Galgenberg, Dec. 31st.
Dear Mr. Anstruther,—My heartiest good wishes for the New Year. May it be fruitful to you in every pleasant way; bring you interesting work, agreeable companions, bright days; and may it, above all things confirm and strengthen our friendship. There now; was ever young man more thoroughly fitted out with invoked blessings? And each one wished from the inmost sincerity of my heart.
But we can't come to Berlin as you suggest we should, and allow ourselves to be shown round by you. Must I say thank you? No, I don't think I will. I will not pretend conventionality with you, and I do not thank you, for I don't like to have to believe that you really thought I would come. And then your threat, though it amused me, vexed me too. You say if I don't come you will be forced to suppose that I'm afraid of meeting you. Kindly suppose anything you like. After that of course I will not come. What a boy you are. And what an odd, spoilt boy. Why should I be afraid of meeting you? Is it, you think, because once—see, I am at least not afraid of speaking of it—you passed across my life convulsively? I don't know that any man could stir me up now to even the semblance of an earthquake. My quaking days are done; and after that one thunderous upheaval I am fascinated by the charm of quiet weather, and of a placid basking in a sunshine I have made with my very own hands. It is useless for you to tell me, as I know you will, that it is only an imitation of the real thing and has no heat in it. I don't want to be any hotter. In this tempestuous world where everybody is so eager, here is at least one woman who likes to be cool and slow. How strange it is the way you try to alter me, to make me quite different. There seems to be a perpetual battering going on at the bulwarks of my character. You want to pull them down and erect new fabrics in their place, fabrics so frothy and unreal that they are hardly more than fancies and would have to be built up afresh every day. Yet I know you like me, and want to be my friend. You make me think of those quite numerous husbands who fall in love with their wives because they are just what they are, and after marriage expend their energies training them into something absolutely different. There was one in Jena while we were there who fell desperately in love with a little girl of eighteen, when he was about your age, and he adored her utterly because she was so divinely silly, ignorant, soft and babyish. She knew nothing undesirable, and he adored her for that. She knew nothing desirable either, and he adored her for that too. He adored her to such an extent that all Jena, not given overmuch to merriment, was distorted with mirth at the spectacle. He was a clever man, a very promising professor, yet he found nothing more profitable than to spend every moment he could spare adoring. And his manner of adoring was to sit earnestly discovering, by means of repeated experiment, which of his fingers fitted best into her dimples when she laughed, and twisting the tendrils of her hair round his thumbs in an endless enjoyment of the way, when he suddenly let them go, they beautifully curled. He did this quite openly, before us all, seeing I suppose no reason why he should dissemble his interest in his future wife's dimples and curls. But alas for the dimples and curls once she was married! Oh weh, how quickly he grew blind to them. And as for the divine silliness, ignorance, softness and babyishness that had so deeply fascinated him, just those were what got most on to his nerves. He tried to do away with them, to replace them by wit and learning combined with brilliant achievements among saucepans and shirts, and the result was disastrous. His little wife was scared. Her dimples disappeared from want of practice. Her pretty colors seemed suddenly wiped out, as though some one had passed over them roughly with a damp cloth. Her very hair left off curling, and was as limp and depressed as the rest of her. Let this, Mr. Anstruther, be an awful warning to you, not only when you marry but now at once in regard to your friends. Do not attempt to alter those long-suffering persons. It is true you would have some difficulty in altering a person like myself, long ago petrified into her present horrid condition, but even the petrified can and do get tired of hearing the unceasing knocking of the reforming mallet on their skulls. Leave me alone, dear young man. Like me for anything you find that can be liked, express proper indignation at the rest of me, and go your way praising God Who made us all. Really it would be a refreshment if you left off for a space imploring me to change into something else. There is a ring about your imploring as if you thought it was mere wilfulness holding me back from being and doing all you wish. Believe me I am not wilful; I am only petrified. I can't change. I have settled down, very comfortably I must say, to the preliminary petrifaction of middle age, and middle age, I begin to perceive, is a blessed period in which we walk along mellowly, down pleasant slopes, with nothing gusty and fierce able to pierce our incrustation, no inward volcanoes able to upset the surrounding rockiness, nothing to distract our attention from the mild serenity of the landscape, the little flowers by the way, the beauty of the reddening leaves, the calm and sunlit sky. You will say it is absurd at twenty-six to talk of middle age, but I feel it in my bones, Mr. Anstruther, I feel it in my bones. It is after all simply a question of bones. Yours are twenty years younger than mine; and did I not always tell you I was old?
I am so busy that you must be extra pleased, please, to get a letter today. The translation of Papa's book has ended by interesting me to such an extent that I can't leave off working at it. I do it officially in his presence for an hour daily, he as full of mistrust of my English as ever, trying to check it with a dictionary, and using picturesque language to convey his disgust to me that he should be so imperfectly acquainted with a tongue so useful. He has forgotten the little he learned from my mother in the long years since her death, and he has the natural conviction of authors in the presence of their translators that the translator is a grossly uncultured person who will leave out all the nuances. For an hour I plod along obediently, then I pretend I must go and cook. What I really do is to run up to my bedroom, lock myself in, and work away feverishly for the rest of the morning at my version of the book. It is, I suppose, what would be called a free translation, but I protest I never met anything quite so free. Papa's book is charming, and the charm can only be reproduced by going repeatedly wholly off the lines. Accordingly I go, and find the process exhilarating and amusing. The thing amuses and interests me; I wonder if it would amuse and interest other people? I fear it would not, for when I try to imagine it being read by my various acquaintances my heart sinks with the weight of the certainty that it couldn't possibly. I imagine it in the hands of Joey, of Frau von Lindeberg, of different people in Jena, and the expression my inner eye sees on their faces makes me unable for a long while to go on with it. Then I get over that and begin working again at my salad. It really is a salad, with Papa as the groundwork of lettuce, very crisp and fresh, and myself as the dressing and bits of garnishing beetroot and hard-boiled egg. I work at it half the night sometimes, so eager am I to get it done and sent off. Yes, my young friend, I have inherited Papa's boldness in the matter of sending off, and the most impressive of London publishers is shortly to hold it in his sacred hands. And if his sacred hands forget themselves so far as to hurl it rudely back at me they yet can never take away the fun I have had writing it.
Joey's father is expected to-morrow, and the whole Galgenberg is foggy with the fumes of cooking. Once his consent is given the engagement will be put in the papers and life will grow busy and brilliant for Frau von Lindeberg. She talks of removing immediately to Berlin, there to give a series of crushingly well-done parties to those of her friends who are supposed to have laughed when Vicki was thrown over by her first lover. I don't believe they did laugh; I refuse to believe in such barbarians; but Frau von Lindeberg, grown frank about that disastrous story now that it has been so handsomely wiped off Vicki's little slate, assures me that they did. She doesn't seem angry any longer about it, being much too happy to have room in her heart for wrath, but she is bent on this one form of revenge. Well, it is a form that will gratify everybody, revenger and revengee equally I should think.
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