Open main menu

Poet Lore/Volume 24/Number 5/At the Chasm

Poet Lore
 
VOLUME XXIV AUTUMN, 1913 NUMBER V

AT THE CHASM

 

One-act Play for the Library Table

 

By Jaroslav Vrchlicky

 

Translated from the Bohemian by Charles Recht[1]

 

Miss Liberty's Chief Jester and Wit, the Adorable Andre
Tridon, to him this translation is dedicated

 

CHARACTERS

 
Karel Proskovec, journalist.
Cilka, his wife.
Bohdan Navratil, a novelist, her brother.
 

(Plain, simple, furnished library of modern design. A large desk, upon which are books and papers. At the window, a small embroidery table; between windows a couch, and at extreme left a hearth. Table with chairs in middle. Karel Proskovec is sitting at the desk and writing. Cilka is working at the embroidery table and Bohdan is drowsing on the couch; he holds a closed book in his hand.)

Cilka.—Going to the theater to-night?

Karel.—Certainly, there is a premiere.

Cilka.—And who, may I ask, is the fortunate one?

Karel (still writing; with a slight irony).—Who else, my dear, than our beloved Bohdan. For him open not only the portals of the theater but also those of immortal glory. Whenever there is a première it is always a triumphal day of Bohdan's.

Bohdan (suddenly jumping up from the couch).—Does it not tire you to annoy me all the time? Pray do tell me what pleasure you find in it? (Turns suddenly to Cilka.) You do not believe him do you, Cilka? During the eight years of your married life, I presume you have learned to know him, have you not? Go look at the posters or newspapers and see if my name appears under the title of this novelty.

Karel (still writing).—It is always a nom-de-plume, my dear. Our Bohdan took it into his head to be the Messiah of our drama and as you know ——

Bohdan.—Oh, do cease this meaningless tirade. As long as you are the theatrical critic of the press, you can rest assured that I will never trouble you with my première.

Cilka.—Still at the old feud, brother?

Karel (to Cilka).—Since the publication of his poetry. (To Bohdan with affected seriousness.) And you want to make us believe, old boy, that you took your manuscripts from the theatrical office; as if anyone could believe it—it happened, of course, but with a slight difference, they were returned to you, that's all. But you are a good and prudent chap and are not angry with us, are you? You know I like you for that.

Bohdan.—Why should I be? On the contrary, I am very grateful to the management.

Cilka.—And why?

Bohdan (with a shade of bitterness).—Because they saved me from a blunder.

Karel.—Now you assaulted the novel. How about your lyric, have you buried it?

Bohdan.—You mean that you buried it.

Karel (continuing).—For the drama you are too young, you admit that yourself and you have therefore adopted the sacred old prose. I'll warrant that you will become a good journalist one of these days (continuing slowly). Well, that is good for something anyway.

Bohdan.—Indeed it has an advantage.

Cilka.—Which?

Bohdan.—One can cheaply disgrace his acquaintances and that's good for many things nowadays.

Karel (goes over to Bohdan and lays his hands on his shoulder).—Enough of jesting, old fellow. Let us look at the whole thing with common sense. You published your poems at the time when I began to visit your house and pay court to Cilka. Be just and recognize the truth. For the education that your father gave you, you are still a wonder of a chap. He once saw in you a Byron, then again a Napoleon, while you, thank God, became the simple Bohdan Navratil, and so remained. At the time when I began to come to your house, Byron was just in the ascendant, as I would say 'all the rage' in your family. You then published that heart-breaking book.

Bohdan (bitterly).—Which you deliberately condemned.

Karel (continuing quietly).—Wait. Don't interrupt. Had I been an unscrupulous fellow and an egotist, I would, like any other person in similar circumstances, have either admired and worshipped the new Byron, or at least kept my mouth shut. That was the time you could have recognized my true character, when, after the hand of your sister, I told you the whole truth as sincerely and openly as I am saying even now, after ten years.

Bohdan (suddenly moved).—But in the meantime, I have learned to love you.

Karel.—Well, some bitterness has remained at the bottom of our cup of love, but that is what makes it wholesome. The drink of love in order that it may be lasting must not be too sweet. 'Love me little, but love me long.' And see now we are relatives and regard each other as true brothers.

Bohdan (slowly).—But to those firstlings of mine you were unjust.

Karel.—Ten years from to-day we will speak about that again (going to desk). Excuse me now, I must finish this introductory article.

Cilka.—And what are you writing now, brother?

Bohdan.—Nothing, dear Cilka, and it is the best. To-day an author ought to be sent to St. Helena. The whole atmosphere is deluged with mottoes and motives. Idealism, naturalism, humanism, realism and God only knows how many more isms. One wants to suit them all and suits none. For instance, I am now collecting human documents, because to-day without them there is no truth in a work of art. That is naturalism. Formerly I sat down, thought for awhile until I discovered something, then combined, created and wrote.

Cilka.—And to-day?

