A ROMANCE OF TRAVEL.
BERTHA--_Writing from Venice_.
On your heart I feign myself fallen--ah, heavier burden,
Darling, of sorrow and pain than ever shall rest there! I take you
Into these friendless arms of mine, that you cannot escape me;
Closer and closer I fold you, and tell you all, and you listen
Just as you used at home, and you let my sobs and my silence
Speak, when the words will not come--and you understand and forgive
--Ah! no, no! but I write, with the wretched bravado of distance,
What you must read unmoved by the pity too far for entreaty.
Well, I could never have loved him, but when he sought me and
When to the men that offered their lives, the love of a woman
Seemed so little to give!--I promised the love that he asked me,
Sent him to war with my kiss on his lips, and thought him my hero.
Afterward came the doubt, and out of long question, self-knowledge,--
Came that great defeat, and the heart of the nation was withered;
Mine leaped high with the awful relief won of death. But the
Then, of the crime that was wrought in that guilty moment of
Guilty as if my will had winged the bullet that struck him,--
Clung to me day and night, and dreaming I saw him forever,
Looking through battle-smoke with sorrowful eyes of upbraiding,
Or, in the moonlight lying gray, or dimly approaching,
Holding toward me his arms, that still held nearer and nearer,
Folded about me at last ... and I would I had died in the fever!--
Better then than now, and better than ever hereafter!
Weary as some illusion of fever to me was the ocean--
Storm-swept, scourged with bitter rains, and wandering always
Onward from sky to sky with endless processions of surges,
Knowing not life nor death, but since the light was, the first day,
Only enduring unrest till the darkness possess it, the last day.
Over its desolate depths we voyaged away from all living:
All the world behind us waned into vaguest remoteness;
Names, and faces, and scenes recurred like that broken remembrance
Of the anterior, bodiless life of the spirit,--the trouble
Of a bewildered brain, or the touch of the Hand that created,--
And when the ocean ceased at last like a faded illusion,
Europe itself seemed only a vision of eld and of sadness.
Naught but the dark in my soul remained to me constant and real,
Growing and taking the thoughts bereft of happier uses,
Blotting all sense of lapse from the days that with swift iteration
Were and were not. They fable the bright days the fleetest:
These that had nothing to give, that had nothing to bring or to
Went as one day alone. For me was no alternation
Save from my dull despair to wild and reckless rebellion,
When the regret for my sin was turned to ruthless self-pity--
When I hated him whose love had made me its victim,
Through his faith and my falsehood yet claiming me. Then I was
With so great remorse, such grief for him, and compassion,
That, if he could have come back to me, I had welcomed and loved
More than man ever was loved. Alas, for me that another
Holds his place in my heart evermore! Alas, that I listened
When the words, whose daring lured my spirit and lulled it,
Seemed to take my blame away with my will of resistance!
Do not make haste to condemn me: my will was the will of a
Fain to be broken by love. Yet unto the last I endeavored
What I could to be faithful still to the past and my penance;
And as we stood that night in the old Roman garden together--
By the fountain whose passionate tears but now had implored me
In his pleading voice--and he waited my answer, I told him
All that had been before of delusion and guilt, and conjured him
Not to darken his fate with mine. The costly endeavor
Only was subtler betrayal. O me, from the pang of confession,
Sprang what strange delight, as I tore from its lurking that
Brooded upon so long--with the hope that at last I might see it
Through his eyes, unblurred by the tears that disordered my vision!
Oh, with what rapturous triumph I humbled my spirit before him,
That he might lift me and soothe me, and make that dreary
All this confused present, seem only some sickness of fancy,
Only a morbid folly, no certain and actual trouble!
If from that refuge I fled with words of too feeble denial--
Bade him hate me, with sobs that entreated his tenderest pity,
Moved mute lips and left the meaningless farewell unuttered--
She that never has loved, alone can wholly condemn me.
