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"Of course I lived two lives before my father's death. My days were sufficiently filled with him, to say nothing of making both ends meet; for even after my uncle's death, I had only a small income until the day of my complete liberty came. I slept soundly enough when I was not following my father about the house with a candle, or about the hills with a lantern. But such a life preyed upon my spirits. I imagined myself both melancholy and bitter and grew unhealthily romantic. But from the conditions of my life I had two escapes—in books and in dreams. My father hated company more and more and I rarely left him for a dance or one of those church festivities where all the young people of my set were sure to meet. I knew that I was regarded as rather a tragic figure, and this enhanced my morbid egoism. I wonder if I shall ever be as really happy again!
"During the year following my father's death I lived out here alone, but with my hands tied by the executors of my uncle's will. I felt myself quite the enchanted princess and put in most of my time dreaming about the prince. I suppose no girl ever had such wild and impossible notions of love. That is to say most girls have, but I had peculiar opportunities for indulgence and elaboration. At the same time I despised or disliked every man I knew or ever had known—with the possible exception of Judge Leslie. Not only had I found all the men of my little personal world weak, or selfish, or tyrannical, but those I knew almost as well were narrow, or commonplace, or uninterested in anything but local politics or making money, or both combined. Not but that Rosewater is the world in little. You never read of any old Italian duchy where there was more jealousy and intrigue; more silent and tense, or open and gnashing struggle for supremacy than is centered in these three banks. They have prevented the town from increasing in size and importance, in spite of its prosperity, through their machinations against one another. If a stranger comes to the town intending to invest his money in some one of the flourishing industries, or to introduce another, the banker to whom he brings a letter, or whom he happens to meet first, terrifies him with tales of the rapacity and dishonorable methods of his rivals; and the other two, who fear that the first will get the stranger's business, warn him that Mr. Colton, for instance, never gave an hour's mercy. The three have made slow, sure, dogged fortunes, but each has prevented the others from becoming millionaires, and Rosewater from taking its proper place as county seat. And they are all afraid of new-comers, new capital, of authority passing out of their hands. They are careful not to charge exorbitant rates of interest, and every farmer and merchant in the county borrows from them; partly from habit, partly because the banks are uncommonly sound. They foreclose without mercy, but that does not frighten their old patrons, who have the perennial optimism of the country. The only capital they have not succeeded in frightening off is that controlled by the great corporations. One or two have wedged their way in and others will follow in time. Doubtless when the younger men get the reins in their hands they will trim with the times, but the older seem to be Biblical if not Christian, and the consequence is that most of the younger have left for a wider field.
"Finally the day came when I could turn my back on California, and I felt sure that I should remain away for ten years at least. I thought that the liberty I had longed for all my life was mine at last. In a conducted tour, I soon discovered, there was little liberty, to say nothing of privacy. Before I had been two days in the train I was made to feel that there was something wrong with a person that showed a disposition to retire into herself. She was either aristocratic, or had something to hide, unless she responded to the confidences natural to people of that class. As there were just eighteen in the party, of course I always had a room partner, and there was not a woman in the entire company that I would have known from choice. However, it was excellent discipline, not unenlightening, and the end came in six weeks. They sailed from Naples and I wandered about by myself. In a way the liberty was intoxicating, but of course the sum of it was lessened by the daily irritations of travel in Europe: the rapacity of the Italians and French, the wretched trains, the hordes of vulgar tourists, mostly of my own nation, the absurd primness, quite foreign to my nature, I was forced to assume when alone with a man who was neither English nor American, the awful fatigues, the ennuis of long rainy days in the second-rate hotels and pensions I had to frequent. Still, I was too young for any unpleasant impression to take root and discourage me, and there was much that was wholly delightful. I spent weeks in a city or even village that took my fancy. But even so it was not long before I realized that my liberty was as far off as ever, because my soul at least was possessed by the image of the prince, the more tormenting and insistent as his outlines were so remarkably vague. In the intervals when novelty ceased to appeal, when my very eyes refused to look at things, I pictured inexpressibly thrilling and romantic futures. Then I would fall into a panic at the passing of youth, for a woman never feels so old again as between eighteen and twenty-five—her first quarter-century.
"And I did not lack opportunities. I met many people, some of them quite charming. But they left me cold.
"Then I lived the student life in Paris, studying art just enough to give me the raison d'être. It was very gay, very irresponsible, very educating to a provincial miss. The restaurants with their sanded floors, and the cosmopolitan mixture of students, generally eccentric to look at, brandishing temperament until the poor thing must have been worn out before its harness of technique was ready—all was a perpetual source of delight to me, and I used to let my mind dwell on Rosewater for the sake of enjoying myself with the more wonder and gratitude.