Bohdan.—It is much worse to-day. Now I do not think, do not combine ——

Karel (with sarcasm).—But he omits all that and writes directly. (Lays down pen and rises.) When I have more time I will give you my opinion about that, but now I am in a hurry to get to the office and then to the theater.

Bohdan (with irony).—Thanks—I have time.

Cilka.—But you'll have a cup of tea with us before you go, will you not?

Karel.—Yes, if you don't mind.

(Exit Cilka.)

Bohdan.—Brother, don't you notice a change in Cilka's behavior lately?

Karel.—No, not the slighest. Why?

Bohdan.—Perhaps I, her brother, have a better insight into her character.

Karel.—Hardly a better one than I—her husband.

Bohdan.—You are an extraordinary man, Karel.

Karel.—Pardon me, an extraordinary man? Is that your latest? I, on the contrary, consider myself a normal, ordinary character—a prototype of the common-sense man—'Comme il faut.' I look upon things without prejudice, and day after day I mind the duties of my business.

Bohdan.—Yes, like a machine. (Karel is moved.) Pardon me, but it is so. You go after your business day after day like clockwork; surround yourself with its cares and duties; look neither to the right nor left, and in the meantime your wife is dying of spiritual starvation.

Karel.—Romanticism, my dear.

Bohdan.—Call it whatever you please, but I am certain that your wife is suffering, yes, suffering extremely. I consider it my fraternal duty to her to tell you so—because (hesitating, then quickly) I can't bear it any longer. I have been looking for this opportunity for a long while.

Karel.—My, my! You are telling me all sorts of news to-day. (Angered.) My wife suffering? And I don't know about it? Anything else, my dear? And why does she not tell me about it? Does she lack anything? Am I not doing everything within my power to secure her well-being? No, no, Bohdan, I think you are mistaken.

Bohdan.—No, I am not, I saw her several times alone, crying. When she saw me she got up quickly, wiped away her tears and either hurried out of the room or laughed,—a laugh that had the falsest ring.

Karel.—Oh, that! She is mourning the loss of our only child. Time will heal that.

Bohdan.—If that were the only reason!

Karel.—And what should be the reason, if you please? You speak as if you knew of something.

Bohdan.—You are one of those fortunate men who judge the happiness of a human being by his external welfare. You remind me of that good parent who, when they told him that his son was dying of melancholia and wanted to commit suicide, exclaimed: 'He has enough to eat and drink, a place to sleep, enough clothes and the rest is all nonsense.'

Karel.—And why does not Cilka complain to me? She knows well that I would do my utmost to satisfy her needs.

Bohdan.—There is not the slightest doubt about that.

Karel.—We have never had a quarrel ——

Bohdan.—And never will have, for Cilka is sensitive. She suffers in silence.

Karel.—What's wrong with her? She does not know herself— Oh, leave her alone—she'll be all right in time.

Bohdan.—I would not drop the matter so carelessly.

Karel.—Well then, if you know of something why don't you come out with it?

Bohdan.—I speak from observation.

Karel (with sarcasm).—And what is it, if you please, that you have observed?

Bohdan.—That Cilka is not happy.

Karel.—Words—conclusions—I want facts.

Bohdan.—Those I have not. I judge only by certain symptoms.

Karel.—Name those certain symptoms.

Bohdan.—Seeking of solitude, taciturnity, and hidden weeping.

Karel.—I've already explained that—she cannot forget the loss of her child. What else?

Bohdan.—What else do you want? But wait. (Speaks hesitatingly.) I was at the exhibition of Bystrina's picture yesterday.

Karel (ironically).—That phenomenal 'Triumph of Death'?

Bohdan.—The picture is splendid, but that is neither here nor there. Your wife was there.

Karel.—What of it?

Bohdan.—I entered the hall quietly. She was alone. She was so attentive to the picture that she did not hear my step. I stepped near her and saw how bitterly she was weeping—like a child. Karel, I tell you again that woman is not happy.

Karel.—You saw again with the eyes of a poet, my boy. Is not that picture one which would make any sensitive person cry? She saw in that the death of her child—nothing else.

Bohdan.—You saw that picture yourself, did you not?

Karel.—Certainly.

Bohdan.—Did you not observe anything?

Karel.—Just what do you mean?

Bohdan.—Don't you remember, in that long procession of the dead approaching the throne of Death, the first pair to the right;—the face of the man cannot be seen because he has turned to the side. But the features of the woman—Cilka's image.

Karel (thinking).—Yes—Yes, it seems to me there's a somewhat remote resemblance. But that would really be a pure impertinence.

Bohdan.—The resemblance is positive, but as to your objections, who can forbid an artist to choose his models from wherever he pleases? And besides, Mr. Bystrina knows your wife; you two were once rivals, I believe.

Karel.—You are opening up a chasm before me, my man—what should I do?

Bohdan.—I do not state anything positive, brother, but you'll admit yourself that Cilka is not happy—that there is a struggle going on within her soul, and you know that you will have to be very careful.

Karel.—And you would advise me?