How could he other than follow? My heart had bidden him follow,
Nor had my lips forbidden; and Rome yet glimmered behind me,
When my soul yearned towards his from the sudden forlornness of
Everywhere his face looked from vanishing glimpses of faces,
Everywhere his voice reached my senses in fugitive cadence.
Sick, through the storied cities, with wretched hopes, and
Of my own heart for its hopes, I went from wonder to wonder,
Blind to them all, or only beholding them wronged, and related,
Through some trick of wayward thought, to myself and my trouble.
Not surprise nor regret, but a fierce, precipitate gladness
Sent the blood to my throbbing heart when I found him in Venice.
"Waiting for you," he whispered; "you would so." I answered him
Father, whose humor grows more silent and ever more absent
(Changed in all but love for me since the death of my mother),
Willing to see me contented at last, and trusting us wholly,
Left us together alone in our world of love and of beauty.
So, by noon and by night, we two have wandered in Venice,
Where the beautiful lives in vivid and constant caprices,
Yet, where the charm is so perfect that nothing fantastic surprises
More than in dreams, and one's life with the life of the city is
In a luxurious calm, and the tumult without and beyond it
Seems but the emptiest fable of vain aspiration and labor.
Yes, from all that makes this Venice sole among cities,
Peerless forever,--the still lagoons that sleep in the sunlight,
Lulled by their island-bells; the night's mysterious waters
Lit through their shadowy depths by stems of splendor, that blossom
Into the lamps that float, like flamy lotuses, over;
Narrow and secret canals, that dimly gleaming and glooming
Under palace-walls and numberless arches of bridges,
List no sound but the dip of the gondolier's oar and his warning
Cried from corner to corner; the sad, superb Canalazzo
Mirroring marvellous grandeur and beauty, and dreaming of glory
Out of the empty homes of her lords departed; the footways
Wandering sunless between the walls of the houses, and stealing
Glimpses, through rusted cancelli, of lurking greenness of gardens,
Wild-grown flowers and broken statues and mouldering frescos;
Thoroughfares filled with traffic, and throngs ever ebbing and
To and from the heart of the city, whose pride and devotion,
Lifting high the bells of St. Mark's like prayers unto heaven,
Stretch a marble embrace of palaces toward the cathedral
Orient, gorgeous, and flushed with color and light, like the
From the lingering waste that is not yet ruin in Venice,
And her phantasmal show, through all, of being and doing--
Came a strange joy to us, untouched by regret for the idle
Days without yesterdays that died into nights without morrows.
Here, in our paradise of love we reigned, new-created,
As in the youth of the world, in the days before evil and
Ah! in our fair, lost world was neither fearing nor doubting,
Neither the sickness of old remorse nor the gloom of foreboding,--
Only the glad surrender of all individual being
Unto him whom I loved, and in whose tender possession,
Fate-free, my soul reposed from its anguish.
--Of these things I write you
As of another's experience; part of my own they no longer
Seem to me now, through the doom that darkens the past like the
Golden the sunset gleamed, above the city behind us,
Out of a city of clouds as fairy and lovely as Venice,
While we looked at the fishing-tails of purple and yellow
Far on the rim of the sea, whose light and musical surges
Broke along the sands with a faint, reiterant sadness.
But, when the sails had darkened into black wings, through the
Sweeping away into night--past the broken tombs of the Hebrews
Homeward we sauntered slowly, through dew-sweet, blossomy alleys;
So drew near the boat by errant and careless approaches,
Entered, and left with indolent pulses the Lido behind us.
All the sunset had paled, and the campanili of Venice
Rose like the masts of a mighty fleet moored there in the water.
Lights flashed furtively to and fro through the deepening twilight.
Massed in one thick shade lay the Gardens; the numberless islands
Lay like shadows upon the lagoons. And on us as we loitered
By their enchanted coasts, a spell of ineffable sweetness
Fell and made us at one with them; and silent and blissful
Shadows we seemed, that drifted on through a being of shadow,
Vague, indistinct to ourselves, unbounded by hope or remembrance.
