The Man Who Never Was Young
AT Munich, last summer, I made the acquaintance of M-y, the famous painter. I had heard much of him during my stay there, and of his eccentricities. Just then it was quite the mode to circulate stories about him. and I listened to so many which were incredible that I was seized with an irresistible desire to meet him. I took, certainly, a roundabout way to accomplish this. M—y had a horror of forming new acquaintances, — so it was said. He fled from letters of introduction coming in the ordinary way, as from the plague. Neither prince nor noble could win his intimacy or tempt him out of the pale of his daily routine. We are most eager in the pursuit of what is forbidden. I became the more determined to make M-y’s acquaintance, the more difficult it seemed. After revolving the matter carefully, I wrote to America to my intimate friend R., who I knew had subdued “ the savage,” as M-y was sometimes called, and begged him to put me in the way of getting hold of the strange fellow. In four or five weeks I received an answer. R. simply inclosed me his own card with the painter’s name in pencil written on it, — advising me to go to the artist’s house, deliver the card in person, and trust the result to fortune. Now I had heard, as before intimated, all sorts of stories about M-y. He was a bachelor, at least fifty years old. He lived by himself, as was reported,—in a superb house in an attractive part of the town. Gossip circulated various tales about its interior. Sometimes he reigned a Sardanapalus; at other times, a solitary queen graced but a temporary throne, He was addicted to various vices. He played high, lost generally large sums, and was in perpetual fear of the bailiffs. It was even reported that a royal decree bad been issued to exempt so extraordinary a genius from ordinary arrest. In short, scarcely anything extravagant in the category of human occurrences was omitted in the daily changing detail of the seamlal-loving society of Magnificent Munich. Only, no one ever imputed a mean or dishonorable tiling to M—y; but for the rest, there was nothing he did not do or permit to be done. He painted when be liked and what he liked. His compositions, whether of landscape or history, were eagerly snatched up at extravagant prices, —for M-y was always exorbitant in his demands. Besides, when he chose, M-y painted portraits,— never on application, nor for the aristocracy or the rich,— but as the mood seized him, of some subject that attracted him while on his various excursions, or of some of his friends. Yet who were his friends ? Could any one tell ? I could not find a person who claimed to know him intimately. Everybody had something to praise him for: “ But it was such a pity that ”— and here would follow one of the thousand bits of gossip which were floating about and had been floating for years. I had seen M-y often,— for he was no recluse, and could be met daily in the streets. His general appearance so fascinated me that the desire to know the man led me to adopt the course I have just mentioned. So much by way of explanation.
And now, furnished with the card and the advice contained in my friend R.’s letter, I proceeded one afternoon to the— Strasse, and sought admittance. A decent-looking servant-woman opened the door, and to my inquiry replied that Herr M-y was certainly at home, but whether engaged or not she could not answer. She ushered me into a small apartment on my right, which seemed intended for a reception-room. I was about sending some kind of message to the master of the house, for I did not like to trust the magic card out of my possession, when I heard a door open and shut at the end of the hall, and the quick, nervous step of a man along the passage. Seeing the servant standing by the door, M-y, for it was he, walked toward it and presented himself bodily before me. He wore a cap and dressing-gown, and looked vexed, but not ill-natured, on seeing me. I was much embarrassed, and, forgetting what I had proposed to say to him, I put R.'s card into his hand without a word. His eye lighted up instantly.
“You are from America? — You are welcome! — How is my friend?” were words rapidly enunciated. “ Come with me, — leave your hat there, — so ! ” — and we mounted a flight of stairs, passed what I perceived to be a fine salon, then through a charming, domestic-looking apartment into one still smaller, around the walls of which hung three portraits. Portraits did I say ? I can employ no other name,— but so life-like and so human, my first impression was that I was entering a room where were three, living people.
“Never you mind these,” exclaimed M—y, pleasantly, “but sit down there,” pointing to a large fauteuil, “ and tell me when you reached Munich, and if you will stay some time: then I can judge better how to do for you. ”
My face flushed, for I felt guilty at the little fraud I seemed to have practised on him. I hesitated only an instant, and then frankly told him the truth : how it was eighteen months since I left America; how I had been three months in Munich already; how, hearing so much about him and observing him frequently in the streets, I became anxious for his acquaintance, and had written to R. accordingly.
The man has the face of a child : cloud and sunshine pass rapidly over it. Pleasure and chagrin, sometimes anger, oftener joy, Hit across it, swiftly as the flashing of a meteor. While I was making this explanation, he looked at me with a searching scrutiny,—at first angrily, then sadly, as if he were going to cry; but when I finished, he took my hand in both of his, and said, very seriously,—
“ You are welcome just the same.”
Soon he commenced laughing: the oddity of the affair was just beginning to strike him. After conversing awhile, he said,—
“Ah, we shall like each other,— shall we not? Where do you stay? You shall come and live with me. But will that content you ? Have you seen enough of the outside of Munich?”
I really knew not what to make of so unexpected a demonstration. Should I accept his invitation, so entirely a stranger as I was? Why not ? M-y was in earnest; he meant what he said; yet I hesitated.
“ You need feel no embarrassment,” lie said, kindly. “I really want you to come,— unless, indeed, it is not agreeable to you.”
“A thousand thanks! ” I exclaimed, — “I will come.”