Bohdan.—To drop at least temporarily that sarcasm of yours, which, I know, offends her. But stop! she's coming.

Karel.—Thank you,—we will see. But I don't know if I'll be able to overcome my habits.

(Enter a servant bringing tea service, followed by Cilka, who collects her needlework into a basket and quickly spreads the cloth and arranges the table.)

Servant.—Evening paper.

Bohdan (reaching out for it).—Let me have it. (Reads. Cilka pours out tea. Karel stands by hearth, rolling a cigarette.)

Cilka (handing cup to Karel).—Here, my dear.

(Exit servant.)

Karel (cigarette in mouth).—Thanks.

Bohdan (jumps up angrily and throws paper on floor).— But this is impertinence.

Karel (quietly sipping his tea).—What is it all about, Bohdan?

Cilka.—Bohdan ought not to read the newspaper at all. It always excites him so.

Bohdan.—It would excite you too.—Such a criticism!

Cilka.—Is there a criticism?

Karel (with irony).—Of your poems?

Bohdan.—Yes, there is a criticism—no, not a criticism, but an insolent, filthy depreciation.

Karel (slowly putting down his empty cup on table and picking up the paper).—Well, well, you don't say so. (Reads.) 'Daily News—Arts and Literature—"Triumph of Death"—picture by Ladislav Bystrina' (murmurs as if he were reading to himself). No—I regret, boy, that which is written here is true, the pure truth.

Bohdan.—That, that is true?

Karel (calmly).—Yes sir, Mr. Ladislav Bystrina has talent, and great talent at that, but he is on a wrong path and he must be told by someone some day.

Bohdan.—And of course you journalists have the right to point out the ways of genius.

Karel (calmly).—I am not speaking of genius but merely of great talent. If Mr. Ladislav Bystrina were a genius I might discuss the subject more extensively. His picture is weak, positively weak. It can move, or we may say hypnotize youth and women.

Cilka (sighing).—Poor women!

Karel.—Yes, the children and the women of our sickly and artificial civilization—but strength, health and vitality of original source it has not.

Bohdan.—And who says that it must be healthy?

Karel.—Drop those theories, young fellow, and let us get to that which your Ladislav Bystrina drew. Cilka's long face tells me that she agrees with you entirely, and that you both suffer from that cult and cant of unappreciated and unrecognized genius. As I said, youth and women. Well, what did that gentleman picture? On a throne made of skulls and bones sits Death. It has a scepter and a crown and toward it move in a long procession crowds of miserable mortals. First come the children—poor things. They have white chemises down to their heels and in their hands they hold antediluvian palms; and how thin they are, and how their eyes bulge! Is it not absurd—the child, the joy and happiness of life, is put in the first row of a procession of the dead. I need not speak about the other things in that picture. That itself is horrid and bad.

Bohdan.—Just as if not enough children died young. That idea itself is thoroughly humane.

Cilka.—And genial!

Karel.—Humane! Genial! What else will I hear? Whenever anyone wants to move every-day people he always starts to play with their sentiments. He would be a decidedly bad preacher who would not talk of widows and orphans and stepmothers whenever he would make his congregation weep. Of course, everybody knows that all orphans are little angels and all stepmothers infuriated witches, and now add to that, that the public is as inane as ever. Out of a hundred mothers there are at least ten who have buried a little child, and these see it, now, in a white night-gown, marching to the throne of Death. Most certainly they are moved to tears. Then it is that the picture is humane and genial. It can't be otherwise. But the painting is unsound.

Cilka.—The artist certainly did not draw it for old bachelors.

Bohdan.—Nor for heartless people. In order to understand a work of art one must have something here (pointing to his heart), but the critic here (pointing to the paper) did not have anything in there, nor in (pointing to his forehead) here.

Cilka.—Excellent, brother.

Karel.—I have to give you a pleasant surprise. I am the author of this criticism. I thank you for your kind appreciation, but I will not change my criticisms on that account. I am sorry that you do not agree with me, but as I said before, the picture is bad. But what is the use of repeating it, there it is in black and white. (Lights cigarette.)

Bohdan.—That which is written here is an insult of a great work of Art. It is not an analysis—because every conclusion of this criticism lacks facts and proofs. But Bystrina will not offend you much longer.

Karel.—How is that?

Cilka (quickly).—He received a government stipend and he is going to Paris.

Karel.—How do you know about it?

Bohdan.—I brought it home from the club last night. Everybody was talking about it. He is going in a couple of days and he is right. No one is a prophet in his own country.

Cilka.—Oh, stop, Bohdan; you know that Karel cherishes an old prejudice against Bystrina, an old dislike.

Karel.—Dislike, prejudice! Mere phrases again. Of course, I did not forget that there was a time when Mr. Bystrina (bursts into laughter) could have been dangerous—but to-day that gentleman is wholly indifferent to me. Let him draw a good picture and I will not deny him my recognition. I will not shout it in hyperboles, but state it simply and truly, just as to-day when I am condemning his work.