Yet we knew the beautiful night, as it grew from the evening:
Far beneath us and far above us the vault of the heavens
Glittered and darkened; and now the moon, that had haunted the
Thin and pallid, dimmed the stars with her fulness of splendor,
And over all the lagoons fell the silvery rain of the moonbeams,
As in the song the young girls sang while their gondolas passed
Sang in the joy of love, or youth's desire of loving.
Balmy night of the South! O perfect night of the Summer!
Night of the distant dark, of the near and tender effulgence!--
How from my despair are thy peace and loveliness frightened!
For, while our boat lay there at the will of the light undulations,
Idle as if our mood imbued and controlled it, yet ever
Seeming to bear us on athwart those shining expanses
Out to shining seas beyond pursuit or returning--
There, while we lingered, and lingered, and would not break from our
Down the mirrored night another gondola drifted
Nearer and slowly nearer our own, and moonlighted faces
Stared. And that sweet trance grew a rigid and dreadful possession,
Which, if no dream indeed, yet mocked with such semblance of
That, as it happens in dreams, when a dear face, stooping to kiss
Takes, ere the lips have touched, some malign and horrible aspect,
_His_ face faded away, and the face of the Dead--of that other--
Flashed on mine, and writhing, through every change of emotion,--
Wild amaze and scorn, accusation and pitiless mocking,--
Vanished into the swoon whose blackness encompassed and hid me.
I am not sure, I own, that if first I had seen my delusion
When I saw _you_, last night, I should be so ready to give you
Now your promises back, and hold myself nothing above you,
That it is mine to offer a freedom you never could ask for.
Yet, believe me, indeed, from no bitter heart I release you:
You are as free of me now as though I had died in the battle,
Or as I never had lived. Nay, if it is mine to forgive you,
Go without share of the blame that could hardly be all upon your
Ghosts are not sensitive things; yet, after my death in the
Sometimes a harrowing doubt assailed this impalpable essence:
Had I done so well to plead my cause at that moment,
When your consent must be yielded less to the lover than soldier?
"Not so well," I was answered by that ethereal conscience
Ghosts have about them, "and not so nobly or wisely as might be."
--Truly, I loved you, then, as now I love you no longer.
I was a prisoner then, and this doubt in the languor of sickness
Came; and it clung to my convalescence, and grew to the purpose,
After my days of captivity ended, to seek you and solve it,
And, if I haply had erred, to undo the wrong, and release you.
Well, you have solved me the doubt. I dare to trust that you wept
Just a little, at first, when you heard of me dead in the battle?
For we were plighted, you know, and even in this saintly humor,
I would scarce like to believe that my loss had merely relieved
Yet, I say, it was prudent and well not to wait for my coming
Back from the dead. If it may be I sometimes had cherished a fancy
That I had won some right to the palm with the pang of the
Fondly intended, perhaps, some splendor of self-abnegation,--
Doubtless all that was a folly which merciful chances have spared
No, I am far from complaining that Circumstance coolly has ordered
Matters of tragic fate in such a commonplace fashion.
How do I know, indeed, that the easiest isn't the best way?
Friendly adieux end this note, and our little comedy with it.
Yes, I promised to write, but how shall I write to you, darling?
Venice we reached last Monday, wild for canals and for color,
Palaces, prisons, lagoons, and gondolas, bravoes, and moonlight,
All the mysterious, dreadful, beautiful things in existence.
Fred had joined us at Naples, insuff'rably knowing and travelled,
Wise in the prices of things and great at tempestuous bargains,
Rich in the costly nothing our youthful travellers buy here,
At a prodigious outlay of time and money and trouble;
Utter confusion of facts, and talking the wildest of pictures,--
Pyramids, battle-fields, bills, and examinations of luggage,
Passports, policemen, porters, and how he got through his
Ignorant, handsome, full-bearded, brown, and good-natured as ever:
Annie thinks him perfect, and I well enough for a brother.
