Magdalen (Machar)/Chapter 11

XI

 

IN black clothes, just as Jiří had brought her away that night, and in a black hat, from which a long veil fell over her face, with her sunshade tilted more to guard against the eyes of the people than against the sun, Lucy walked at about two o’clock in the afternoon over the common to the cemetery.

The day was clear. Again there had been a rainstorm in the night, and the walls of the houses were still wet in places. Something blue and shining was tremulously falling through the air to the ground, as if the pure azure were descending from the immeasurable, smiling heavens.

Chattering swallows, flying low, shot through the streets, and their little, metal-blue bodies sparkled in the sunlight. Full-blown, many-colored heads of roses, azaleas violets, fuchsias, and geraniums, were bending out of the open windows, and slender oleander trees with their bunches of rose-colored flowers were standing at the doors of houses. School children, walking up the street towards the common, stopped now and then. A merchant, a candy seller, a toyshop, an unreadable advertisement on the wall,—everything interested and fascinated them. People stood in the doors of their shops, looked out of windows, or gathered in groups in the street,—everybody seemed to enjoy living that day. From their eyes, their movements, and their carriage, from their smiles and conversations, breathed the elasticity of energy.

Lucy’s soft, passive soul took in all that splendor with delight, She was like a prisoner who, while taking the air, feels the heat of the sun: she drew herself together, half closed her eyes, and dreamed, and warmed herself. While she watched the swallows, the flowers in the windows, the crystal air, the azure of the sky, the school children, the people who walked by, she thought of the deceased man. She thought of him so peacefully, so simply, without pain, without pity, that she was frightened at herself.

“I am going to his funeral,” she thought, “and yet I am walking as if I were out for pleasure,—unfeeling, dull. He is dead!” and there was a rumbling within her, “The only man who did not run away from poor me!”

In vain. The words resounded in her soul, but only distantly.

“How wretched I am, how dull I am!” she accused herself. “Who could forget so soon? And how can one forget at all?” But her soul could not enter into the circle of pain, from which she had escaped. With blinking eyes she looked about her in the heat of the sun, breathing freely, and she went on dreaming, God only knows what. . . .

Lucy reached the small bridge that spanned the clear, noisy stream. Beyond it the road branched in three directions. Lucy stood undecided, and looked around her.

A sacristan and a young priest and ministrants with lamps passed by. They crossed the bridge, and turned to walk along the stream.

She followed them.

It was in the quarter of low houses, covered with shingles or straw, the small windows frequently pasted up with paper. On the threshold stood slatternly, wizened women gossiping about their husbands, their sorrows, their hopes. Half-naked, dirty children were wallowing in the dust of the road. White geese, a dirty pig, and a flock of chickens were running about noisily. There was an intense odor of farm-yards and filth. This village quarter is part of the town, yet separated from it. It has its own life, its own elders, its distinet interests, and does not busy itself concerning the town, just as the town pays no attention to it. Only before the elections, all kinds of people come with all kinds of speeches, act neighborly to them, harangue them, urge them, and bribe them,—then there is the election, and everything is quiet again.

The ministrants, with the priest, went inside one of those houses, Lucy stopped. A crowd of women in simple holiday attire were waiting outside. They were conversing in an undertone. A few of them measured Lucy with an eye of mere curiosity.

The priest’s voice was heard within . . . then the clear voices of the ministrants . . . a short song . . . loud sobbing . . . the women piously erossed themselves . . . a mass of people issued from the door . . . musicians, the choir, the sacristan, the priest, the ministrants . . . then the coffin, a black, shining coffin. . . .

A small bell began to ring in the cemetery chapel. The musicians played a funeral march.

Behind the coffin walked a small, decrepit old woman. Her eyes were red, but dry. She scanned the crowd. For a moment a sad happiness flashed over her face, and then she turned her head away.

Lucy mechanically joined the procession, and kept looking in one direction, where behind the coffin a bent head in a black kerchief was trembling. Slowly a gloomy sadness stole into her melancholy soul. The funeral march sounded so full of lament and chiding. All the bowed heads in front of her were nodding in even measure. It looked as though the black coffin were swimming over them. The golden, burning sun was reflected on two of its surfaces.

“So there he lies,” a painful inner voice whispered to her; “his eyes are now forever closed . . . his hands are crossed on his breast. . . . The end . . . the end. . . . It is only two weeks ago that you kissed that head in the park. . . . Now it is cold . . . as if of wax . . .” (a light chill passed over her back) . . . “So you are alone,” the voice continued to whisper, “alone . . . alone. . . .

The funeral march pierced her heart with its lamenting tones. Her own sorrow lay as a weight on her drooping head, and she softly sobbed at those tones.

“What will you do with your life? Why live at all? . . . Why? . . . Why? . . .

As if her soul were secretly reviewing all the impressions of the past days, as if it had now placed before her eyes their crushing result, Lucy whispered aloud: “The end!”

The old aunt with her white head and those kindly eyes now rose before her mind. Lucy sighed, and felt as though she were once more grasping the trembling, sere fingers. But hundreds of strange, furious hands drew her back,—the picture of the aunt became more indistinct, and disappeared. . . . Again she was alone . . . strange hands were stirring . . . they were tearing her garments . . . they were drawing her downwards, and a stern voice kept repeating stubbornly: “The end, the end! . . .

The procession turned into the cemetery gate. The melancholy, sobbing bell rang in the chapel, as if in greeting. . . . The musicians continued playing, and with their music mingled the funeral singing.

The coffin entered the cemetery . . . the singing, and the music stopped. . . .

The procession slowly ascended a narrow path between the graves.

Lucy saw the tombstones, the gilt inscriptions, and the crosses, the palings, the flowers, and the lamps, here and there a dry grey wreath,—her veil threw a network of small black lines,—but inwardly she did not understand anything of what was going on.