Bohdan.—You have to condemn him, you, and there are thousands who are enthusiastic about his work. But that is the misfortune, these thousands have not the opportunity to express their opinions, while you, a journalist, have—that is the whole difference. In that way you have the means in your power.

Cilka.—Drop this matter, Bohdan. Did he not say himself that even if the picture were good, he would not use hyperboles? You can feel the old rival.

Karel.—There are two things which I must make clear to you, Cilka. The first is in regard to those hyperboles and the second in regard to my attitude to Mr. Bystrina. I never use hyperboles. It is a very imprudent and uncautious thing. How do we mortals know that a work, let it be as great and beautiful as possible, is worthy of a hyperbole?—Do we know that such work is the last link in the chain of human evolution, that after it a work which is greater and more beautiful would not come? Therefore, I am always reserved and conservative in my judgments. Who can tell me whether after a great artist one who is greater will not come?—Nobody. What measurement or rule should one use if he really does come? If you will heap on your contemporaries the greatest praise and bury them in panegyrics and eulogies what shall our posterity do? That's the misfortune of our modern romancers, who now go a begging for a morsel of recognition. You have given to your so-called classics extravagant praise and now our young world is unappreciated.

Bohdan.—Just like Ladislav Bystrina. Now you have contradicted yourself.

Karel.—What! Is Bystrina a beginner? He is of my age and he has already done a lot of work in his day. And in such cases it is necessary to be strict. When he was a beginner I was a little more lenient toward him. Perhaps you remember that first attempt of his,—that peculiar baby in too-many-colored clothes, which he in his picture had thrown into a heap of snow in front of a steaming locomotive. It was original and true. At that time the artist wanted to express something. He did it in a crude way, but I praised and encouraged him. But now, permit me to explain the second thing. Mr. Bystrina visited the house of your father, who always was very fond of all young dilettantes, and of course in his own way he spoiled them.

Bohdan.—As, for instance, you.

Karel.—Well, perhaps he spoiled me too. Mr. Bystrina was a pale, tall young fellow, with a little black moustache. He always wore a bloody Socialist cravat tied à-la-Byron. He was an artist—talked little. And gentlemen with such qualities are very dangerous for young ladies. You can ask your sister about that. There was a time when things looked very much against me, but the common-sense journalist, a man of balanced, positive views, was victorious over the soft, mild romanticist.

Cilka (flares up).—Karel, stop talking about the past. Do not rake up these bygone things, please!

Karel (surprised).—Oh, no, let us talk about it; let us clear up these things some day. Well, when Bystrina saw that all was lost, he discontinued his visits.

Cilka.—And you began to hate him, which was unjust. The victor should be magnanimous. He could just as well have become your friend. Out of sympathy—just because he had to yield to you.

Karel.—Oh, no, no, not for the sake of sympathy—on the contrary, that would have been dangerous. I, bring my former rival in here for a friend? Oh, Cilka, what an idealist you are! (He laughs.) Child—oh, child!

Cilka (moved).—But for these reasons you need not persecute him.

Karel—Well, did some feeling for him remain in the inner nook of your heart? (Suddenly serious.) Women, women—If I did not know you so well, Cilka, I should think over what you have said, but I will leave undisturbed. Good-bye, I have staid too long, anyhow. (About to go.) Good-bye, Bohdan.

Bohdan.—Say whatever you please, but you wrong Bystrina. You always judge a work of art by your physical and mental disposition. You are proud of being a normal, healthy man, and you transpose this to every work of art. You think that because you have a good digestion—everybody must have one. You would be a very bad physician, because instead of helping a person to a healthy stomach you would kill him with your sermonizing and reasoning why his stomach is not as good as yours.

Karel (in doorway).—All right, all right, enough of that! The observation of a work of art is also a kind of digestion, and I cannot digest sickly stuff, that is all there is to it. As long as sickly people will go to observe the 'Triumph of Death,' it will be all right.

Cilka.—The pearl is also the offspring of illness, and it still is the most beautiful of gems.

Karel (angrily).—Also a fine phrase. I'll be thinking about it on my way. Good-bye. (Exit Karel.)

(After departure of Karel, Bohdan gets up from sofa and lights a cigarette and with a sigh goes over to the hearth where Karel was standing previously. Cilka sits down to a table and buries her head deeply into her palms. A long pause.)

Cilka (looking up).—And such is my life.

Bohdan.—But, Cilka, are you again so sensitive?

Cilka.—Didn’t you hear it? Nothing but irony, sarcasm and bitterness the whole day long. How can love exist among these thorns?

Bohdan.—Why don't you try to understand Karel? In his essence he is good and pure. His sarcasm is only his self defence. Rather than to become gushy, rather than to wear out love by commonplace sentiments, he makes it more lasting by adding to it his irony.

Cilka.—And perhaps a little too much.

Bohdan—Sometimes, I myself am inclined to think so—but his essence is splendid and what is more important is that he loves you immensely.

Cilka.—I am not so sure about that.