"But of course in such a life I had to have a companion, I could not long go to students' restaurants alone. I had taken a tiny flat in the Latin Quarter at the top of a house, and overlooking a convent where the nuns were always walking in the garden. A femme de ménage cooked my breakfast and kept my rooms in order; but although I was quite comfortable and never lonely, I had not been established a fortnight before certain experiences at the restaurants and on the street, which you can imagine for yourself, convinced me that I could not live alone. So I looked hurriedly over the field, and decided that an American girl in my class suggested fewest complications. Moreover, she interested me. She had a pale tense face, rarely spoke to anybody, and worked as if her life depended upon every stroke, although her talent was not conspicuous. It was not easy to approach her, but one day, after I had dined alone in my flat five times in succession, I noticed that she was paler than usual, and that her hands were trembling. Then I felt certain she was in trouble, and it would have been my instinct to help her in any case. I joined her as we left the atelier, and asked her to walk a bit. It was not long before she admitted that her money was practically gone, and that her family would not send her any more; they had never approved of her coming to Paris to study art. They were not at all well off, and as she had a facility in trimming hats they had thought it her duty to contribute more immediately to the support of the family. She had not advanced as rapidly as she had hoped to do, and it would be insupportable humiliation to return.
"Here was my opportunity. I exultingly invited her to share my apartment, told her that my income was quite enough for two, that I was merely studying life, and that her protection would more than compensate me for the little extra outlay. She declined at first, hesitated for a week; but in the end she came. I grew very fond of her, and she interested me more and more. Her real bitterness taught me what a purely youthful symptom mine had been, and she was rather a clever girl, often entertaining. She was about twenty-six, I fancy, and had received a good education at the academy of the Western town in which she had been born. Her grandparents were Italian emigrants, and she had fine black eyes and a beautiful mouth.
"Well, before many months had passed I knew that she was in desperate straits, and she offered to go away, reiterating that she had only intended to take advantage of the temporary haven while she fed her courage and painted something that might sell. I knew that if she left me she would throw herself into the Seine, and I persuaded her to stay. It is not difficult to persuade a stricken woman to remain under a friendly roof. I was full of sympathy for the poor little thing, but I don't deny that I was immensely interested, and fairly palpitated with the thought that I was actually seeing life at first hand. Who the hero of her romance was I never discovered, except that he was of her own race, and married, a fact he had concealed until ready to leave Paris. She told me enough to make me hate all men so violently that the prince took himself off and left me in peace. But I had trouble enough in my household. As time went on Veronica's alternate attacks of melancholy and hysteria were terrible. I sat up night after night to keep her from throwing herself out of the window; at times she seemed to be quite off her head. And then she still loved the wretch, and would maunder by the hour. But it ended, as everything does; and the poor girl died. I have no desire to linger over the climax. If anything was needed to set the final seal upon my disgust with life at first hand it was the mean and sordid details that attend death and burial in Paris. The landlord behaved like the mercenary fiends they all are; I was obliged to call in the assistance of the American consul before I could get the body out of the house, and between all the trouble and fuss poor Veronica's story was published from the house-tops.
"As soon as it was over I left Paris and started to travel slowly through Germany, feeling now a real sense of liberty, inasmuch as I was sure I could be all intellect henceforth, dependent upon nothing so unsatisfactory as human happiness. I never wanted another real contact with life. I would travel, and study, and develop my mind, possibly some latent talent. Many talents are manufactured anyhow, and the world is always hailing them as genius.
"But, of course, in time, and with constant change of scene, to say nothing of youth, the impression faded; the painful experience hovered faintly in the background of the past; the romantic imp in my brain, a little pale and emaciated from its long sojourn in the cellar, resumed the throne. Once more I began to realize that I was human, and to cast about for the mate that must surely be roaming in search of me. It was then that I arrived in Munich.
"I saw him first in the Englischergarten. You remember it, that wonderful imitation of a great stretch of open country, with fields where they make hay, and bits of wild woods, and crooked pathways, and bridges over a branch of the Isar, greenest and loveliest of rivers. And then the little beer-gardens, where the people are always sitting and listening to the band—and beyond the tree-tops, the spires and domes of the beautiful city.
"I was standing by the lake watching the swans when he rode by, and I am bound to say that he made no great impression. I hardly should have noticed him had it not been for his excessively English appearance, and a certain piercing quality in the glance with which he favored me. I should never have given him another thought, but a week later I met him formally. It came about oddly enough.