“ Not a single one,” said M-y. “ Go and arrange affairs at your hotel, and make haste back for dinner: it will be served in an hour.”
The next day I was domesticated in M-y’s house.
I have not the present design to give any account of him. Should the reader find anything in what is written to interest or attract, it is possible that in a future number a chapter may be devoted to the great artist of Munieb. Now, however, I remark simply, that the gossip and strange stories and incidents and other et ceteras told of him proved to be ridiculous creations, with scarcely a shadow to rest on, having their inception in M—y’s peculiarities,— peculiarities which originated from an entire and absolute independence of thought and manner and conduct. A grown-up man in intellect, experience, and sagacity,— a child in simplicity and feeling, and in the effect produced by the forms and ceremonies and conventionalities of life: these seemed always to astonish him, and he never, as he said,could understand why people should live with masks over their faces, when they would breathe so much freer and be so much more at their ease by taking them off. This was the man who invited me to come to his house,— and who would not have given the invitation, had he not wanted me to accept it.
I have spoken of three paintings which excited my attention the day I paid my first visit. These were masterpieces,— three portraits, not life-like, but life itself. They did not attract by the perpetual stare of the eyes following one, whichever way one turned, as in many pictures; in these the eyes were not thrown on the spectator. One portrait was that of a man of at least fifty: an intellectual head ; eyes, I know not what they were, — fierce, defiant, hardly human, but earthly, devilish; a mouth repulsive to behold, in its eager, absorbing, selfish expression. Another, — the same person evidently: the same clear breadth and development of brain, but a subdued and almost heavenly expression of the eyes, while the mouth was quite a secondary feature, scarcely disagreeable. The third was the likeness of a young girl, beautiful, even to perfection. What character, what firmness, what power to love could be read in those features! What hate, what revulsion, what undying energy for the true and the right were there ! A fair, young creation,—so fair and so young, it seemed impossible that her destiny should be an unhappy one: yet her destiny was unhappy. The shadow on the brow, the melancholy which softened the clear hazel eye, the slightest possible compression of the mouth, said,— “Destined to misfortune ! ” Were these actual portraits of living persons, or at least of persons who had lived ? Was there any connection between the man with two faces and two lives and the maiden with an unhappy destiny ? After I became better acquainted with M-y, I asked him the question, and in reply he told me the following story, which I now give as nearly as possible in his own words.
Many years ago, in one of my excursions, I came to Baden-Baden. It was a favorite resort for me, because I found there so many varieties of the human countenance, and I liked to study them. One evening I was in the ConversationHaus, looking at the players at rouge-etnoir. At one end of the table I saw seated a man apparently past fifty; around him were three or four young fellows of twenty or twenty-five. It is nothing unusual to see old men at the gamingtable, — quite the contrary. But this person’s head and forehead gave the lie to his countenance, and I stopped to regard him. While I was doing so, his eyes met mine. I suppose my gaze was earnest; for his eyes instantly fell, but, recovering, he returned my look with a stare so impudently defiant that I directed my attention at once elsewhere. Ever and anon, however, I would steal a glance at this person, — for there was something in his looks which fascinated me. He entered with gusto into the game, won and lost with a good-natured air. yet so premeditated, so, in fact, youthfully-old, I felt a chill pass over me while I was looking at him. Later in the evening I encountered him again. It was in the public room of my own hotel, at supper. He was drinking Rhine-wine with the same young men who were with him at rouge-et-noir. The tone of the whole company was boisterous, and became more so as each fresh bottle was emptied. The young fellows were very noisy, but impulsively so. The man also was turbulent and inclined to be merry in the extreme; but as I watched his eye, I shuddered, for there enthroned was a permanent expression indicating a consciousness in every act which he committed. Once again our eyes met, and I turned away and left the apartment. During my walk half an hour afterwards, I encountered the same party, still more excited and hilarious, in company with some women, whose character it was not easy to mistake. As I passed, the Unknown brushed close by me, and again his glance met my own. He seemed half-maddened by my curious look, which he could not but perceive, and, as I thought, made use of some insulting expression. I took no notice of it, but passed on my way, and saw him no more during my stay in the place.
From Baden I made an excursion into Switzerland. I was stopping at a pleasant village in the romantic neighborhood of the Bernese Alps. One afternoon I took a walk of several miles in a new direction. I left the road and pursued a path used only by pedestrians, which shortened the distance to another village not far off. A little way from this path was erected a small chapel, and in a niche stood an image of Christ, well executed in fine white marble. The work was so superior to the rude designs we find throughout the country that I stopped to examine it. I was amply repaid. In place of the painful-looking Christ on the Cross, — too often a mere caricature, — the image was that of the Youthful Saviour,— mild, benignant, forgiving. In his left palm, which was not extended, but held near his person, rested a globe, which he seemed to regard with a heavenly love and compassion, and the effect on me was so impressive that the words came impulsively to my lips, — “ I am the light of the world.”