Bohdan.—Because you are of a sensitive disposition; such people as you are always unhappy. Characters like yours always yearn for more and more, they are never satisfied, and believe me, even love gets tired once in awhile. There's a time when it can go no further, needs peace and silence, and asks not for more sweetness. But temperaments like yours cannot admit of such a state of peace; to them empty emotions are dearer and more welcome than that rare, sacred peace of the soul. You, yourself, are to blame for your unhappiness.

Cilka (offended).—Do you speak that way, Bohdan? I see that I was mistaken in you.

Bohdan.—If you will consider these things in a quiet way, your husband's bit of jesting or a bit of irony will not offend you. I have known him for eight years, and since you were married I have lived with you. His soul is a gem, a diamond.

Cilka.—An uncut one, alas!

Bohdan.—You ought to laugh with him.

Cilka.—Then I would have to laugh at myself, at my own convictions, at my own feelings. I would then have to play a farce which would be a tragedy. Would you advise me to do that?

Bohdan.—You take trifles too seriously. Say with Hamlet, 'Words, words, words!' They are but the waste of daily conversation and are soon lost and forgotten. In actual life we do not judge by words but by action, and his actions are good, gentle and loyal.

Cilka (excited).—My husband does not even know what a good advocate he has in you.

Bohdan.—The greatest misfortune in a home is exaggerated and eccentric sensitiveness, be it the husband's or the wife's. Karel is trying to kill it with his irony and his jests. You gladly fall a victim to it. Your bringing up was, of course, a great deal to blame, but you yourself give way too much to your dreams. You are one of those who conceive marriage to be like a rosy midsummer night's dream, in which one does nothing but drink coffee and read novels; but instead of that it is a serious and onerous duty. But I must appear ridiculous preachin glike a cad. Good-bye. Meditate over these things while you are alone.

Cilka (gets up and detains him).—Do not leave me, Bohdan. You are right, partly. I will think over it—but stay and tell me more. Do remain awhile. I am so weak just now that I don't know if——

Bohdan.—What is the matter? Why are you so excited?

Cilka.—It’s nothing. It’s all right now.

Bohdan.— You see, even this constant excitement is something which Karel cannot bear. He is so full of vigor and energy. When he comes home somewhat tired out and weary, instead of being cheerful and consoling, instead of coming to greet him with a pleasant smile, you stand here with a sunken head, always thoughtful and dreaming of things in which his soul does not share. You will estrange him entirely if you do not change. If you will keep on imagining things this way, some of them will finally become realized. Forget all these 'should have beens' and 'could have beens.' Reconcile yourself to the present life.

Cilka.—But then our relation will become very strained because it will be one of constant mutual concessions, which will be false and unnatural.

Bohdan.—On the contrary, your present relations are strained and unnatural. He is nothing but wit and jest; by that he tries to balance your silence. He is health and energy itself, which offends your sickly sensitiveness—this mischief is still unhatched, but take care that it should not take a more serious turn.

Cilka.—And what should I do?

Bohdan.—Live. Abandon these dreams. Be firm and energetic. I know that it is not so easy, but where there's a will, there's a way.

Cilka.—In other words, I should kill all the poetry of my youth——

Bohdan.—No, no, little girl, but learn how to combine and reconcile this poetry with your actual life, that is the whole secret.

Cilka.—According to you, then, the marriage of two artistic temperaments could not at all be happy.

Bohdan.—If they were both sickly and sensitive beings their marriage would be simply a curse. In married life it is desirable to have two, as I would say, complementary natures—characters of a similar kind after awhile become hateful to each other because one tries to dominate the other, and in the long run the relations become unsound.

Cilka.—And if the wife has an artistic temperament?

Bohdan.—In that case, her disposition should be strong, otherwise her sensitiveness will be in her husband's way. By this I do not mean that she ought not partake in her husband's works, on the contrary, I have always been of the opinion that a woman's influence is always beneficial in a work of Art, but I think he ought to find in her a perfect sympathizer; she ought to encourage and reward his efforts; she ought to be his first public and her praise his first laurel. For negations and criticism there is always time. They, at any rate, never influence or direct a true work of Art. But why are we analyzing these problems? Your husband is not an artist—such theories do not apply to you. This would probably be true in the married life of, say, Mr. Bystrina—but, he is an old bachelor and does not need our philosophies. So, good-bye, Cilka. (About to go.)

Cilka.—One more word, brother. Do you think that Bystrina's marriage could never be a happy one?

Bohdan.—Bystrina? Never. Married life requires a peaceful disposition. Bystrina is a wild phantast, his fits and whims would kill his wife a year after their wedding.

Cilka.—And suppose his wife were of an artistic temperament, one who understood him and could sympathize with him.

Bohdan.—So much worse. They would kill each other. In every artist there is a certain amount of illness, but if his wife is a wise woman she will know how to manage and tune it to their every-day life. But it could not be possible with Bystrina. His illness is the source of his own inspiration and some day it will be his death. It is better for him that he remained single and you can thank God that eight years ago you chose Karel even if he is bitter and sarcastic. But now, really, I must go.