"That evening in looking through my trunk for a business paper I came upon a letter of introduction given me by a friend I had made in Italy. It was to a Baroness L., of Munich. I had quite forgotten it, and the sight of it inspired me with no desire for the social curiosities. I was infatuated with Munich, and its exteriors satisfied me. It has a large courteous grandly-hospitable air, as if it were the private property of a king, to which, however, all strangers are royally welcome. It is the ideal king's city: life but no bustle; neither business, as we understand the word, nor poverty; a city of infinite leisure and infinite interest, a superb living picture-book, where one is ever amused, interested, both stimulated and soothed. I had been in it three weeks and had almost made up my mind to live there, and dream away the rest of my life. Knote and Moréna, Feinhals and Bender were singing at the Hof Theatre. Mottl was conducting. Lili Marberg's Salome was something to be seen again and again. You forgot the play itself. And Bardou-Müller's Mrs. Alving! I did not sleep for two nights.
"Well, I left the letter on my table, instead of returning it to the portfolio of my trunk, and it exercised a certain insistence. What are letters of introduction for? And should I not see the social life of Europe when the opportunity offered? So I left a card on the baroness. She returned it in the course of a day or two, then wrote, asking me to drink tea with her. I went. There were perhaps fifty people there. I have not the faintest idea who they were or what they looked like. Prestage—that was only one of his names, but it will do—asked immediately to be introduced to me, and we talked in a corner for an hour. Before we had talked for ten minutes I knew that the great gates were swinging open. It is not possible for a woman to define one man's fascination to another, and I hardly know myself why this man so completely turned my head. He was not exactly good-looking, but he had remarkable eyes and a singular tensity of manner, which made me almost breathless at times. He was, moreover, brilliantly educated and accomplished, and the most finished specimen of the man of the world I had met. He was an American of inherited fortune who had spent the greater part of his life in Europe, alternating between Paris and London, although he knew the society of other cities well enough. His contempt for the vulgarity of the huge modern fortunes, and his admiration for Munich, were the first subjects to discover to us the similarity of our tastes.
"We soon discovered others. I think he fell as deeply in love with me as he was capable of doing. He was forty-one and had fairly exhausted his capacity, for he had lived the life of pleasure only; but no doubt I was something new in his experience, and penetrated the ashes like a strong western breeze. I have seen him turn quite white when I suddenly appeared at one of our trysts.
"Of course I lived in a pension. I had no private sitting-room, and he positively refused to sit in the salon a second time. So we used to take interminable walks about Munich, lingering in all the quaint old Gothic corners, along the magnificent stretches of Renaissance; lunching on the terraces of the restaurants under the shade of the green trees, or in quaint little back gardens set in the angle of buildings as mediæval as Rothenburg; the people looking down at us from the narrow windows or the little balconies. We spent hours in the Englischergarten, sitting on the banks of the Isar; often took the train to the beautiful Isarthal and spent the day in the woods; or sailed on one of the lakes with the tumbled glittering peaks of the Alps always in sight. We visited Ludwig's castles together, attended peasants' festivals in the mountains, lunching in some dilapidated old garden of a Gasthaus. And of course we went constantly to the opera. It was positive heaven for a time, and as romantic as the heart of any romantic idiot could wish. I was so happy I could not even think, even when I was alone. I simply sat like one in a trance and gazed into space, vague rose-colored dreams turning the slow wheel of my brain. No one paid any attention to us. Everybody in the pension was studying something; we avoided the American church and consulate and even the Baroness L. We were determined to have our blissful dream unvulgarized by gossip.
"There is no doubt that for a time my young enthusiasm gave him back a flicker of the romance of his own youth, but of course it couldn't last. I hardly know when it was I began to realize that the whole base of his nature was honeycombed with ennui, and that any structure reared upon it might topple at a moment's notice. I had been steeped to the eyes in the present. I had no wish to marry. Marriage was prosaic. Life was a fairy tale, why materialize it? I soon discovered that man's capacity for living on air is limited, and I had almost yielded to his entreaties to cross to England where we could marry without tiresome formalities, when one day—this was perhaps a month after we had met—he was late at a tryst. I lived a lifetime in five minutes. When he arrived he was so apologetic and so charming that if I had been an older woman I should have known that something was wrong. The next day, as it happened, I had to go to bed with influenza, and wrote him that I might not get out for a week. He wrote twice a day and sent me flowers. On the fourth morning I felt so much better that I sent him a note by a dinstmann telling him that I should lunch on the terrace of the Neue Bürse restaurant. He was not awaiting me; nor did he come at all. Later I saw him driving with an astonishingly handsome woman; who looked as if she had been born without crudities or illusions.