For several minutes I stood regarding with intense admiration this beautiful exhibition of the Saviour of Sinners. Presently, I saw the door of the chapel was open. Should I look in ? I did so. What did I behold ? The individual I had seen at Baden, — the gamester, the bacchanal, the debauchee ! Now, how changed ! He was kneeling at a tomb,— the only one in the chapel. The setting sun fell directly on his features. His fine brow seemed fairer and more intellectual than before. His eyes were soft and subdued, and destitute of anything which could partake of an earthly element. Even the mouth, which had so disgusted me, was no longer disagreeable. Contrition, humility, an earnest, sincere repentance, were tokens clearly to be read in every line of his face. I took very quietly some steps backward, so as to quit the spot unobserved, if possible. In doing so, I stumbled and fell over some loose stones. The noise startled the stranger, who was, I think, about to leave the chapel, He came forward just as I was recovering myself. We stood close together, facing each other. A flush passed over the man’s face. He seized my arm and exclaimed fiercely, —
“ What are you doing here ? ”
Without appearing to recognize him, I hastened to explain that my presence there was quite accidental, and it was in attempting to retreat quietly, after discovering I was likely to prove an intruder, that my falling over some stones had attracted his notice. Thus saying, and bowing, I was about to proceed homeward, when the stranger suddenly exclaimed, —
“ Stop! ”
He came up close to me. Every trace of angry excitement had vanished. Calm and self-possessed, but very mournfully, he said,—
“ Are you willing I should put my arm in yours, and walk back with you to the inn? I am alone,—and God above knows,” he added, after a pause, “ how utterly so.”
I could only bow an assent, for this sudden exhibition of weakness was annoying to me. My new acquaintance took my arm, much in the manner a child would do, and we walked along together.
“I am staying at the same house with you,” he said, as we proceeded. “ Did you know it?”
“ No, I did not.”
“Yes,” he continued, — “I saw you when you dismounted, and I knew you at once. Don’t you recognize me ? ” he inquired, sadly.
“ I do,” was all I replied.
“So much the better!” he went on. “ I like your countenance,— nay, I love to look at your face. You are a good man ; do you know it ? I suppose not: the good are never conscious, and I should not tell you. Excuse my rude approach just now: the Devil had for a moment dominion over me. Will you remain here awhile ? Shall we sit and be together? And will you — say, will you talk with me ? ”
I promised I would. My feelings, despite his miserable weakness, were becoming interested, and in this manner we reached the inn. Then I persuaded this strange person to sit down in my room, where I ordered something comfortable provided for supper. In fact, I thought it the best thing I could do for him. Very soon I gained his entire confidence. After two or three days he exhibited to me a small portrait, exquisitely painted, of a most lovely young girl, and permitted me to copy it. It is one of the three which you see on the wall there. The others, I need not add, are portraits of the man himself in the two moods I have described. For his history, it teaches its lesson, and I shall tell it to you. He narrated it to me the evening before he left the inn. where we spent two weeks or more, and I have neither seen nor heard from him since. Seated near me, in my room, he gave the following account of himself.
I was born in Frankfort. My parents had several children, all of whom died in infancy except me. I was the youngest, and I lived through the periods which had proved so fatal to the rest. The extraordinary cave of my mother, who watched me with a melancholy tenderness, no doubt contributed to save a life which in boyhood, and indeed to a mature age, was at the best a precarious one. My parents were respectable people, in easy circumstances. I grew up selfish and effeminate, in consequence of being so much indulged. I exhibited early a studious disposition, and it was decided to give me an accomplished education, with reference to my occupying, could I attain it at a future day, a chair in some university. My mother was a very religious woman. From the first, she had a morbid sense of the responsibility ot bringing up a boy. She believed my way to manhood was beset by innumerable temptations, almost impossible to escape, difficult to be resisted, and absolutely ruinous to my soul, if yielded to. She preached to me incessantly. She kept me from the society of boys of my own age, for fear I should be contaminated,— and from the approach of any of the other sex, lost my mind should be diverted from serious matters and led into wantonness and folly. She would have made a priest of me, had it not been for my father; — he objected. His brother, for whom I was named, was a distinguished professor, to whom I bore, as be thought, a close resemblance, and he desired I should imitate him in my pursuits. I bad good abilities, and was neither inefficient nor wanting in resolution or industry. At first I longed for natural life and society ; but by degrees habit helped me to endure, and finally to conquer. In fact, I was taught that I was doing God service in cultivating an ascetic life. My studies were pursued with success. I rapidly mastered what was placed before me, and my relations were proud of my progress. At the usual period the ordinary craving for female society became strong in me. My mother took great pains to impress on me that here commenced my first struggle with Satan, and, if I yielded, I should certainly and beyond all peradventure become a child of the Devil. I was in a degree conscientious. I was ambitious to attain to a holy life. I believed what my mother had from my infancy labored so hard to inculcate, and I trod out with an iron step every fresh rising emotion of my heart, every genuine passion of my nature. But I suffered much. The imagination could not always be subdued, and there were periods when I felt that the “ strong man armed” had possession of me. Nevertheless his time was not come, and at length the struggle was over. It was not that I had gained a laudable control of myself; but, having crucified every rebellious thought, there was nothing left for control. I had marked my victory by extermination. To live was no joy; neither was it specially the reverse : a long, monotonous, changeless platitude; yet no desire to quit the terrible uniformity.