Cilka.—And where are you going?

Bohdan.—To the club and the café, my dear. I am collecting color and human documents—I want to write a novel and without some fundamental material such a thing is in our day almost impossible.

Cilka.—And when are you coming back?

Bohdan.—To supper, if you please. Cheer up and take things as they come. The eight years of your married life were, excepting the death of your child, altogether happy. Leave Karel alone; as I said before, measure his worth by his deeds. Au revoir. (Exit.)

Cilka (after the departure of Bohdan, glances quickly at the clock).—There is time yet if I want to, that is if I can. (Takes a letter from her waist and reads.) 'If your sympathy is sincere, your will firm, your soul pure, come to-night at seven o'clock to the Western Depot. You needn't take anything along. I'll provide for all. We will remain in Paris forever. I swear to you that you will be to me a sister, and only if you yourself wish, my wife. If you do not come I will consider that as an answer. My fate and yours is in your hands.—Ladislav Bystrina.' Last night I was crying before his picture, not knowing that he was behind me. 'Do you want to come with me on a like pilgrimage?' he whispered into my ear. I was so weak and exhausted that, sobbing, I glanced at him and hurriedly left the hall. If Karel would not be so perfect and so good—and not even then, even if he were cruel and brutal, if he were to tread upon me, I would not be able to do that which he tempts me to. (Pause.) But I should not have written to him after that meeting. Thus he has a weapon against me in his hands. But at that time I was in frenzy, the whole night my head was in a whirl. The whole night I was writing to him, describing to him my sufferings of five years; the injuries which life inflicts are more painful the more trifling they are. But he was so magnanimous—and then do we not just as often cry over the book of an unknown poet, just as I cried before his painting? And do not the heartrending tones of music shake the depths of our souls? He stole upon me during one weak moment of mine—only a lack of strength induced me to write to him—I have just heard how Bodhan thinks about it and that must be the way the whole world regards it; at least, that healthy, actual, real world which would condemn us both. But I will write to him immediately—before he leaves. (Sits down to the desk and begins to write quickly.)

(While she has been writing Karel enters quickly. She rises frightened and stands by the desk.)

Cilka.—Did you not go?

Karel.—I forgot the opera-glasses. I thought of them on the way and you know how short-sighted I am.

Cilka.—They must be in the bedroom.

Karel.—No. I remember having seen them here somewhere on the desk.

Cilka.—No, no! They are not here.

Karel.—Somewhere among the papers, perhaps. I am positive I saw them here this morning.

Cilka.—You could not have. I am certain they are not here.

Karel.—Let me look for them myself. (She wants to throw away the papers, but he prevents her from doing so and picks up the letter.)

Cilka.—You will be late.

Karel (who has read the letter in the meantime).—What in the world have you been writing here? (Still looking at the letter.) There is no meaning in that. At least I cannot understand it.

Cilka.—But, Karel——

Karel.—Wait, my dear. I have to read this over a couple of times—such things interest me greatly.

Cilka (to herself).—O God! What shall I say?

Karel (takes his hat off, goes a few steps away from her and reads slowly).—'Poor, unfortunate friend: Judge me, condemn me, but I cannot. The bond of duty is so strong, that its breach even rends our life. While I am writing this, I am no longer myself, I have duties greater and more sacred than you can imagine, to you only will I entrust that which even my husband does not yet know—I am a mother. You know all; go away from here and forget; if you can bear your fate heroically, you will find glory where love has not met you.' (He looks surprisedly at Cilka, who stands before him pale and downcast.) What is this, Cilka? That's like a letter from a novel.

Cilka.—Yes, it is a letter from a novel.

Karel.—Please don't talk riddles.

Cilka (with a little stronger animation).—Yes, it's from a novel.

Karel.—Then, for God's sake, tell me about it.

Cilka (smiling).—I am telling you that it is from a novel. Our Bohdan is writing a novel.

Karel.—Yes, but this is your handwriting.

Cilka.—Of course, it is mine.

Karel.—What then, are you assisting him?

Cilka (having now discovered the right clue).—Don't fear, I will not become a novelist.

Karel.—But, do explain this, will you?

Cilka.—Oh, give me time. Bohdan is writing a novel. In that novel a wife is supposed to desert her husband for the sake of an artist whom she secretly loves. They appoint a rendezvous, but at the final moment, the wife knows herself to be a mother—she loses her energy and lets the lover go without her.

Karel.—That is not a bad idea.

Cilka.—When you left here, Bohdan explained the plot to me. He is getting on well and is now as far as the letter. He is very anxious about it, he wants to write it as near to life as possible. He showed me a draft of that letter, but no woman placed in a similar position would ever write the way he did. It was too bombastic and full of shallow phraseology.

Karel (laughing).—That's pretty good. So he asked you to write it. Well, really, he had a good idea. At any rate it is truly feminine, a woman would write so in such a moment. (Still laughing.) Even the title and the end, 'You will find glory where love has not met you.' Very good, Cilka, good indeed.

