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Galgenberg, Nov. 23d.
Dear Mr. Anstruther,—Was it so short? I don't remember. This one shall be longer, then. Tell me, do you think there is any use in trying to cure a person of being in love? I have come to the conclusion that it's hopeless. Such cures must be made from the inside outward, and not from the outside inward. I thought I was going to stir Vicki to a noble independence, and you should have heard the speeches I made her. Sometimes I had to laugh at them myself, they were such extraordinarily heroic and glowing things for one dripping Fräulein with none too brave a heart to hurl at another dripping Fräulein with no brave heart at all, as they trotted along with shortened skirts and umbrellas through wind-racked, howling forests. Vicki has gone all to pieces again, and her eyes are redder than ever. I don't know whether it is these November mists that have done it, but certainly after all my hauling of her up the rocks of proud self-sufficiency she has flopped back again deeper than before into the morass in which I found her. It's a perfect bog of sentiment she's sunk in now. I make her go for ten-mile walks, and aim at doing them in two hours, thus hoping to bring out her love-sickness in the form of healthy perspiration, but it's no good. 'Oh,' gasps Vicki, when we start off up the sombre aisles of pines, and see them stretching away before us into a gray infinity, and mark their reeking trunks, black with damp, hoar with lichen, and hear their sighings and their creakings through the patter of rain on our umbrellas, and feel their wet breath on our cheeks, 'oh what an empty, frightening world it is.'
Then I tell her, with what enthusiasm I may, that it's not, that it's beautiful, that we are young and strong, that our life can be made just exactly as glorious as we are energetic enough to make it. And she doesn't believe a word; she simply shakes her head, and moans that she isn't energetic.
'But you are,' I say with a fine show of confidence. 'Come, let us walk faster. Who would dare say you were not who saw you now?'
'Oh,' wails Vicki; and trots along blowing her nose.
Poor little soul. I've tried kissing her, and it did no good either. I petted her for a whole day; sat with my arms round her; had her head on my shoulder; whispered every consolation I could think of; but unfortunately the only person who has ever petted her was the faithless one, and it made her think of him with renewed agony, and opened positive sluices of despair. I've tried scolding her—the 'My dear Vicki, really for a woman grown' tone, but she gets so much of that from her mother, and besides she isn't a woman grown, but only a poor, unhappy, cheated little child. But how dull, how dry, how profitless are the comfortings of one woman for another. I feel it in every nerve the whole time I am applying them. One kiss from the wretched man himself and the world blazes into radiance. A thousand of the most beautiful and eminent verities enunciated by myself only collect into a kind of frozen pall that hangs about her miserable little head and does nothing more useful than suffocate her. She has been inclined to feel bad ever since the fatal letter about the soup, but there were intervals in which with infinite haulings I did get her up on to the rocks again, those rocks she finds so barren, but from whose tops she can at least see clearly and be kept dry. Now that this terrible weather has come upon us, and every day is wetter and sadder than the last, she has collapsed entirely. If I could write as well as Papa I would like to write an essay on the connection between a wet November and the renewed buddings of love. Frau von Lindeberg is dreadfully angry, and came up, and actually came in, a thing she has not done yet, and sat on the sofa, carefully enthroned in its middle and well spread out in case I should so far forget myself as to want to sit upon it too, and asked me what nonsense I had been putting into the child's head.
'Nonsense?' I exclaimed, remembering my noble talk.
'She was getting over it. You must have said something.'
'Said something? Yes, indeed I said something. Never has one person said so many things before.'
She stared in amazement. 'What,' she cried, 'you actually—you dared—you have the effrontery—'
'Shall I tell you what I said?'
And for an hour I gave the astonished lady, hemmed in on the sofa by the table and by my chair, the outlines of my views on ideals and conduct. I made the most of the hour. The outlines were very thick. No fidgeting or attempts to stop me were considered. She had come to scold; she should stay to learn.
'Well, well,' she said, when I, tired of talking, got up and removed the impeding table with something of the brisk politeness of a dentist unhooking the patient's bib and screwing down his chair after he has done his worst, 'you seem to be a good sort of girl. You have, I see, meant no harm.'
'Meant no harm? I neither meant it nor did I do it. Allow me to make the point clearer—' And I prepared to push back the table upon her and began again.
'No, no—it is quite clear, thank you. Kindly go on endeavoring, then, to influence my unhappy child for good. I trust your excellent father is well. Good morning.'