I was forty years old. I had obtained my purpose. I was a learned professor. As I gained in acquirements and reputation, I became more and more laborious. Mv health, which had become quite firm, began to yield under incessant application. I was advised, indeed commanded, by my physician to take repose and recreation. I came here among the Alps. I stopped at this very bouse. The season was fine, the inns were filled with tourists, and great glee and hilarity prevailed. It was not without its effect on me. By slow degrees, with returning health, the pulses of life beat with what seemed an unnatural excitement. The world, as I opened my eyes on it from the window of the inn, was for the first time not without its attractions. I quieted myself with the idea, that, once back with my books, my thoughts would flow in the regular channel; and I called to mind something the physician had said about the necessity of my being amused, and so forth, to quiet my conscience, which began to reproach me for enjoying the small ray of sunlight which shone in on my spirit.
One day, in a little excursion with two or three gentlemen, I was attracted by the beauty of a spot away from the travelled road. Leaving my acquaintances resting under some trees to await my return, I strolled by a narrow path across the small valley, till I reached the wished-fbr place. You know it already. It is where you beheld erected the Christ and the Tomb. I was looking around with much admiration, when from the opposite direction came some strolling Savoyards, with a species of puppet, or marionnette, called by these people Mademoiselle Catherina. Without waiting for my assent, the man stopped, and with the aid of his wife arranged the machine and set Catherina in motion, accompanying the dance with a song of his own : —
Mon cotillon, va-t-il bien?
Il va d'ici, il va de là,
Ha, ha, ha!
Ma commère, quand je danse,” etc.
I stopped and looked, and was amused. The music was rude, but wild, and carried with it an abandon of feeling. I avow to you, it stole upon me, penetrating soul and body. How I wished I could, on the spot, throw off the coil which surrounded me and wander away with these children of the road !
While I stood preoccupied and abstracted, I was roused by a low voice pronouncing something,—I did not hear what, — and, coming to myself, I saw standing before me, with her tambourine outstretched, a young girl, fourteen or fifteen years old. She spoke again,—“ S'il vous plait, Monsieur.” Large, lustrous, beaming eyes were turned on me, — not boldly, not with assurance, neither altogether bashfully, — but honestly regarding me full in the face, questioning it, after being so attentive a spectator,
I were willing to bestow something. It was strange I had not noticed this girl before. I had hardly perceived there were three in the company. Now that I did observe her, I kept looking so earnestly that I forgot to respond to her request. She was faultless in form and physical development, — absolutely and unequivocally faultless. Her face, though browned by constant exposure, was classically beautiful; the foot and hand very small and delicate. Heavens! how every fibre in my frame thrilled with an ecstatic emotion, as, for the first time in my life, I was brought under the influence of female charms! My head swam, my eyes grew dim, — I staggered. I think I should have fallen, had not the young girl herself seized my arm and supported me. This brought me to myself. I bestowed nothing on the strollers, but asked if they were coming to the village. They answered in the affirmative; and telling them to come and play at the inn where I lvas lodging, I hastily quitted the scene.
Do not think I am in the least exaggerating in this narrative. God knows, what I have to recount is sufficiently extraordinary. I hastened homeward, my soul in a tumult. On a sudden, the labor of a lifetime was destroyed, the opinions and convictions of a lifetime stultified and set at nought. And how ? — by what? By a strolling, vagrant Savoyard. Rather by an exquisite specimen of God’s handiwork in flesh and blood! And if God’s handiwork, why might I not be roused and touched and thrilled and entranced ? Something within boldly, in tact audaciously, put that question to me.
I slept none that night. I was haunted by that form and face. I essayed to be calm, and to compose myself to slumber. Impossible ! For the moment was swept away my past, with its dreary, lifeless forms, its ghostly ceremonies, its masked shapes, its soulless, rayless, emotionless existence. To awake and find life has been one grand error, — to awake and know that youth and early manhood are gone, and that you have been cheated of your honest and legitimate enjoyments, —to feel that Pleasure might have wooed you gracefully when young, and when it would become you to sacrifice at her shrine, — gods and fiends! I gnashed my teeth in impotent rage,— I blasphemed,— I was mad!
The morning brought to me composure. While I was dressing, I heard the music of my Savoyards under the window. I did not trust myself to look out ; but, after breakfasting, I went into the street to search for them.
I was not long unsuccessful, and was immediately recognized with a profusion of nods and grimaces by the man and a coarse smile by the woman, who prepared to set Mademoiselle Catherina instantly at work. The young girl took scarcely any notice of me. I bestowed some money on the couple, and bade them go to the nearest wine-shop and procure whatever they desired. They started off, quite willing, I thought, to leave me alone with the girl. I lost no time. Going close to her, I said,—
“ You are not the child of these people ? ”
“ Alas, no, Monsieur ! — I have neither father nor mother.”
“ And no relations ? ”
“No relations, Monsieur.”
“ How long have you lived in this way ? ”
“ Almost always, I suppose. But I remember something many years ago — very strange. I was all the time in one place,— such a beautiful spot, it makes it hurt here,” (putting her hand on her heart) “ when I think of that. Afterwards it was dark a long time. I do not remember any more.”
“ And do you like to wander about in this way ? ”
“ Oh, no, Monsieur ! — no, indeed ! ”
“ Would you be pleased to go to a nice home, and stay, as you say, all the time in one place, and learn to read and write, and have friends to love you and take care of you ? ”
“Yes! oh, yes!”
