, as I allowed myself to shape that thought. You, my frail darling, whom I had hurt so! You, my sweet rose-lady, whom I had torn, and crushed, and made to bleed! Christine, pale, sad Christine! To spend one moment weeping at your feet, trying a little to soothe and comfort and console you, to atone a little for the sorrow I had caused you, to pour out my love and my remorse before you! Oh, good God! But of course, of course, I knew that I might as well hope to speak with one who was dead. I, a married man, had no right, even in my own secret thoughts, to wish for such a meeting between you and me. And you, despising me, you would fly from me, you would never permit me to draw near to you. And yet, it is so hard to reconcile one’s self to the truth, even when one can have no doubt about it, I would go on hoping, in spite of the hopelessness, in spite of the fact that I had no right to hope—hoping that somehow the impossible might come to pass. But at the same time, I would think: ‘How else? Is there any other way?’ Necessarily, it occurred to me to write. But the idea of writing was repugnant. I never could tell the half of what I had to tell by writing; and then, what assurance had I that you would read my letter? (What assurance have I, even now?) So, for the time being, I put the plan of writing out of my head; and went back, and asked again: ‘How else?’ Was there no possible method by which I could let you know what weighed so heavily, so heavily, upon my mind? Sometimes the most absurd notions would seize hold of me, with all the force of realities. For a little while, this would become not merely a theory, as of a thing conceivable, but a conviction, as of a thing actual; that, thinking of you as constantly and as intently as I did, by some occult means in nature, my spirit was enabled to transcend the limitations of space and matter, and to reach yours, and to communicate with it. For hours at a stretch, I would sit here at my studio window, harboring this delicious fancy: that now, at this very moment, by the operation of some subtle psychic force, you were receiving the message which my heart was sending you. I had read of such things in wonder-tales, even in serious pseudoscientific treatises. Why might there not be something in them? But, as I have said, only for a little while could a fancy like this hold its place. In a little while my common-sense would assert itself, and bring the dismal truth looming up again stark before me. All of a sudden, one day, I thought of my painting. It made my pulse leap. It seemed like an inspiration. I would paint a picture which—if you saw it; and if I sent it to the exhibition, you would very likely see it—which would tell you the whole story. In a fever of impatience to get the picture begun, and without having stopped to determine what the picture was to be, I procured canvas, paints, brushes. Then I paused, and asked: ‘But what shall I paint?’ It did not require much thinking, to make the futility of the whole design clear to me. Unless I could tear my heart out, and paint it, with all the fierce passions fermenting in it, I might as well not paint any thing at all. Now, at last, you see, I have returned to my former plan of writing. I have done so, in despair of any other means, and because it is no longer possible for me to hold back. I have held back until I am tired out, worn out. I have been writing at this letter, from time to time, during the past fortnight. To-day is Friday, February 13th. I have much left to say. As soon as it is finished, I shall send it to you.”

“As soon as it is finished!” It was never finished. Events now supervened, which interrupted it, and prevented its completion. Those events, it will be my business, in the concluding chapters of this story, to relate.


©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533