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Jena, May 20th.
Dear Mr. Anstruther,—I am sorry you think me unsympathetic. Hard, I think, was the word; but unsympathetic sounds prettier. Is it unsympathetic not to like fruitless, profitless, barren things? Not to like fogs and blights and other deadening, decaying things? From my heart I pity all the people who are so made that they cannot get on with their living for fear of their dying; but I do not admire them. Is that being unsympathetic? Apparently you think so. How odd. There is a little man here who hardly ever can talk to anybody without beginning about his death. He is perfectly healthy, and I suppose forty or fifty, so that there is every reasonable hope of his going on being a little man for years and years more; but he will have it that as he has never married or, as he puts it, done anything else useful, he might just as well be dead, and then at the word Dead his eyes get just the look of absolute scaredness in them that a hare's eyes do when a dog is after it. 'If only one knew what came next,' he said last time he was here, looking at me with those foolish frightened hare's eyes.
'Nice things I should think,' said I, trying to be encouraging.
'But to those who have deserved punishment?'
'If they have deserved it they will probably get it,' said I cheerfully.
'You don't look very wicked,' I went on amiably. He leads a life of sheerest bread-and-milk, so simple, so innocent, so full of little hearth-rug virtues.
'But I am,' he declared angrily.
'I shouldn't think half so bad as a great many people,' said I, bent, being the hostess, on a perfect urbanity.
'Worse,' said he, more angrily.
'Oh, come now,' said I, very politely as I thought.
Then he really got into a rage, and asked me what I could possibly know about it, and I said I didn't know anything; and still he stormed and grew more and more like a terrified hare, frightening himself by his own words; and at last, dropping his voice, he confessed that he had one particularly deadly fear, a fear that haunted him and gave him no rest, that the wicked would not burn eternally but would freeze.
'Oh,' said I shrinking; for it was a bitter day, and the northeast wind was thundering among the hills.
'Great cold,' he said, fixing me with his hare's eyes, 'seems to me incomparably more terrible than great heat.'
'Oh, incomparably,' I agreed, edging nearer to the stove. 'Only listen to that wind.'
'So will it howl about us through eternity,' said he.
'Oh,' I shivered.
'Piercing one's unprotected—everything about us will be unprotected then—one's unprotected marrow, and turning it to ice within us.'
'But we won't have any marrows,' said I.
'No marrows? Fräulein Rose-Marie, we shall have everything that will hurt.'
'Oh weh' cried I, stopping up my ears.
'The thought frightens you?' said he.
'Terrifies me,' said I.
'How much more fearful, then, will be the reality.'
'Well, I'd like to—I'd like to give you some good advice,' said I, hesitating.
'Certainly; if one of your sex may with any efficacy advise one of ours.'
'Oh—efficacy,' murmured I with proper deprecation. 'But I'd like to suggest—I daren't advise, I'll just suggest—'
'Fear nothing. I am all ears and willingness to be guided,' said he, smiling with an indescribable graciousness.
'Well—don't go there.'
'Not go there?'
'And while you are here—still here, and alive, and in nice warm woolly clothes, do you know what you want?'
'What I want?'
'Very badly do you want a wife. Why not go and get one?'
His eyes at that grew more hare-like than at the thought of eternal ice. He seized his hat and scrambled to the door. He went through it hissing scorching things about moderne Mädchen, and from the safety of the passage I heard him call me unverschämt.
He hasn't been here since. I would like to go and shake him; shake him till his brains settle into their proper place, and say while I shake, 'Oh, little man, little man, come out of the fog! Why do you choose to die a thousand deaths rather than only one?'
Is that being unsympathetic? I think it is being quite kind.
What I really meant to write to you about today was to tell you that I read your learned and technical and I am sure admirable denouncements of Walt Whitman with a respectful attention due to so much earnestness; and when I had done, and wondered awhile pleasantly at the amount of time for letter-writing the Foreign Office allows its young men, I stretched myself, and got my hat, and went down to the river; and I sat at the water's edge in the middle of a great many buttercups; and there was a little wind; and the little wind knocked the heads of the buttercups together; and it seemed to amuse them, or else something else did, for I do assure you I thought I heard them laugh.
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