"There are no words to express the tortures of jealousy and disgust that I endured that afternoon. But at five came a note stating that he had been out of town on a lonely voyage of discovery, and begging me to come for a cup of chocolate at the Café Luitpold—where we had gone so often to watch the motley crowd. I went, wrath and horror struggling in my heart with the sanguineness of woman. He had never been so charming and so plausible. I let him go on, exulting in the discovery that he was a liar, for I knew that it pushed me a step towards recovery. When he had finished I told him that I had seen him in the Hofgarten. I never shall forget how white he turned. But if he had been an adventurer his mind could not have been more nimble. He recovered himself instantly, admitted the impeachment, insisted that he had just returned when I saw him, had accepted a seat in the lady's carriage as he was entering his hotel—before he had time to go to his room and find my note. I knew that he was lying, but when he changed the subject to impassioned pleading that I would cross to England at once, I was forced to believe that he loved me.
"But I was miserably undecided. Moreover, I could not leave Munich. My quarterly remittance was unaccountably delayed. I told him this. He knew that I would not move without my own money, but he sent off several cables. The reply came that the drafts had gone and must have been lost in the mails. Duplicates would be sent. There was nothing to do but wait.
"I suppose that money enters into all things. It certainly ruled my destiny. The fortnight that ensued I never think of if I can help it. He was desperately bored with Munich, but too polite to leave me alone. I saw him with the woman three or four times. She was an Austrian who did not visit the Baroness L., and she was staying at his hotel. There was no doubt that he still wished to marry me, but I was in even less doubt that his ruined nature would yield more and more to this sort of fascination when my novelty had worn thin. Before my money arrived my mind was made up. I dared not trust myself to the seduction of his manner and voice—he was a past-master in the art of making love. I wrote him that I would not marry a man I could not trust, and fled to Vienna, telling my Munich bankers to keep my letters until I sent for them. For two weeks I travelled madly through Austria and Hungary. Never for a moment was I free of torments. Never before had I actually comprehended what love meant. I hardly ate or slept. I arrived at a place only to leave it. The hotel-keepers thought I was the American tourist overtaken by that final madness they had always anticipated. When the fortnight finished I looked back upon an eternity in purgatory. I surrendered; at least he loved me in his way. He had never ceased to urge our marriage. Who could say that I might not be fascinating enough to hold him? It was worth the trial, and I despised myself for laying down my arms without a struggle.
"I took the Oriental express from Budapest, but during the journey, swift as it was, I underwent certain reactions. I knew that he must have left Munich, that all I could do was to take a letter to his bank and ask that it be forwarded. I wrote the letter as soon as I arrived, but decided to post it; my pride revolted at facing the sharp eye of the person that handled the letters of credit. I had gone to the bank with Prestage more than once.
"As soon as the letter was posted I experienced a certain measure of peace, having done all I could. Nevertheless, to sit still was impossible, and I set out for a walk. It was one of those brilliant clear crisp days with which that high plateau can put even California to the blush. I saw that all the tram-cars were crowded, and that carriage loads of people had flower pieces. I asked if it were a Feiertag and was reminded that it was the 1st of November, All Saints' Day; Munich was on its way to the several cemeteries to decorate the graves. I had seen All Saints' Day in Venice and felt a mild curiosity to compare the Bavarian festival with the Italian. So I walked out to the great Alt Sud Friedhof where so many celebrities are buried, and where I fancied the scene would be most complete. When I arrived at the entrance the frames that had been set up in the outer court were almost denuded of the flower pieces the countrywomen had brought in to sell, but I bought a wreath at the solicitation of a peasant in a picturesque head-dress, and followed the crowd. The cemetery is on three sides of the entrance and enclosed by a high brick wall. I stood a moment at the inner official entrance, hardly knowing which way to turn; but seeing a number of staring people in a corridor on my right that faced one great division of the cemetery, I was turning into it mechanically when a policeman waved me back with the information that the entrance was at the other end. But not until I had seen, stared, and gasped. In an alcove was a figure, almost upright, that, in the first dazed seconds I took to be a wax-work, but immediately knew to be a dead woman. As I almost ran out I recalled that in Bavaria the dead are taken from the house within six hours, and are kept in a public mortuary for three days, or until all danger of premature interment is over.