But influence as I may Vicki has given up wearing those starched shirts with the high linen collars and neat ties in which she first dazzled me, and has gone into nondescript woollen clothes something like mine. She says it is because, of the washing bills, but I know it to be but a further symbol of her despair. The one remnant of her first trimness is her beautifully brushed hair. Stooping over her to see that her English exercises are correct I like to lay my cheek a moment on it, so lightly that she does not notice, for it is wonderful stuff,—soft, wavy, shining, and ought alone without the little ear and curve of the young cheek, without the silly pretty mouth and kind straightforward eyes, to have immeshed that stupid man beyond all possibility of disentangling himself. She was not made for Milton and the Muses. Nature, carving her out, moulding her body and her mind, putting in a dimple here and giving an eyelash an extra curl there, had a pleasant eye on a firelit future for Vicki, a cosy, sheltered future with a fender for her feet, a baby for each arm, and an adored husband coming in at the end of the day to be fed and kissed. But this man has outwitted nature. He weighed, with true German caution, Vicki and her dimples against the tiny portion which was all he could extract from her parents, and found them not heavy enough to make up for the alarming emptiness of that other scale. Now Vicki's fender and babies and busy happy life have vanished into the land of Never Will Be's. She will not find some one else to take his place. She has a story attached to her: a fatal thing here for a girl. Unlike your Miss Cheriton, who gently waves you aside and engages herself without the least difficulty to a duke, Vicki is a marked person, and will be avoided by our careful and calculating young men. She is doomed never to spoil and tease those babies, never to spoil and worship that husband. Instead she will, for a year, continue to range the hills here with me, trying to listen politely to my admonishments while inwardly she shudders at the loneliness and vastness of the forests and of life, and then her parents' lease will be up, and they and she will drift down into some little town in the Harz where retired officers finish lives grown vegetable, and the years will pounce upon her and strip her one by one of her little stock of graces. Don't suppose I blame the man, because I don't; I only resent that he should have so much the best of it. There is no law obliging a man to marry because some lovesick girl wants him to—if I were a man I would never marry—but I do deplore the exceeding number of the girls who want him to. If each girl would say her prayers and go her own way, go about her business, her parents having seen to it that she should have a business to go about, what a cheerful, tearless place the world would be. And you must forgive my vociferousness, but really I have had a woeful morning with Vicki, who cried so bitterly into the pages of my Milton that the best part of Samson Agonistes is stuck together, and all the red has come off the edges.
Papa Lindeberg came in at the end of the lesson to offer me his umbrella to go home with. 'It is a wet day, Fräulein Hebe,' said he, looking round.
'It is,' said I, gazing ruefully at my poor Milton.
'Even the daughters of the gods,' said he—thus mildly do we continue to joke together—'must sometimes use umbrellas.'
'Yes,' said I, smiling at this pleasant old man, this old man I thought at first so disagreeable; and he went with me to the door, and asked me in an anxious whisper what I thought of Vicki. 'It lasts long—it lasts long,' said he, helplessly.
'Yes,' said I, standing under the umbrella in the rain, while he in the porch rubbed one hand mechanically over the other and stared at me.
'You are a very fortunate young lady,' he said wistfully.
'Our poor Vicki—if she were more like you—'
'It is so clear that you have never known this terrible malady of love. You have the face of a joyful Backfisch.'
'Oh,'—I began to laugh; and laughed, and laughed till the umbrella shook showers of raindrops off each of its points.
He stood watching me thoughtfully. 'It is true,' he said.
'Oh,' was all I could ejaculate; for indeed the idea made me very merry.
'No member of our sex,' said he, 'has ever even for a moment caught what is still a bright and untouched maiden fancy.'
'There was a young man once,' I began, 'in the Jena cake-shop—'
'Ach' he interrupted, waving the young man and his cakes away with an impatient movement of the hand.
'I didn't know,' said I, 'that you could read people's past.'
'Yours is easy enough to read. It is shining so clearly in your eyes, it is reflected so limpidly in your face—'
'How nice,' said I, interrupting in my turn, for my feet were getting grievously wet; and you note, I hope, with what industriousness I preserve and record anything of a flattering nature that any one ever says to me.
But you shall hear the other side too; for I turned away, and he turned away, and before I had gone a yard my shoelace came undone and I had to go back to the shelter of the porch to tie it up, and while I had my foot on the scraper and was bending down tying a bow and a knot that should last me till I got home I heard Frau von Lindeberg from the parlor off the passage make him the following speech:
'I am constantly surprised, Ludwig, at the amount of time and conversation I see you bestow on Fräulein Schmidt. I can hardly call it impertinence, but there is something indescribable about her manners,—an unbecoming freedom, an almost immodest frankness, an almost naked naturalness, that is perilously near impertinence. People of that class do not understand people of ours; and she will, if you are kinder than is absolutely necessary, certainly take advantage of it. Let me beg you to be careful.'
And Ludwig, beginning then and there, never answered a word.
What do you think? Papa's book has been refused by the Jena publisher, by three Berlin publishers, by two in Stuttgart, and one in Leipzig. It is now journeying round Leipzig to the remaining publishers. The first time it came back we felt the blow and drooped; the second time we felt it but did not droop; the third time we felt nothing; the fourth time we laughed. 'Foolish men,' chuckled Papa, tickled by such blindness to their own interests, 'if none will have it we will translate it and send it to England, what?'
'Who is we, darling?' I asked anxiously.
'We is you, Rose-Marie,' said Papa, pulling my ear.
'Oh,' said I.
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