“ Would you be afraid to go with me ? ”
The young girl regarded me with a look of penetration which was surprising, and replied calmly, but with some timidity, —
“ Then it shall be so,” I said.
I bade the child sit down and wait for my return. I took the direction which the man and his wife had pursued, and found them already busily engaged in the wine-shop, where they had purchased what for them was a sumptuous entertainment.
“You have stolen that girl,” I exclaimed, with severity; “ and I shall have the matter investigated before the Syndic.”
They were not so frightened as I expected to see them, although a good deal discomposed.
“ Monsieur mistakes,” said the man. “ It was we who saved the poor thing's life, when the father and mother were put to death far away from here in Hungary, and not a soul to take compassion on her. She was only four years old ; the prison-door was opened and her parents led to execution, and she left to wander about until she should starve.
I asked if they knew who her parents were. They did not, but were sure they were people of distinction, condemned for political offences. This was all I could learn. The child, they said, was in possession of no relic which betrayed her name or origin. She only wore a small gold medallion on which was engraved a youthful Christ,— the same in design as you see erected near the tomb in yonder valley. It has been faithfully copied.
It was difficult to induce the couple to part with Eudora,— that was her name. She was now useful to them, and her marvellous beauty began to attract and brought additional coin to their collections, after the performances of the marionnette. But I was resolved. I offered to the strollers so large a sum in gold that they could not resist. It was arranged on the spot. With very little ceremony they said “ Good-bye’ to Eudora, and, taking the path over the mountain, in a few minutes were out of sight.
What a new, what a strange attitude for me ! Could I believe in my own existence ? There I stood, a grave professor of the University of—, educated and trained in the discipline l have already explained to you. There stood Eudora, just as perfect in form and feature as imagination of poet ever pictured.
My plan was formed on the spot, instantly. It was praiseworthy; but I deserved no praise for it. A deep, engrossing selfishness, pervading alike sense and spirit, actuated me. I had already brought tinder control the fever of the previous day. I could reason calmly ; but my conclusions had reference only to my own gratification and my own happiness. I regarded Eudora as mine, — my property,— literally belonging to me. I was forty, — she not fifteen. Yet what was I to do with her ? Recommend her to the care of my mother, who was still alive ? Certainly not; she would then be lost to me. I had a cousin, a lady of high respectability, well married, who resided in the same town in which I lived. She had no child of her own; she had often spoken of adopting one. I frequently visited her house ; and when there, she never ceased to criticize me for leading such an ascetic life. Here was an excellent opportunity for my new charge. My cousin would be delighted to have the guardianship of such a lovely creature. She would he as devoted to her as to an own child. She would sympathize in my plans, and would be careful to train Eudora for me.
Such was the programme. It flashed on me and was definitely settled before I had time to bid her follow me to the inn. She came unhesitatingly, and as if she had confidence in my kind intentions. I did not converse much with her, but, making hasty preparations, we left the place and proceeded rapidly homeward.
I was not disappointed. My cousin entered readily into my plans. She was a really good person, seeing all things which she undertook through the complacent medium of duty. This was, she thought, such a fortunate incident! It gave her what she had long desired, and it would serve to distract me from the wretched life I had always led. Thereupon Eudora was installed in her new home, where she found father and mother in my cousin and her husband, where her education was commenced and got on fast. She had a quick intellect, instinctively seizing what was most important and rapidly forming conclusions. How, day by day, I witnessed the development of her mind ! How I watched every new play of the emotions! How I saw with a beating heart, as she advanced toward womanhood, fresh charms displayed and additional beauty manifested! I shall not tire you with a prolonged narrative of how I enjoyed, month after month, for more than two years, the society of Eudora, during which time she made satisfactory advances in education and accomplishment and attained in grace and loveliness the absolute perfection of womanhood.
And what, during this period, were my relations with Eudora ? — what were her feelings toward me ? I approach the subject with pain. I look back now on those feelings and on my conduct with an abhorrence and disgust which I. cannot describe. From the first she trusted to me with implicit confidence. Discriminating in an extraordinary degree, her gratitude prevented her perceiving my real character. She gave me credit for absolute, unqualified, disinterested benevolence in rescuing her from the wretched and precarious condition of a vagrant. Thus she set about in her own mind to adorn me with every virtue. I was magnanimous, noble, unselfish, truthful, brave, the soul of honor, incapable of anything mean or petty. How often has she told me this, holding my hand in hers, looking full in my face, her own beaming with honest enthusiasm ! How my soul literally shrank within me ! How like a guilty wretch I felt to hear these words! How I wished I could be all Eudora pictured me ! IIow I essayed to act the part! How careful I was lest ever my real nature should disclose itself! Even when, despite my efforts, something did transpire to excite an instant’s question, she put it aside at once by giving an interpretation to it worthy of me. Now, what was I to do ? Eudora had reached a marriageable age. She had seen but little of society, though by no means living a recluse. My cousin had watched carefully over her, and was to her, indeed, all a mother could be. I had remained perfectly tranquil, secure, as I supposed, in her affections. I thought I had but to wait till the proper period should arrive and then take her to myself.
My cousin, as I have intimated, understood my views. It was therefore with no sort of perturbation, that, one day, I heard her ask me to step into her little sitting-room in order to converse about Eudora. I supposed she was going to tell me that it was time we were married, — indeed, I thought so myself. I was therefore very much astonished when she commenced by saying that I ought now to begin to treat Eudora as a young lady, especially if I expected ever to win her hand. I turned deadly pale, and asked her what she meant.