Also, a friend of Fred's came with us from Naples to Venice;
And, altogether, I think, we are rather agreeable people,
For we've been taking our pleasure at all times in perfect
Which is an excellent thing that you'll understand when you've
Seen Recreation dead-beat and cross, and learnt what a burden
Frescos, for instance, can be, and, in general, what an affliction
Life is apt to become among the antiques and old masters.
Venice we've thoroughly done, and it's perfectly true of the
Titians and Tintorettos, and Palmas and Paul Veroneses;
Neither are gondolas fictions, but verities, hearse-like and
Quite as the heart could wish. And one finds, to one's infinite
Venice just as unique as one's fondest visions have made it:
Palaces and mosquitoes rise from the water together,
And, in the city's streets, the salt-sea is ebbing and flowing
Several inches or more.
--Ah! let me not wrong thee, O Venice!
Fairest, forlornest, and saddest of all the cities, and dearest!
Dear, for my heart has won here deep peace from cruel confusion;
And in this lucent air, whose night is but tenderer noon-day,
Fear is forever dead, and hope has put on the immortal!
--There! and you need not laugh. I'm coming to something directly.
One thing: I've bought you a chain of the famous fabric of Venice--
Something peculiar and quaint, and of such a delicate texture
That you must wear it embroidered upon a riband of velvet,
If you would have the effect of its exquisite fineness and beauty.
"Isn't it very frail?" I asked of the workman who made it.
"Strong enough, if you will, to bind a lover, signora,"--
With an expensive smile. 'Twas bought near the Bridge of Rialto.
(Shylock, you know.) In our shopping, Aunt May and Fred do the
Fred begins always in French, with the most delicious effront'ry,
Only to end in profoundest humiliation and English.
Aunt, however, scorns to speak any tongue but Italian:
"Quanto per these ones here?" and "What did you say was the
"Ah! troppo caro! _Too much!_ No, no! Don't I _tell_ you it's
All the while insists that the gondolieri shall show us
What she calls Titian's palazzo, and pines for the house of
Annie, the dear little goose, believes in Fred and her mother
With an enchanting abandon. She doesn't at all understand them,
But she has some twilight views of their cleverness. Father is
Now and then ventures some French when he fancies that nobody hears
In an aside to the valet-de-place--I never detect him--
Buys things for mother and me with a quite supernatural sweetness,
Tolerates all Fred's airs, and is indispensably pleasant.
Prattling on of these things, which I think cannot interest
So I hold back in my heart its dear and wonderful secret
(Which I must tell you at last, however I falter to tell you),
Fain to keep it all my own for a little while longer,--
Doubting but it shall lose some part of its strangeness and
Shared with another, and fearful that even _you_ may not find it
Just the marvel that I do--and thus turn our friendship to hatred.
Sometimes it seems to me that this love, which I feel is eternal,
Must have begun with my life, and that only an absence was ended
When we met and knew in our souls that we loved one another.
For from the first was no doubt. The earliest hints of the passion,
Whispered to girlhood's tremulous dream, may be mixed with
But, when the very love comes, it bears no vagueness of meaning;
Touched by its truth (too fine to be felt by the ignorant senses,
Knowing but looks and utterance) soul unto soul makes confession,
Silence to silence speaks. And I think that this subtile assurance,
Yet unconfirmed from without, is even sweeter and dearer
Than the perfected bliss that comes when the words have been
--Not that I'd have them unsaid, now! But 't was delicious to
All the miracle over, and clasp it, and keep it, and hide it,--
While I beheld him, you know, with looks of indifferent languor,
Talking of other things, and felt the divine contradiction
Trouble my heart below!
And yet, if no doubt touched our passion,
Do not believe for that, our love has been wholly unclouded.
All best things are ours when pain and patience have won them:
Peace itself would mean nothing but for the strife that preceded;
Triumph of love is greatest, when peril of love has been sorest.
(That's to say, I dare say. I'm only repeating what _he_ said.)