The funereal odor of cemetery flowers blended with the penetrating aroma of the incense and loam,—it seemed to Lucy that it was the breath of her soul. . . .

The procession stopped.

The black coffin was put on the ground. The priest mechanically read over it the Latin prayer. “My childl My child!” a hoarse, heart-rending woman’s voice bitterly lamented, ending in pitiful sobs.

“The end, the end!” whispered Lucy.

The thud of the clod against the boards of the coffin fell heavily upon her soul. A feverish longing to see him once more took possession of her, and she pushed her way to the grave, and looked down: the dark clay was striking against his coffin . . . he disappeared forever, forever, forever. . . .

On the other side a few women were supporting his old mother. She did not stop sobbing. . . . The shovel went from hand to hand . . . each lifted with it a little clay and threw it down into the grave. . . . It resounded against the coffin. Others threw in some clay with their hands. A woman handed the shovel to Lucy: “Do you want it?” she asked her timidly. Lucy shuddered, and filled the shovel, but the clay fell from it, and only a stone rattled down. She stepped aside.

Then there was a rattling in the grave,—the old grave-digger was peacefully finishing the work. The people went away, some home, some to visit other graves. Only the old mother remained, looking with glassy eyes at the growing heap. She no longer sobbed. Her drooping hands were clasped, and her head bent low.

The grave was filled: Lucy heard the grave-digger say: “To-morrow, Mother, I will put the sod over it, and we will surround the grave with stones, and you may bring some flowers.”

The old woman unconsciously and gently nodded her head.

Lucy watched the expression of her face. Her brow, her temples, her cheekbones reminded her of the dead man.

As if feeling that glance of hers, the old woman lifted her eyes. Wonderment flashed in them, but, as if reminded of something, she walked up to her,—and then she stopped, timid and undecided. It occurred to Lucy that she had something to tell her . . . perhaps to thank her, or perhaps to give some message from the dead man, but the woman only turned back to the grave, where she knelt down and made the sign of the cross . . . then she arose again. . . . She looked at Lucy once more,—again her eyes flashed and something hovered upon her lips,—but, as before, she turned timidly away, and slowly walked out of the cemetery.

Lucy knelt down at the head of the grave. Then, at last, a sea of tears coursed down from her feverish eyes . . . . they kept on flowing as if her whole soul had been changed into tears.

Then all within her became quiet again,—the swollen black waves slowly subsided,—they only mourned like a melancholy tune for something forever lost. . . .

She arose, dried her tears, shook out her dress, opened her black sunshade, and walked towards the gate between a row of flowery graves. She went back by the dusty road over which she had come, and then across the bridge and by the street that led to the common. She protected herself with the parasol; more against the eyes of the people than against the burning sun. She passed the common and walked along the streets. . . . Everywhere was life, and everywhere warmth and joy, but Lucy saw it all through a mist, as though from a distance. . . .

 

In the yard of the estate stood a dusty coach. The driver was leading away his sweating, glistening horses.

Lucy entered the house.

Jiří was walking up and down with long, heavy steps. He was rubbing his hands. He was excited, and his dark eyes were sparkling. He looked at Lucy, as if taking special notice of her black dress, that familiar black garment of hers, and he stepped close to her, and snapped his fingers:

“I shall be elected, I shall be elected,” he said proudly. “A tremendous success all around, the voters were intoxicated with my speech,” and he looked strangely into her eyes that were still moist with tears.

“I congratulate you,” she said, giving him her hand. Jiří pressed it hard.

“But where is aunty?” she asked, freeing her hand.

“She is still asleep, I suppose.”

“Excuse me, I will change my dress.” And she went out hurriedly.

“How strange he is!” she thought to herself, as she was standing in her room, taking off her hat.

The door creaked behind her. Strong arms were thrown around her waist. O Lord, it was Jiří. He was red in the face and said softly: “Darling, you are mine, mine, mine!”

His burning lips kissed her, his trembling hand began to unfasten her waist.

Her head whirled as if some one had struck her. A feeling of shame seized her, as if her own brother had laid his hands upon her. She pushed him away with all her strength, so that he tottered. She sobbed aloud, as she stood before him, and for a moment closed her eyes, while to her lips rushed torrents of accusations and bitter words, not only against him, but against everybody, against all those virtuous and decent people,—but she did not speak, for fear of bursting into tears at her very first word.

She dropped her hands, and looked up at him.

He stood there, angry and stubborn, fixing his eyes upon the ground.

“The end,” Lucy whispered, more to herself than to him. “It is the end.”

“A stagey, virtuous scene! It is rather too old, too insipid,—one would not have expected it from you,” he said angrily, with teeth clenched.

“You see, Jiří, there . . . in that house,” she spoke with difficulty, “then . . . you know . . . that night when you went away . . . you only gave me your hand . . . then I was thankful to you . . . with all my heart. . . .

Lucy stopped. Something told her that she had intended to tell him something else,—what it was, she did not know herself,—she only motioned with her hand:

“I do not blame you for anything . . . fate has decided otherwise . . .” and again she was silent.

“God be with you,” she said half aloud, as she quickly took up her hat.

Jiří saw the situation in a flash: she would actually go away, he had driven her away. . . . . A touch of pity passed through his soul, and again there flashed through his mind: the elections . . . the future career . . . the ——ýs Gazette . . . . the tax collector’s wife . . . her blonde daughter,—let her go . . . just as well . . . it will at least untie the knot, and henceforth all that foolishness must stop . . . he turned around, and walked out of the room without a word.

Lucy hurriedly put on her hat, and went out, walking on tiptoe. She ran down the steps like an arrow, then through the yard, and out, beyond the gate. . . .