Do you ever look at your face in the glass?
Sometimes I stand for hours and peer at my face and wonder at it. At times I turn it upside down and gaze intently at it. I try to think what it means. It seems to look back at me with its great brown eyes as if it knew me and wanted to speak to me.
Why was I born?
I do not know.
I ask my face a thousand times a day and find no answer.
At times when people pass my room--my maid Nitnitzka, or Jakub, the serving-man--and see me talking to my face, they think I am foolish.
But I am not.
At times I cast myself on the sofa and bury my head in the cushions. Even then I cannot find out why I was born.
I am seventeen.
Shall I ever be seventy-seven? Ah!
Shall I ever be even sixty-seven, or sixty-seven even? Oh!
And if I am both of these, shall I ever be eighty-seven?
I cannot tell.
Often I start up in the night with wild eyes and wonder if I shall be eighty-seven.
* * *
I passed a flower in my walk to-day. It grew in the meadow beside the river bank.
It stood dreaming on a long stem.
I knew its name. It was a Tchupvskja. I love beautiful names.
I leaned over and spoke to it. I asked it if my heart would ever know love. It said it thought so.
On the way home I passed an onion.
It lay upon the road.
Someone had stepped upon its stem and crushed it. How it must have suffered. I placed it in my bosom. All night it lay beside my pillow.
* * *
My heart is yearning for love! How is it that I can love no one?
I have tried and I cannot. My father--Ivan Ivanovitch--he is so big and so kind, and yet I cannot love him; and my mother, Katoosha Katooshavitch, she is just as big, and yet I cannot love her. And my brother, Dimitri Dimitrivitch, I cannot love him.
And Alexis Alexovitch!
I cannot love him. And yet I am to marry him. They have set the day. It is a month from to-day. One month. Thirty days. Why cannot I love Alexis? He is tall and strong. He is a soldier. He is in the Guard of the Czar, Nicholas Romanoff, and yet I cannot love him.
* * *
Next Day but one.
How they cramp and confine me here--Ivan Ivanovitch my father, and my mother (I forget her name for the minute), and all the rest.
I cannot breathe.
They will not let me.
Every time I try to commit suicide they hinder me.
Last night I tried again.
I placed a phial of sulphuric acid on the table beside my bed.
In the morning it was still there.
It had not killed me.
They have forbidden me to drown myself.
I do not know why? In vain I ask the air and the trees why I should not drown myself? They do not see any reason why.
And yet I long to be free, free as the young birds, as the very youngest of them.
I watch the leaves blowing in the wind and I want to be a leaf.
Yet here they want to make me eat!
Yesterday I ate a banana! Ugh!
* * *
To-day in my walk I found a cabbage.
It lay in a corner of the hedge. Cruel boys had chased it there with stones.
It was dead when I lifted it up.
Beside it was an egg.
It too was dead. Ah, how I wept--
* * *
How my heart beats. To-day A MAN passed. He passed: actually passed.
From my window I saw him go by the garden gate and out into the meadow beside the river where my Tchupvskja flower is growing!
How beautiful he looked! Not tall like Alexis Alexovitch, ah, no! but so short and wide and round--shaped like the beautiful cabbage that died last week.
He wore a velvet jacket and he carried a camp stool and an easel on his back, and in his face was a curved pipe with a long stem, and his face was not red and rough like the face of Alexis, but mild and beautiful and with a smile that played on it like moonlight over putty.
Do I love him? I cannot tell. Not yet. Love is a gentle plant. You cannot force its growth.
As he passed I leaned from the window and threw a rosebud at him.
But he did not see it.
Then I threw a cake of soap and a toothbrush at him. But I missed him, and he passed on.
* * *
Love has come into my life. It fills it. I have seen HIM again. I have spoken with him. He sat beside the river on his camp stool. How beautiful he looked, sitting on it: how strong he seemed and how frail the little stool on which he sat.
Before him was the easel and he was painting. I spoke to him.
I know his name now.
His name--. How my heart beats as I write it--no, I cannot write it, I will whisper it--it is Otto Dinkelspiel.
Is it not a beautiful name? Ah!