Cilka.—Now, go and laugh at me.

Karel.—Apart from jest, let me congratulate you and Bohdan. But tell Bohdan that he should copy this letter into his manuscript. You must give me that for a keepsake.

Cilka (again frightened).—That letter?

Karel.—Yes, that letter.

Cilka.—But it's nonsensical, a trifle. Please tear it up, throw it away. I will write a better and a longer one for Bohdan. (She reaches for it.)

Karel (moving out of her reach).—Oh, no, sweetheart, that letter is mine; it is my trophy, which I will never yield.

Cilka.—Karel, if you love me give me that letter.

Karel.—Just because I do love you I will keep it.

Cilka.—And why, pray? You were laughing at it a moment ago?

Karel.—No, I cannot give you that letter, for to me it is a firm hostage of——

Cilka (frightened).—Gracious!

Karel.—You timid child. There is a sentence in the letter and for that sentence it is of the greatest value to me.

Cilka.—Just for one sentence?

Karel.—Certainly, but will you tell me the pure truth?

Cilka.—What do you want to know?

Karel (goes near her and takes both her hands in his).—Did you write the pure truth?

Cilka.—But it is from a novel.

Karel.—Let it. But there is a sentence in it which is of the greatest importance, which you yourself even cannot conceive; I thank you for it, and for that sentence I want to retain this letter.

Cilka.—Which is it?

Karel.— 'The bond of duty is so strong, that its breach even rends our life.'

Cilka.—Did that impress you so much?

Karel.—Yes, there is more in that than you think. When I left here, on my way, I thought of that little misunderstanding which we had. I wronged you, dear soul, I wronged you greatly—but all will be different now.

Cilka.—I still fail to understand.

Karel.—You'll understand in the course of time. Our life is so changeable, we are not our own now. A few shocks are necessary so we may regain our balance and equilibrium. I saw your silent suffering—and I combined the whole novel within my excited mind. I lack the strength to tell you all of what I thought on my way in those dark and gloomy streets there.

Cilka.—Oh! How you frighten me.

Karel.—You were partly right;—in my excitement, I came home and here I find the letter and the jest explained the essence and purity of your soul. You wrote from the depths of your heart, did you not? surely it was your conviction when you wrote that 'The bond of duty is so strong that its breach rends our life.' Thanks for that, thanks. It surely came from your soul, darling, did it not?

Clika.—Yes, it came from my soul.

Karel.—You could never forgive me, could you?

Cilka.—What are you thinking of?

Karel.—And this duty is not the marble mask of daily custom, but it is the kind expression of your true and faithful love. Say, isn't it?

Cilka.—Just as you say.

Karel.—And our love is just as great and firm as before, if not greater. Is that true?

Cilka.—Yes, greater, because—(her head on his shoulder) I am the mother of your child.

Karel.—Is that also true? (Embracing her.) Then the whole letter is true? But, be it truth or not, does it contain the assurance of your sincere faithfulness, your noble conception of duty—my fortune, that after years we will have a child? (Excited.) But no, no, no, that letter is not true, but its contents are true, that great important sentence, that our duty is our life, that it is our honor and our love at the same time, if we are whole and perfect. And for that I am immensely grateful to you, and will keep that letter as the dearest treasure.

Cilka (in tears).—My dear husband.

(Bohdan enters.)

Bohdan.—Why, are you home already—or did you not go?

Karel.—I was too late for the first act, and you know how pedantic I am in this particular. One second after the rising of the curtain and I lose interest in the entire play, especially if it is a novelty.

Bohdan.—So much the better; I will at least be able to tell you my adventure with Bystrina.

Karel and Cilka.—With Bystrina?

Bohdan (sitting down).—Why, yes, and it's quite out of the ordinary. I went over to the club-house and was in the middle of a brilliant billiard party, when I heard that Bystrina was leaving tonight for Paris. Some old friends of his went to escort him, so I joined them.

Cilka.—So he is gone.

Karel.—Artist like, he has many friends; there is nothing exceptional in that. Well, you went to escort him.

Bohdan.—We thought that he would be surprised and pleased when he saw so many of us together, but we were greatly disappointed; he was almost frightened, and on the way he began to avoid us and hardly noted our greetings.

Karel.—Well, he was always eccentric in everything. Cilka will forgive me this, but I don't know what she herself would call such behavior.

Cilka (very restless).—And what happened? Is he gone?

Bohdan.—He escaped from us, as in a miracle; disappeared. Most of his friends were offended and with disgust left the depot because he did not even say 'Good-bye' to them.

Karel.—They could not have done better.

Cilka (still more restless).—Did you stay? Is he gone?

Bohdan.—I wanted to go also, but the friend who asked me to join him in this escort affair told me that the whole business looked suspicious and begged me to stay till the departure of the train.

Cilka.—And you stayed?

Bohdan.—Not to be in Bystrina's way we went to the waiting-room, which has large windows on all sides, so that one can see into the restaurant and on the peron also.

Karel.—And did you see your eccentric artist?