Well, then, of all wretched things in the world, a mystery, Clara,
Lurked in this life dear to mine, and hopelessly held us asunder
When we drew nearest together, and all but his speech said, "I love
Fred had known him at college, and then had found him at Naples,
After several years,--and called him a capital fellow.
Thus far his knowledge went, and beyond this began to run shallow
Over troubled ways, and to break into brilliant conjecture,
Harder by far to endure than the other's reticent absence--
Absence wherein at times he seemed to walk like one troubled
By an uneasy dream, whose spell is not broken with waking,
But it returns all day with a vivid and sudden recurrence,
Like a remembered event. Of the past that was closest the present,
This we knew from himself: He went at the earliest summons,
When the Rebellion began, and falling, terribly wounded,
Into the enemy's hands, after ages of sickness and prison,
Made his escape at last; and, returning, found all his virtues
Grown out of recognition and shining in posthumous splendor,--
Found all changed and estranged, and, he fancied, more wonder than
So, somewhat heavy of heart, and disabled for war, he had wandered
Hither to Europe for perfecter peace. Abruptly his silence,
Full of suggestion and sadness, made here a chasm between us;
But we spanned the chasm with conversational bridges,
Else talked all around it, and feigned an ignorance of it,
With that absurd pretence which is always so painful, or comic,
Just as you happen to make it or see it.
In spite of our fictions,
Severed from his by that silence, my heart grew ever more anxious,
Till last night when together we sat in Piazza San Marco
(Then, when the morrow must bring us parting--forever, it might
Taking our ices al fresco. Some strolling minstrels were singing
Airs from the Trovatore. I noted with painful observance,
With the unwilling minuteness at such times absolute torture,
All that brilliant scene, for which I cared nothing, before me:
Dark-eyed Venetian leoni regarding the forestieri
With those compassionate looks of gentle and curious wonder
Home-keeping Italy's nations bend on the voyaging races,--
Taciturn, indolent, sad, as their beautiful city itself is;
Groups of remotest English--not just the traditional English
(Lavish Milor is no more, and your travelling Briton is frugal)--
English, though, after all, with the Channel always between them,
Islanded in themselves, and the Continent's sociable races;
Country-people of ours--the New World's confident children,
Proud of America always, and even vain of the Troubles
As of disaster laid out on a scale unequalled in Europe;
Polyglot Russians that spoke all languages better than natives;
White-coated Austrian officers, anglicized Austrian dandies;
Gorgeous Levantine figures of Greek, and Turk, and Albanian--
These, and the throngs that moved through the long arcades and
Shone on by numberless lamps that flamed round the perfect Piazza,
Jewel-like set in the splendid frame of this beautiful picture,
Full of such motley life, and so altogether Venetian.
Then we rose and walked where the lamps were blanched by the
Flooding the Piazzetta with splendor, and throwing in shadow
All the fa├žade of Saint Mark's, with its pillars, and horses, and
But the sculptured frondage, that blossoms over the arches
Into the forms of saints, was touched with tenderest lucence,
And the angel that stands on the crest of the vast campanile
Bathed his golden vans in the liquid light of the moonbeams.
Black rose the granite pillars that lift the Saint and the Lion;
Black sank the island campanili from distance to distance;
Over the charm├Ęd scene there brooded a presence of music,
Subtler than sound, and felt, unheard, in the depth of the spirit.
How can I gather and show you the airy threads of enchantment
Woven that night round my life and forever wrought into my being,
As in our boat we glided away from the glittering city?
Dull at heart I felt, and I looked at the lights in the water,
Blurring their brilliance with tears, while the tresses of eddying
Whirled in the ebbing tide, like the tresses of sea-maidens
Seaward from palace-haunts, in the moonshine glistened and
Sad and vague were my thoughts, and full of fear was the silence;
And, when he turned to speak at last, I trembled to hear him,
Feeling he now must speak of his love, and his life and its
Now that the narrowing chances had left but that cruel conclusion,
Else the life-long ache of a love and a trouble unuttered.