He was painting on a canvas--beautiful colours, red and gold and white, in glorious opalescent streaks in all directions.
I looked at it in wonder.
Instinctively I spoke to him. "What are you painting?" I said. "Is it the Heavenly Child?"
"No," he said, "it is a cow!"
Then I looked again and I could see that it was a cow.
I looked straight into his eyes.
"It shall be our secret," I said; "no one else shall know."
And I knew that I loved him.
* * *
A Week Later.
Each morning I go to see Otto beside the river in the meadow.
He sits and paints, and I sit with my hands clasped about my knees and talk to him. I tell him all that I think, all that I read, all that I know, all that I feel, all that I do not feel.
He listens to me with that far-away look that I have learned to love and that means that he is thinking deeply; at times he almost seems not to hear.
The intercourse of our minds is wonderful.
We stimulate one another's thought.
Otto is my master. I am his disciple!
Yesterday I asked him if Hegel or Schlegel or Whegel gives the truest view of life.
He said he didn't know! My Otto!
* * *
Otto touched me! He touched me!
How the recollection of it thrills me!
I stood beside him on the river bank, and as we talked the handle of my parasol touched the bottom button of his waistcoat.
It seemed to burn me like fire!
To-morrow I am to bring Otto to see my father.
But to-night I can think of nothing else but that Otto has touched me.
* * *
Otto has touched father! He touched him for ten roubles. My father is furious. I cannot tell what it means.
I brought Otto to our home. He spoke with my father, Ivan Ivanovitch. They sat together in the evening. And now my father is angry. He says that Otto wanted to touch him.
Why should he be angry?
But Otto is forbidden the house, and I can see him only in the meadow.
* * *
Two Days Later.
To-day Otto asked me for a keepsake.
I offered him one of my hatpins. But he said no. He has taken instead the diamond buckle from my belt.
I read his meaning.
He means that I am to him as a diamond is to lesser natures.
* * *
Yesterday Otto asked me for another keepsake. I took a gold rouble from my bag and said that he should break it in half and that each should keep one of the halves.
But Otto said no. I divined his thought. It would violate our love to break the coin.
He is to keep it for both of us, and it is to remain unbroken like our love.
Is it not a sweet thought?
Otto is so thoughtful. He thinks of everything.
To-day he asked me if I had another gold rouble.
* * *
To-day I brought Otto another gold rouble.
His eyes shone with love when he saw it.
He has given me for it a bronze kopek. Our love is to be as pure as gold and as strong as bronze.
Is it not beautiful?
* * *
I am so fearful that Alexis Alexovitch may return.
I fear that if he comes Otto might kill him. Otto is so calm, I dread to think of what would happen if he were aroused.
* * *
I have told Otto about Alexis. I have told him that Alexis is a soldier, that he is in the Guards of the Czar, and that I am betrothed to him. At first Otto would not listen to me. He feared that his anger might overmaster him. He began folding up his camp-stool.
Then I told him that Alexis would not come for some time yet, and he grew calmer.
I have begged him for my sake not to kill Alexis. He has given me his promise.
* * *
Ivan Ivanovitch, my father, has heard from Alexis. He will return in fourteen days. The day after his return I am to marry him.
And meantime I have still fourteen days to love Otto.
My love is perfect. It makes me want to die. Last night I tried again to commit suicide. Why should I live now that I have known a perfect love? I placed a box of cartridges beside my bed. I awoke unharmed. They did not kill me. But I know what it means. It means that Otto and I are to die together. I must tell Otto.* * *
To-day I told Otto that we must kill ourselves, that our love is so perfect that we have no right to live.
At first he looked so strange.
He suggested that I should kill myself first and that he should starve himself beside my grave.
But I could not accept the sacrifice.
I offered instead to help him to hang himself beside the river.
He is to think it over. If he does not hang himself, he is to shoot himself. I have lent him my father's revolver. How grateful he looked when he took it.* * *
Why does Otto seem to avoid me? Has he some secret sorrow that I cannot share? To-day he moved his camp-stool to the other side of the meadow. He was in the long grass behind an elderberry bush. At first I did not see him. I thought that he had hanged himself. But he said no. He had forgotten to get a rope. He had tried, he said, to shoot himself. But he had missed himself.* * *
Five Days Later.