“ I mean,” she replied, “ that you ought to act toward Eudora as men generally act who wish to win a fair lady. Do not deceive yourself with the idea that she loves you. She would tell you she did in a moment, if you asked her, — and wonder, besides, why you thought it necessary to put the question. But she knows nothing about it. The thought of becoming your wife never enters her head, and you would frighten her, if you spoke to her on such a subject. No, my cousin; it is time you behaved as other men behave. Eudora is grateful to you beyond expression. She believes you to be perfect; and you seem content to sit and let her tell you so, when you ought to be a manly wooer.”
I will not detail the remarks of my cousin. She talked with me at least two hours. I was perfectly confounded by what she said. I began to hate her for the ridiculous advice she gave me. I put it down to a curious, meddlesome nature. I grew vexed, too, with Eudora, because my cousin said she did not love tea. I did not reflect that I had done nothing to excite love. I had drawn perpetually on a heart overflowing and grateful,— selfish caitiff that I was ! This, however, I did not then understand, — so completely were my eyes blinded !
I left my cousin in a petulant spirit, and sought Eudora. She saw I was troubled, and asked me the cause. I told her. A shadow, a dark, portentous shadow, suddenly clouded her face ; — as suddenly it passed away, giving place to a look of sharp, painful agony, which was succeeded by a return of something like her natural expression. Then she scrutinized my face calmly, critically. All this did not occupy half a minute. Ere one could say it had been, Eudora was apparently the same as ever. God alone knows all which in that half-minute rose in that young girl’s heart. She took my hand; she reproached me for my apparent distrust of her; she said she was mine to love and to honor me forever. She would go at once to her mother — so she called my cousin — and tell her so. Thus saying, she left me. And I— I did not then understand the struggle and the victory of the poor girl over herself. I did not reflect that no maidenly blush, no charming confusion, announced my happy destiny,— no kiss, no caress, no sign that the heart’s citadel had surrendered; but, instead, a calmness, a composure, and a hastening from my presence. No, I thought nothing of this; I only considered that now the time was at hand when Eudora would be mine !
I married her. It was but three weeks after this conversation. I was in haste, and Eudora herself seemed desirous that the day should be an early one. My cousin was amazed. I enjoyed her discomfiture ; for she did not relish the thought that I should thus set at nought her advice and overturn her theory. She shook her head,—she attempted a protest,—and then began zealously the, preparations for the wedding,
I wish I could give you some clear idea of the wife I had gained, some slight notion of the happiness and delight and bliss in which I revelled, — that is, if a man purely and unutterably selfish has a right to call that happiness which he enjoys. Eudora lived only for me. She rose, she sat, she came, she went only to pleasure me. She had one thought, one idea: it was for me. And what was my return ? Nothing, — absolutely and literally nothing. I accepted every service, every sweet, loving token, every delicate act of devotion, as something to which I was entitled, — as toy right. Forty-four years old, a life with one idea, a narrow, selfish, overbearing nature, ministered to by such a creature, noble, lovely, true, with eighteen years of life!
Three years thus passed,—three years which ate slowly into Eudora’s heart,— teaching her she had a heart, and bringing forth such fruit as such experiences would produce. Yet she had not lost faith in me. She might have felt that perfection did not belong to man, and therefore I was not perfect; but she cheated herself as to all the rest. If she were not perfectly happy with a husband who took no pains to sympathize with her, who repressed instead of encouraging the natural vivacity of her nature, who never went abroad with her to places where every one was accustomed to go, still she did not lay the cause at my door.
I had another cousin : this cousin was a man, twenty-four years old when he first came, by a mere chance, to the town where we lived. He was, like you, a painter, —not one of those poor romantic vagabonds who multiply pictures of themselves in every new composition, and who starve on their own sighs. This man was in the enjoyment of a handsome competence, and made painting his profession because he loved the art. My cousin who resided in the place knew this man-cousin of mine. He paid her a visit; and while he was in her house, my wife happened to go in. Thus the acquaintance began. The next day he came to see me. I received him cordially, and invited him to visit us often. At length he became perfectly at home in our house. I was pleased with this,—for I began to feel that Eudora drew heavily on my time, insisting too much on my society; and I was only glad to escape by leaving her to the society of my relative, — blind fool that I was ! But I must do him justice. He was a noble specimen of a fresh-hearted young man, — loyal and honorable. Yet how could he escape the fascination of Eudora’s presence ? — how tear himself away from it, when he had no thought that it was dangerous ? At my request, my wife sat to him for a small portrait: this is it which I have permitted you to copy. By-and-by, and really to keep Eudora from engrossing too much of my time, I allowed her to go out with our artist-cousin ; and in company they examined paintings, and viewed scenery, and talked, and walked, and sometimes read together.
One evening, while seated in my library, deeply abstracted, the door opened and Eudora entered. I looked up, saw who it was, and relapsed into study.
“ My husband,” exclaimed she, in a soft, sweet tone, “ put down your book ; sit upon this sofa; I want to speak with you.”
I rose, a little petulantly, and did as she desired. She threw her arms around my neck, and kissed me tenderly.
“ I have something to ask of you,” she said, — “something to request.”