"I do not think I should mind, particularly, seeing a ghost; I am sure my mental curiosity would get the better of my unwilling flesh; but I have a real horror of the corpse. I tried to forget the grotesque exhibition I had stumbled upon, in the novel and interesting scene about me. The long aisles of the cemetery were filled with well-dressed people, some strolling, others decorating, all apparently enjoying themselves. Almost all of the graves and monuments were bedecked, and presented a most Elysian appearance with the masses of bright flowers, the streamers of wide ribbon, the lighted lanterns, many of them antique and beautiful, above all the tall flambeaux, whose flames looked white and unearthly against the bright atmosphere. Above was a deep-blue sky with those thick low masses of snow-white clouds one sees only in Bavaria.
"But that grotesque little figure with its shrunken yellow face under the pitiless sun glare, its bony old hands, attached I knew, to the string of a distant bell, did not leave my mind for an instant. I walked down every path, I examined every interesting monument, I even went into the other divisions where there are so many statues in the alcove tombs; but all in vain. I felt that I should see that old woman to the end of my days. I could recall the very pattern of the cheap black lace of her cap. There was but one way to rid my mind of the obsession, and that was to return to the corridor, stand in front of every earthen figure, remain there until my mind was satiated, in consequence delivered.
"I set my teeth and went back to the Leichenhalle. Of course there were many to keep me company. I looked long and unflinchingly at two gentlemen in evening clothes, an old maid dressed for once on earth as a bride, a young woman and her infant. The coffins lay on an inclined plane and the edges were so concealed by a mass of flowers and greenery that the ghastly company looked as if half rising to hold a reception.
"And then I stood for I do not know how long before the alcove next to the old woman beside the exit, not knowing whether I were turned to stone or sitting by the Rosewater marsh indulging in some wild morbid flight of imagination.
"For there he was. For a second I did not fully recognize him, he was so yellow, his lower jaw had so hideously retreated, completely altering the slightly cynical expression of the mouth. The bright gay sunlight searched out every line carved by too much living, the little wrinkles about the eyes, the weakness of the handsome polished hands. He looked unspeakably aged and hideous. I had never dreamed that a brilliant mind could leave so miserable a shell behind it, that the body was such a mean poverty-stricken thing, a thing to be thrust out of sight as soon as it had fulfilled its work of balking and ruining the soul. I had never looked at Veronica after her death, and only once at my father, who had not horrified me, for here the undertaker has arts unknown, apparently, in Bavaria.
"My love died without a gasp. I shrank and curdled with horror that I had loved that hideous clay. What he had aroused in me was merely the response of youth to the masculine magnet, a trifle more specialized than I had heretofore encountered; the inevitable fever when infection appears. All personal feeling vanished out of me so completely that even while I stood there I felt the same pity for him that I had for the others, the helpless dead so mercilessly exposed to the vulgar indifferent crowd. If I could have hurried him into the privacy of the grave I would have exerted every effort, but before the laws of the country I was powerless. As I was leaving the cemetery I discovered that I still carried the wreath. I went back and added it to the bank of greenery which his valet no doubt had provided.
"When I returned to my pension I sent for the man and learned that he and the Consul-General of the United States had done all that the authorities had left in their hands. The body was to be shipped to New York within the month. He had died of Bright's disease. It had declared itself a day or two after I left. After ten days of intermittent suffering, during which the valet had felt no apprehension, he had died suddenly.
"I left Munich the same day. If I have failed to give you any adequate impression of my agonies, it will be next to impossible to describe my subsequent states of mind. Indeed I have little remembrance of my mental condition during the weeks of travel in Switzerland and Italy that followed. I was deliberately living up on the surface of my nature, indifferent to what was awaiting recognition below, although I knew it to be nothing unwelcome. Then, finally, I felt the time had come when I could draw aside the black curtain which I had hung for decency's sake between my consciousness and my depths, and tell the new guest to come forth. The guest was the liberty I had waited for all my life. I felt indescribably free, light, strong. The tyranny of love, even while it was but the love idea, that had shackled me for so many years, narrowing my interests, warping my imagination, clouding the future, was dissipated at last. I had paid the tribute to my youth and sex. I felt really alive for the first time, existing in the actual not in the dream world. There are women and women; and quite enough of the fine old domestic order to keep the world going; but there is a vast and increasing number that are never really alive and worth anything to themselves or life until they have worked through that necessary madness, buried it, and settled down to those infinite interests upon which matrimony, happy or otherwise, bolts a thousand doors. Some day I will tell you my theory of what such women are really born for, but you have had enough for one night and the story is finished."
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