Otto and I are not to die. We are to live; to live and love one another for ever! We are going away, out into the world together! How happy I am!
Otto and I are to flee together.
When Alexis comes we shall be gone; we shall be far away.
I have said to Otto that I will fly with him, and he has said yes.
I told him that we would go out into the world together; empty-handed we would fare forth together and defy the world. I said that he should be my knight-errant, my paladin!
Otto said he would be it.
He has consented. But he says we must not fare forth empty-handed. I do not know why he thinks this, but he is firm, and I yield to my lord. He is making all our preparations.
Each morning I bring to the meadow a little bundle of my things and give them to my knight-errant and he takes them to the inn where he is staying.
Last week I brought my jewel-case, and yesterday, at his request, I took my money from the bank and brought it to my paladin. It will be so safe with him.
To-day he said that I shall need some little things to remember my father and mother by when we are gone. So I am to take my father's gold watch while he is asleep. My hero! How thoughtful he is of my happiness.* * *
All is ready. To-morrow I am to meet Otto at the meadow with the watch and the rest of the things.
To-morrow night we are to flee together. I am to go down to the little gate at the foot of the garden, and Otto will be there.
To-day I have wandered about the house and garden and have said good-bye. I have said good-bye to my Tchupvskja flower, and to the birds and the bees.
To-morrow it will be all over.* * *
How can I write what has happened! My soul is shattered to its depths.
All that I dreaded most has happened. How can I live!
Alexis has come back. He and Otto have fought.
Ah God! it has been terrible.
I stood with Otto in the meadow. I had brought him the watch, and I gave it to him, and all my love and my life with it.
Then, as we stood, I turned and saw Alexis Alexovitch striding towards us through the grass.
How tall and soldierly he looked! And the thought flashed through my mind that if Otto killed him he would be lying there a dead, inanimate thing.
"Go, Otto," I cried, "go, if you stay you will kill him."
Otto looked and saw Alexis coming. He turned one glance at me: his face was full of infinite meaning.
Then, for my sake, he ran. How noble he looked as he ran. Brave heart! he dared not stay and risk the outburst of his anger.
But Alexis overtook him.
Then beside the river-bank they fought. Ah! but it was terrible to see them fight. Is it not awful when men fight together?
I could only stand and wring my hands and look on in agony!
First, Alexis seized Otto by the waistband of his trousers and swung him round and round in the air. I could see Otto's face as he went round: the same mute courage was written on it as when he turned to run. Alexis swung Otto round and round until his waistband broke, and he was thrown into the grass.
That was the first part of the fight.
Then Alexis stood beside Otto and kicked him from behind as he lay in the grass, and they fought like that for some time. That was the second part of the fight. Then came the third and last part. Alexis picked up the easel and smashed the picture over Otto's head. It fastened itself like a collar about his neck. Then Alexis picked Otto up with the picture round his neck and threw him into the stream.
I could see his upturned face as he floated onwards down the stream, through the meadow! It was full of deep resignation.
Then Alexis Alexovitch came to me and gathered me up in his arms and carried me thus across the meadow--he is so tall and strong-- and whispered that he loved me, and that to-morrow he would shield me from the world. He carried me thus to the house in his arms among the grass and flowers; and there was my father, Ivan Ivanovitch, and my mother, Katoosha Katooshavitch. And to-morrow I am to marry Alexis. He had brought back from the inn my jewels and my money, and he gave me again the diamond clasp that Otto had taken from my waist.
How can I bear it? Alexis is to take me to Petersburg, and he has bought a beautiful house in the Prospekt, and I am to live in it with him, and we are to be rich, and I am to be presented at the Court of Nicholas Romanoff and his wife. Ah! Is it not dreadful?
And I can only think of Otto floating down the stream with the easel about his neck. From the little river he will float into the Dnieper, and from the Dnieper into the Bug, and from the Bug he will float down the Volga, and from the Volga into the Caspian Sea. And from the Caspian Sea there is no outlet, and Otto will float round and round it for ever.
Is it not dreadful?
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