Bohdan.—He was very excited, ran up and down the peron, looked into the waiting-rooms, inspected the cabs, coaches and buses. He was probably expecting someone.

Karel.—Expecting someone?

Bohdan.—So it seemed. But it was getting late. The first gong sounded; Bystrina, all exhausted, sank into a sofa in the waiting-room. The second gong; he did not move. We were surprised and worried, and so we went over to him.

Cilka.—My God, what happened?

Bohdan.—Nothing; he rose to meet us, greeted us seriously, then he turned to me and said in a melancholy way: 'Sir, you are a novelist: excuse my rudeness, but I am going into distant lands and want to get rid of a few things which have no meaning for me, but for you, a novelist, might be of some interest and value.' He put his hand into his pocket (does likewise), and took out this envelope (does likewise), and continued: 'Here are memoirs of a lost individual,—there's also a letter characteristic of a woman; for you, a novelist, it is almost made to order,—if you want to use the material, do so, as much as you please. Good-bye; the second bell has rung and I would not like to miss my train.' And while we stood amazed, he disappeared in the twilight of the peron.

Cilka (extremely nervous).—And is he gone?

Bohdan.—Evidently. His train left the depot the next minute.

Karel.—And have you opened the envelope?

Bohdan.—That will be my feast this midnight. (Waving it in the air.) This indeed is something vital,—a real human document,—not even Zola or Goncourt had ever anything of this kind in their possession.

Karel.—Let me look at it, will you? (Reaches for it.)

Cilka.—God!

Bohdan.—Oh, no, my dear. (Moving away from him.) My novel would not interest you afterwards.

Karel.—In other words, I would know what you have copied and what you yourself created.—You novelists! But you can show me them anyway; you know that your Bystrina interests me greatly now, although I cannot be perhaps as enthusiastic about him as you or Cilka.

Bohdan.—Oh, no, old boy, these letters are a perfect treasure to me; I will not show them to any one so easily.

Cilka.—That's right. They would only spoil a reader's illusion.

Bohdan.—Especially readers who read between the lines.

Karel.—Well, we'll see. (Sits down to the desk.) I'll try to do some work before supper.

Bohdan.—Auf Wiedersehen!

Karel.—Where are you going?

Bohdan.—To my room.

Karel (writing).—You cannot resist the temptation. Inquisitive as Eve. But you will let me look at them, won't you?

Servant.—A special message from the office, Mr. Proskovec.

(Bohdan stops in the doorway and puts the papers into his pocket.)

Karel.—What can they want? I only left them a short while ago.

Servant.—The man says he was looking for you in the theater. He is waiting for an answer.

Karel.—Go and tell him I will be there as soon as possible. (Exit servant.)

Karel (has opened the letter).—Good God!

(Bohdan comes forward.)

Cilka.—What has happened?

Karel.—But you spoke with him only a moment ago.

Bohdan.—With whom?

Karel.—With Bystrina; he is dead.

(Cilka with a cry falls into Bohdan's arms.)

Karel.—Here is what the night editor writes: (reads from the letter) 'We have just received information that our phenomenal artist, Ladislav Bystrina, creator of the "Triumph of Death," shot himself in the restaurant garden of the Western Depot at the very moment when the train left on which he intended to go to Paris. Although we know that you did not sympathize with his aims, still we request you to write a biographical sketch containing appreciation of his art and its meaning. We will wait for the article until twelve o'clock at night.'

Bohdan.—He was a very great genius and passed through this world unappreciated. Now you will write eulogies and enthusiastic hymns.

Cilka.—He was a very unhappy man.

Karel.—Cilka spoke the truth about him.

Bohdan.—And are you going to write the article?

Karel.—Yes, I will. His career is closed; it is easier to judge. I will be just to his genius.

Bohdan.—See now, I will loan you these papers. (Takes them out of his pocket and gives them to him.) Take out of them for your article as much as you please, but in judging the man do not forget the artist—there will be sufficient material left for my novel.

Cilka.—For God's sake, Bohdan, what are you doing?

Karel (takes the letters from Bohdan, Cilka turns with the greatest anxiety).—Cilka!

(Cilka cries but does not answer.)

Karel (softly).—Cilka, but do look at me. (Waves the letters.) I am going to write that article.

Bohdan.—And will you use them?

Karel (gloriously).—No, my boy, no. These letters do not belong to me or you any more than they belong to anyone else. They belong to the dead—let their spirit follow his. (Throws them into the fire.)

Cilka (cries out).—Thanks! Thanks!

Bohdan.—And I could never understand this.

Cilka (in Karel's arms).—How good, how magnanimous you are!

Bohdan.—But my human documents?

Karel.—A true artist, my dear boy, has the best documents here (pointing to his brow) and here (pointing to his heart).

 

Curtain

Copyright.svg PD-icon.svg This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.
Original:

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

 
Translation:

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1965, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

 
  1. Copyright, 1913, by Charles Recht
    Copyright, 1913, by The Poet Lore Company.All Rights Reserved.