“ What is it ? ” I exclaimed, — almost sharply.
“ It is that you would not invite Alphonse to come here any more, — that you would never speak of my going out with him again, but encourage his leaving here, — and that you would give me more of your society.”
“ Pray, what does all this mean, Eudora ? ” I demanded. “ Alphonse and you have been quarrelling, I suppose.”
“ No, my husband.”
“ Then, what do you mean by such nonsense?” I asked, in an irritated tone.
“ I scarcely have courage to tell you,” she cried, — “ for I fear it will make us both forever miserable.”
Thoroughly aroused by this astounding avowal, I repeated, in a stern tone and without one touch of sympathy, my demand for an explanation. She knelt lovingly at my feet, — not in a posture submissive or humiliating, but as it thus she could get nearer my heart, — and began, calmly:—
“ Sometimes, my husband, I have thought my feelings for you wore such as I ought to entertain for my father or an elder brother. I venerate and admire your character; I would die for you,— oh, how willingly! — but sometimes I fear it is not love I feel for you.”
She paused, and looked at me earnestly.
“ How long have you felt as you now do ? ” I asked, with an icy calmness.
“ I do not know. I cannot tell. But I have not thought of it seriously till Alphonse came here,—and I want you to send him away.”
“ And do you love Alphonse ? ” I asked, slowly.
“ Oh, God! I do not know. I cannot tell what is the matter with me. Perhaps it is mere infatuation. Alas! I cannot tell.”
“ And why do you come with this to me ? ” I said sneeringly, devil that I was.
“Because you are my husband, — because you are wise and strong and good, and the only one who can advise me, — because I am in danger, and you can save me,” dm cried, looking imploringly on my frigid features.
“ And for that purpose you come to me ? ”
“ I do. I do ! ” she exclaimed. At the same time she threw her arms around me passionately, buried her face in my bosom, and wept.
There was a struggle within me, — not violent nor desperate, but calm and cold, — while the face of that fair young creature was pressed close to my heart by her own arms thrown elingingly around me. I did not move the while; I did not respond to her sad embrace even by the slightest pressure of my hand. Yet I was all the time conscious that a pure and noble being was supplicating me for help, — a being who had devoted her life to me, —whose soul was stainless, while mine was spotted with the leprosy of a selfish nature. Like one under the influence of nightmare, who knows he does but dream and makes an effort fruitless as imaginary to lift himself out of it, I did try to follow what my heart said I should do, — fold my dear wife in my arms, and reassure her in all things. But I did no such thing. The other spirit — I should say seven others more hateful and detestable than any which had before possession of me — conquered. I raised Eudora from her kneeling posture. I placed her on the sofa beside me. I began to hate her,—to hate her for her goodness, her gentleness, her truthfulness, her fidelity, — to hate her because she dared make such an avowal, and because it was true. What right had she to permit her feelings to be influenced by another, — she, my lawfully wedded wife ? I would not admit the truth to myself that I was the sole, miserable, detestable cause. Oh, no!
“Eudora,” I said at length, “ I have never seen you manifest so much nervous excitement. Do you not see how ridiculous is your request? You want me to bring ridicule, not to say disgrace, on myself, by suddenly forbidding Alphonse my house. What will he suppose, what will the world think, except that there has been some extraordinary cause for such a procedure ? And all out of a silly, romantic, imaginary notion which has got into your head. Now, listen : if you would do your duty and honor me, let Alphonse come and go as usual; let him perceive no difference in your manner or in your treatment of him: in this way only I shall escape mortification and chagrin.”
She rose as I finished, — slowly rose, — with a countenance disheartened and despairing. She uttered no word, and turned slowly to leave the room. She had reached the door, when, not content with the merciless outrage on her heart already inflicted, under the instigation of the demon working within me, I prepared another stab.
“ Eudora,” I said, “ one word more.”
She came immediately back, doubtless with a slight hope that I would show some sympathy for her,
“Eudora,” I continued, rising and laying my hand on her shoulder, “ have you permitted any improper familiarities from Alphonse ? ”
Quick as lightning was my hand struck from its resting-place; swift as thought her face changed to an expression so terrible that instinctively I stepped back to avoid her. It was but an instant. Then came a last awful look of recognition, whereby I knew I was found out, mv soul was stripped of all hypocritical coverings, and she saw and understood me. What a scene! To discover in the one she had revered and worshipped so long her moral assassin ! To stand face to face and have the dreadful truth suddenly revealed ! The darkness of despair gathered around her brow ; an agony, like that which finds no comforter, was stamped on her face ; and with these a hate, a horror, a contempt, mingled triumphantly. The door opened, — it was closed, — and my wife was lost to me forever. I essayed to call her back. “Eudora” came faintly to my lips. It was too late. Then a contemptible, jealous hatred took possession of me. Ere I left my apartment, I said, “ She shall pay dear for this! she shall soon come submissive to my feet! she cannot live away from me; and before I forgive, she must be humiliated!” How little did I know her!