Better, my feebleness pleaded, the dreariest doubt that had vexed
Than my life left nothing, not even a doubt to console it;
But, while I trembled and listened, his broken words crumbled to
And, as though some touch of fate had thrilled him with warning,
Suddenly from me he turned. Our gondola slipped from the shadow
Under a ship lying near, and glided into the moonlight,
Where, in its brightest lustre, another gondola rested.
_I_ saw two lovers there, and he, in the face of the woman,
Saw what has made him mine, my own belov├Ęd, forever!
Mine!--but through _what_ tribulation, and awful confusion of
Tears that I think of with smiles, and sighs I remember with
Agonies full of absurdity, keen, ridiculous anguish,
Ending in depths of blissful shame, and heavenly transports!
White, and estranged as a man who has looked on a spectre, he
Sank to the place at my side, nor while we returned to the city
Uttered a word of explaining, or comment, or comfort, but only,
With his good-night, incoherently craved my forgiveness and
Parted, and left me to spend the night in hysterical vigils,
Tending to Annie's supreme dismay, and postponing our journey
One day longer at least; for I went to bed in the morning,
Firmly rejecting the pity of friends, and the pleasures of travel,
Fixed in a dreadful purpose never to get any better.
Later, however, I rallied, when Fred, with a maddening prologue
Touching the cause of my sickness, including his fever at Jaffa,
Told me that some one was waiting; and could he see me a moment?
See me? Certainly not. Or,--yes. But why did he want to?
So, in the dishabille of a morning-gown and an arm-chair,
Languid, with eloquent wanness of eye and of cheek, I received
Willing to touch and reproach, and half-melted myself by my pathos,
Which, with a reprobate joy, I wholly forgot the next instant,
When, with electric words, few, swift, and vivid, he brought me,
Through a brief tempest of tears, to this heaven of sunshine and
Yes, he had looked on a ghost--the phantom of love that was
When, last night, he beheld the scene of which I have told you.
For to the woman he saw there, his troth had been solemnly plighted
Ere he went to the war. His return from the dead found her absent
In the belief of his death; and hither to Europe he followed,--
Followed to seek her, and keep, if she would, the promise between
Or, were a haunting doubt confirmed, to break it and free her.
Then, at Naples we met, and the love that, before he was conscious,
Turned his life toward mine, laid torturing stress to the purpose
Whither it drove him forever, and whence forever it swerved him.
How could he tell me his love, with this terrible burden upon him?
How could he linger near me, and still withhold the avowal?
And what ruin were that, if the other were doubted unjustly,
And should prove fatally true! With shame, he confessed he had
Clinging to guilty delays, and to hopes that were bitter with
Up to the eve of our parting. And then the last anguish was spared
_Her_ love for him was dead. But the heart that leaped in his bosom
With a great, dumb throb of joy and wonder and doubting,
Still must yield to the spell of his silencing will till that
Proved an actual ghost by common-place tests of the daylight,
Such as speech with the lady's father.
And now, could I pardon--
Nay, did I think I could love him? I sobbingly answered, I thought
And we are all of us going to Lago di Como to-morrow,
With an ulterior view at the first convenient Legation.
Patientest darling, good-by! Poor Fred, whose sense of what's
Never was touched till now, is shocked at my glad self-betrayals,
And I am pointed out as an awful example to Annie,
Figuring all she must never be. But, oh, if _he_ loves me!--
Since, he has shown me a letter in which he absolves and forgives
(Philip, of course, not Fred; and the _other_, of course, and not
Don't you think him generous, noble, unselfish, heroic?
Well, I'm glad, I am sure, if Fanny supposes she's happy.
I've no doubt her lover is good and noble--as men go.
But, as regards his release of a woman who'd wholly forgot him,
And whom he loved no longer, for one whom he loves, and who loves
_I_ don't exactly see where the _heroism_ commences.