From that period Eudora simply treated me with the courtesy of a lady. She never looked in my face,—her eyes never met mine. On my part, to carry out a plan I had adopted, I encouraged more and more the visits of Alphonse. He had expected to leave that week ; but I persuaded him to remain another month, and pressed him to stay at my house. I told him that this would be agreeable to my wife, who could have his society when I was not able to be with her, and I should insist on his accepting my invitation. This was after I saw how rebellious, as I termed it, Eudora was becoming; and I was determined to torture her all I could. Alphonse was now an inmate of our house, which greatly increased the opportunities for his being with Eudora. She appeared to enjoy intercourse with him just as usual; I think, in fact, she did enjoy it more than usual; and it made me hate her to see that she was not repentant and miserable. Three weeks passed in this way; — I becoming more hateful and severe by every petty, petulant, despicable device of which my nature was capable; she continuing with little change of manner or conduct; and Alphonse unconsciously growing more devoted.
It was a cold, stormy afternoon: the rain had increased since morning. Eudora had gone out immediately after breakfast. She did not come back to dinner, and Alphonse, who had remained in all day, said she spoke of going to my cousin’s. I took it for granted the storm detained her; but when it was evening and she did not appear, I began to be disturbed and asked Alphonse to go for her. In a short time he returned with the information that Eudora had not been at my cousin’s that day. I was alarmed; I could see the shadow of my Nemesis close by me. It had fallen suddenly, and with no warning. For a moment I Suspected Alphonse; but the distress he manifested was too genuine to be counterfeited, and I dismissed the thought. In the midst of this confusion and dismay, — now late in the evening, — a letter was put into my hands, just left by a messenger at my door. The address was in my wife’s hand. I tore open the envelope, and read,—
“Man ! I can endure no longer.”
This was the end of the chapter beginning with my introduction to the strolling Savoyards, the dance of the marionnette, the transfer of Eudora ! I attempted no search for her; too well I knew it would be useless; indeed, I felt a strange sense of freedom. My professor’s life disgusted me : I threw it off. I resigned my chair, and sold my house, my furniture, my books, — everything. My nature clamored for indulgence, my senses for enjoyment. I quitted the place. I threw off all restraint. Literally I let myself loose on the world. I sought the company of the young. I drank, I gamed, I was as debauched as the worst. But although with them, I was not of them. They — only from the effervescence of strong animal spirits did they go into excesses. What they did was without reflection, impulsive, unpremeditated. Me a calm consciousness pervaded always. Go where I would, do what I would, amidst every criminal indulgence, every noisy debauch or riotous dissipation, it always rode the storm and was present in the fury of the tempest, — that fearful, awful conscious Egomet ! How I wished I could commit one impulsive sin !
After three years, I was passing with a gay company through the Swiss town of—. In that place is the convent of the Sisterhood of Our Mother of Pity. The night I stayed there, one of the number died. I heard of it in the morning, as we were preparing to leave. From what was said in connection with the circumstance, I knew it was Eudora. I left my companions to go on by themselves. I made my way to the convent and begged permission to look on the dead face of my wife. It was granted. She was already arrayed for the grave. I came and threw myself on the lifeless form, and cried as children cry. The fountains of my heart gave way, the sympathies of my nature were upheaved, and for two hours I wept on unrestrained. Even consciousness fled for once and left me to the luxury of grief. At length the worthy people came to me and took me from the room. I asked many questions, to which they could give me but unsatisfactory replies. They knew little tie of Eudora’s history. She had come directly from my house to this place, and had been remarkable for her acts of untiring benevolence in ministering to the sick and the destitute. She lost her life from too great exposure in watching at the bedside of a miserable woman whom all the world seemed to have abandoned, and who died of some malignant fever. I will not attempt to describe what I passed through. I became sincerely repentant. I saw my character in its true light. I prayed that my sins might be forgiven.
The place where Eudora died was not far from the spot where we first met. I begged the good priest who acted as her confessor to consecrate a little chapel which I should build there, and permit me to place my wife’s remains in it. He consented. I caused the image of the Christ which she always wore to be carefully copied in marble and placed before the chapel, and I spent several weeks there, deploring my sins and seeking for light from above.
It was not to be that I should thus easily settle the error of a lifetime. After a while I felt the desperate gnawing of the senses inexpressible and irresistible. Satan had come again, and I was called for. And I went! There was no escape, — there is no escape ! Once more I plunged into riotous folly and excess, giving lull license to my unbridled appetites,—but conscious always. When the fever subsided, I was once more repentant and sorrowful, and I came here,— only to be carried off again to renew the same wretched scenes. I know not how long this will last. I know not if Heaven or Hell will triumph. Yet, strange as you may think it, L believe I am not so bad a man as when I was a professor in—, slowly destroying my lovely wife. From each paroxysm I fancy I escape somewhat stronger, somewhat more manly than before. I think, too, my periods of excess are shorter, and of repentance longer; and I sometimes entertain a hope that folly and madness will in me, as in the young, become exhausted, and that beyond still lies the goal of peace and wisdom.
Such as it is, strange as it may seem, you have from me a truthful history. Would that the world might hear it and be wiser ! Mark me! Let not those who undertake to train the young attempt to destroy what Nature has implanted. Let them direct and modify, but not extinguish. Tiie impulsive freedom of youth is generally the result of an exuberant and overflowing spirit, and should be treated accordingly, — else, later in life, it may burst forth fierce and unconquerable, or, what is worse, be indulged, in secret and make of us hypocrites and dissemblers.
WOE TO THE MAN WHO HAS HAD XO YOUTH !